Valentine’s Day can now be celebrated around the world, but the traditions are often very different and sometimes have nothing to do with romance.
While in Europe it’s about getting together as a couple, in the United States it’s just as much about school children celebrating friendship, while in Japan women give chocolates to their bosses.
From pagan holiday to marketing ploy, we take a look at the rich mix of Valentine’s Day:
– All whipped –
Valentine’s Day used to be a rather violent affair. Its origins are believed to date back to the Roman purification festival of Lupercalia when naked young men whipped young women to make them more fertile.
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Over the centuries, this evolved into barely less rowdy lotteries that paired young men with young women in medieval carnivals.
– Martyr of his heart –
The day is also, of course, associated with the cult of the 3rd century Roman Christian martyr Saint Valentine.
He literally lost his mind for love – beheaded on the orders of Emperor Claudius, it is said, for secretly performing marriages.
According to legend, Valentin cured the blind daughter of his jailer and the day before his death slipped him a note signed “Your Valentin”.
Unfortunately, there was no happy ending.
– Love letters –
In England, the exchange of messages known as “valentines” on February 14 developed with the rise of the postal service in the 19th century, with the sender often signing “Your Valentine”.
– Spoons of love –
They did things differently across the border in Wales. Their feast of love takes place on January 25 and celebrates a 4th-century Welsh princess called Saint Dwynwen.
Unlucky in love, a heartbroken Dwynwen sought solace in religion and became a nun, praying for others to find true love.
Among the gifts traditionally exchanged between lovers and future lovers are carved Welsh wooden love spoons.
– My darling Galentine –
The celebration took on a commercial twist in the mid-19th century in the United States, with the invention of mass-produced greeting cards.
Promoters soon came up with the idea of extending the “tradition” beyond lovers, with schoolchildren now having to bring a Valentine’s Day card for each of their classmates.
Today, it’s grown into a $20 billion business and even spawned Galentines Day, when “girls” hang out and eat waffles.
– Hot chocolate –
The Japanese Valentine’s Day tradition began after World War II when confectioners dreamed up the wheeze of having women gift chocolates to their bosses and boyfriends on February 14.
Half a century later, the practice has become an annual ritual, with millions of Japanese women gifting pralines or ganaches as a sign of affection, friendship or professional respect.
But not just any chocolate will do. The “giri choco”, for example, are standard chocolates reserved for work colleagues while the superior “honmei choco” are the sign of true love.
– Not in public –
Valentine’s Day is less popular in some parts of the world, however, with some Muslim countries like Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia having a low opinion.
Although the day is very popular in Iran, people should show their affection with modesty. Selling heart-shaped balloons, for example, is frowned upon by traditionalists.
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