It is that time of the year once again when love is in the air, everything is rosy, flowers, wine and chocolate are out of stock and you will hear Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, Whitney Houston and the like everywhere you go. Valentine’s Day is upon us. You may have planned everything from morning to evening, or if you are anything like me, you are still wondering what to do. Firstly, go shower love on your friends. It is a celebration of love irrespective of the relationship (heard of Happy Galentine’s Day?). Secondly, most restaurants and pubs will probably be booked out, so why not read about some of the Valentine’s Day traditions from across the world and maybe take some inspiration and do something creative of your own?
While the country celebrates the global commercialised version of Valentine’s Day, it has its own traditions to celebrate love. They have a dedicated week in July, from 13th to 20th, which they call the ‘Sweetness Week’. Lovers celebrate by exchanging kisses and candies. Their week ends by celebrating a day dedicated to friendship. That’s one way to make yourself feel better if you have been friend-zoned.
In the middle ages, the French celebrated Valentine’s Day with ‘une loterie d’amour’, which means’ lottery for love’. Single men and women stand in front of their houses facing each other and call for single people from the opposite gender until they get paired up. If the man was disinterested, he could leave the woman he was paired with. The jilted women would then build a bonfire and curse the men. This tradition got too violent, and the French government had to ban it. It sounds like someone’s break-up party.
Men give women anonymous letters called ‘gaekkebrev’, or ‘paper snowflakes’. It includes a poem that the woman must guess the writer. If the woman guesses correctly, she is owed an easter egg. But if she fails to guess correctly, she owes the man an easter egg. Isn’t this great – you get the benefits of two festivals in one. It is like a ‘buy one get one free’ deal, and technically, everyone’s a winner.
In Japan, the women (girl power for the win!) are expected to pamper and spoil the men and make a move. The tradition is to give them ‘honmei-choco’ or ‘homemade chocolate’ (this is at the top of the chocolate hierarchy). Those who have received this chocolate are expected to return the favour on 14th March, called the White Day, by giving two to three times the amount of chocolate they received.
For them, 14th February is a day that a good percentage of married couples won’t forget. Sure, it is Valentine’s Day, but it is also the day those couples probably got married. This day sees mass weddings taking place throughout the country. The government sponsors the marriage celebrations as a public service, allowing underprivileged couples the opportunity to tie the knot.
They have their own version of Valentine’s Day, celebrated on 24th February. It is considered auspicious to get engaged on that day, so like the Philippines have mass weddings, Romania has mass engagements. The day is also celebrated to welcome the spring festival. Young men and women go to the forests to pick colourful flowers, while other couples wash their faces with snow as a sign of good luck. Hopefully, there is no frostbite or hypothermia involved.
Celebrate the season of love. Celebrate love. But above all, celebrate the people you love and those who love you back and make up the traditions you want to share with your friends, family and partners.
Surabhi Sanghi is a SOAS Digital Ambassador, pursuing a master’s degree in South Asian Studies and Intensive Language (which also means she gets to be in London for one whole extra year). She has a background in history and is interested in the religions of South Asia. She is a dog person and her only wish is to be able to pet all the dogs in London.