Some people call love the universal language, and looking at how cultures around the world celebrate Valentine’s Day, we can see why. Whether between loves or with a long-time partner, take some inspiration from how other cultures express love. For your perfect Valentine’s Day, maybe take a few cues from these countries.
1. In Japan, traditional roles get reversed
It took until the 1970s for Valentine’s Day to really take off in Japan, and the Asian country put its own spin on the holiday. In Japan, women give chocolates to the men in their lives, not vice versa. They also put a lot of thought into what kind of chocolates and how much to gift.
A classmate, friend, or coworker might get giri choko, or “obligation chocolate.” A beau or crush, by contrast, could receive honmei choko or “true feeling chocolate.” In the 1980s, Japan democratized the practice with “White Day.” On March 14, exactly one month later, men gift women with white chocolates or other small gifts.
Next: This country does not relegate love to one day a year.
2. South Korea recognizes love all year long
In South Korea, they take it one step up. Like Japan, women give men chocolates on Feb. 14 and the men reciprocate a month later. However, for those who missed out on February and March go out for “Black Day” on April 14. On that day, they go out for a dish of jajagmyeon, or black bean-paste noodles.
Singles can get ready to mingle on other days, however. The Still, singles have plenty of other opportunities to make up for missed romance. The 14th day of every month marks a love-related holiday in South Korea. You have Candle Day, Valentine’s Day, White Day, Black Day, Rose Day, Kiss Day, Silver Day, Green Day, Music Day, Wine Day, Movie Day, and Hug Day.
Next: This country also proves that chivalry lives on.
3. Celebrate women in Russia
In Russia, International Women’s Day on March 8 sees men giving gifts to all the special women in their lives, from mothers, sisters, and grandmothers, to wives, girlfriends, and friends. Gifts often include flowers and chocolates or a nice dinner in town, similar to our Valentine’s Day.
On Feb. 23, men get their day on Defender of the Fatherland Day. Just like Women’s Day, women give gifts to their special men to celebrate the creation of the Soviet Army. The day recognizes men who have fought or will one day fight to protect their country. Now why don’t we celebrate our Veterans Day the same way?
Next: These residents really kick the love-fest up a notch.
4. If you thought your wedding was big, check this out
In the Philippines, people take Valentine’s Day to the next level. In recent years, mass wedding celebrations have risen in popularity. More than 1,500 couples, all dressed in white, got married in a free ceremony in the Manila suburb of Caloocan City, in 2010. Three years later, about 4,000 couples tied the knot in Valentine’s Day mass weddings.
If you aren’t ready for that kind of commitment, the Philippines also breaks records for kissing. On Valentine’s Day 2004, 5,122 couples in Manila broke the world record for the number of couples to simultaneously kiss for 10 seconds. They stole the title from Santiago, Chile. In the Philippines, love is truly in the air.
Next: This culture turned an ancient ritual into something very sweet.
5. South Africa wears its heart on its sleeve
One Valentine’s Day in South Africa, women wear their hearts on their sleeves, literally. An Ancient Roman festival called Lupercalia apparently sparked the tradition. During that festival, girls’ names also went into a box and men chose one at random, to pair them together until the next Lupercalia.
In the modern South African version, women pin the name of their sweethearts to their sleeves. Sometimes, men see their names and discover secret admirers this way. What a great romantic twist!
Next: This culture ties Valentine’s Day and Easter together.
6. Denmark is full of ‘good eggs’
Lovers in Denmark send flowers just like many other parts of the world, but they get more specific about it. Little white flowers called “snowdrops” are the customary bloom for Valentine’s Day. They also send little joke letters called gaekkebrev. Senders write a funny poem or love letter on a piece of intricately-cut paper. At the bottom, they write a little dot, one for each letter of their name.
If the recipient guesses the sender, the letter-writer gives the recipient an egg on Easter Sunday. However, if they can’t figure it out after three guesses, the sender gets the egg. We assume the recipient chooses whether that egg comes in the chocolate or chicken variety.
Next: The next country exchanges more practical presents.
7. This gives ‘spooning’ a whole new meaning
Rather than picking up chocolate and flowers on Valentine’s Day, the Welsh celebrate their own holiday. On Jan. 25, they recognize the patron saint of lovers, Saint Dwynwen. This tradition comes with an adorable gift.
Traditionally, the Welsh exchange intricately carved wooden spoons to celebrate their affection. Called Lovespoons, they date back to the 17th century. The little trinkets typically feature symbolic carvings like hearts, diamonds, and horseshoes. Sure beats a stuffed bear.
Next: Leave it to these stereotypical romantics to really put a twist on love.
8. Burn it all down like French women do
In France, a tradition used to include men picking women out a lineup in an event called “drawing for love.” The guys chose eligible ladies and ditched the ones they did not find to their liking. Nothing says “love” like rejection, right?
The ladies do get their revenge, however. After the lottery, the women who did not get chosen got together for a bonfire. Traditionally, they burned photos of the men who wronged them. We assume they also danced around it, but that might just be wishful thinking.
Next: In China, celebrate unrequited love during this festival.
9. Show off your domestic prowess on this Chinese holiday
The holiday tradition of the Qixi Festival has also become known as the “Chinese Valentine’s Day.” Celebrated on the seventh day of the seventh month of the Chinese calendar, it celebrates a legendary love. According to legend, a heavenly king’s daughter, Zhinu, a heavenly king’s daughter, and Niulang, a poor cowherd, fell in love, married, and had twins. When Zhinu’s father learned of their marriage, he sent his queen to bring Zhinu back to the stars. The king allowed Zhinu and Niulang to meet once a year, on Qixi.
In accordance with tradition, young girls show off their domestic wiles, including melon carving. Western gifts, like flowers and chocolates, also get exchanged. While the Western Valentine’s Day continues rising in popularity, especially in cities, its cultural roots remain strong.
Next: These herbs earn a life outside soup in England.
10. Take a cue from the Brits on catching lovers
On the night before Valentine’s Day, women in England used to place five bay leaves on their pillows — one at each corner and one in the center. They supposedly brought dreams of their future husbands. They also used to wet bay leaves with rosewater and scatter them on their pillows, giving a whole new meaning to “sweet dreams.”
In Norfolk, Jack Valentine serves as a sort of Valentine’s Day Santa. Merry old Father Valentine knocks on children’s doors and leaves them small gifts. Even though they never see the gift-bearer, he leaves them candy and little presents, bringing the love of the holiday to all ages.
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