Despite its lowly status as a Hallmark holiday to some, Valentine’s Day has undoubtedly carved out a significant place for itself within American culture. From the confectionary chaos on store shelves each February to the endless television specials and rom-com releases, it is no surprise that Valentine’s Day has leapt borders to be celebrated in countries around the world. Most of us are familiar with the traditional Valentine’s Day customs practiced in America and most Western countries, but it may be interesting to discover some of the ways Cupid’s holiday is observed around the globe.
Known for its capital city of love, France has a rich history with Valentine’s Day. The typical exchanging of cards, candies and other gifts is as popular a practice in France as it is here. Numerous sources even credit the country as the origin of the first Valentine greeting card, sent by the Duke of Orleans in the 15th century. However, the same sources also describe a now-banned tradition that contrasts with France’s romantic reputation. The “loterie d’amour,” or drawing for love, was a figurative lottery in which men and women in neighboring houses would call out to one another and split up into couples. The women who were jilted for a more desirable pairing and the ones who couldn’t get a match at all would build a large bonfire, ceremoniously burn pictures of their paramours and abuse the ones that came near with insults and curses. Admittedly, this sounds pretty fun for us perpetually single humans, but these ladies ended up raging so hard it was too much for the French government to handle.
In countries like Japan and South Korea, the joys of Valentine’s Day stretch beyond a single day in February. On Feb. 14, young lovers take a Sadie Hawkins approach to the holiday with the tradition of women gifting their male counterparts things like chocolates, cards and flowers. This practice is unique given the reverse-gendered nature of gift-giving in Western culture. Then, on March 14, women are repaid for their Valentine’s Day affections on what is known as White Day. On this companion holiday, men give their partners white chocolate and gifts of two or three times more value than the ones they received. For the South Koreans who receive no gifts on either Valentine’s or White Day, there’s a fringe holiday celebrated directly one month after the latter called Black Day. On this aptly named day, singles mourn their loneliness, literally dressing in black as if attending a funeral. They also eat jajangmyeon, a Chinese black bean paste noodle dish.
In February, Brazillians are too busy with the celebration of Carnaval and the upcoming Lenten season to pay much attention to Valentine’s Day. But that doesn’t mean the South American country doesn’t make time to celebrate love like the rest of the world. “Dia dos Namorados” or Lovers’ Day, has been unofficially dubbed Brazil’s Valentine’s Day. Celebrated on June 12, the holiday is observed the day before St. Anthony’s Day, which honors the patron saint of marriage. Brazilians give the usual greeting cards, flowers and candies to friends and family alike, not just significant others. “Simpatias,” rituals involving figurines, are also performed by those praying that St. Anthony will deliver them a spouse.