Ah, Valentine’s day. Whether you have a long-term partner or are in the midst of being swept away by a budding romance, it’s a wonderful excuse to shower that special someone with love, adoration, and if they’re lucky — a gift or two. Valentine’s day traditions vary across the world, and it’s always good to get new ideas for how to tell your loved ones how much they mean to you!
In an age when it feels like everyone is trying to sell you something, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Valentine’s Day is just another unscrupulous marketing ploy to get you to buy things you don’t really need. However, this is far from the case. We may celebrate it in different ways all over the world, but Valentine’s Day has rich traditions that developed over a long and varied history.
This blog post will take a look at Valentine’s Day traditions here in the UK and elsewhere around the world.
What Is The Tradition Of Valentine’s Day In The UK?
In the UK, Valentine’s Day — celebrated annually on the 14th of February — is a day to show your appreciation of a partner or spouse, or as is often the case for school children (and the brave), a one-off chance to reveal your true affections to a secret crush.
Indeed, if you live in Britain, you’ll be used to seeing gift shops and supermarkets capitalising on the celebration. They’ll often start pushing their Valentine’s-centric wares as soon as Christmas is out the door. But people don’t seem to mind. We spend an estimated £1.3 billion each year on cards, flowers and other Valentine’s gifts. Who would have thought we were such a loved-up nation?
This didn’t just come out of nowhere. Since British chocolatiers, Cadbury, launched their heart-shaped box of chocolates in 1868, Valentine’s gift-giving has been a customary norm in the UK. Now if you’re in a relationship, a bunch of flowers, some luxury chocolates, or at least a heartfelt card isn’t just a lovely surprise. In fact, some people have started to expect such tokens from a committed beau or eager-to-please suitor.
How Does It Differ In Other Countries And Cultures?
Though many other European countries — such as Spain, Norway, and Italy — celebrate Valentine’s Day in much the same way as we do in the UK, the same can’t be said for lots of other countries and cultures. Although there are many different theories as to the beginnings of the tradition, most concede it began in Europe. Despite its continental beginnings, Valentine’s day quickly spread around the world. From there, it evolved and adopted new meanings and ways of being celebrated.
United States of America
Valentine’s Day traditions only really took off after 1847 in the United States. This was the year Esther Howland, the daughter of a Massachusettsan stationery shop owner, took inspiration from a Valentine sent to her from England and launched her own Valentine’s card business.
Now, Americans send over 200 million Valentine’s cards around the country every year — an impressive testament to the power of love. That’s a total spend of $18.2 billion on Valentine’s cards! Although UK and US Valentine’s gestures are very similar, you’ll find that in the US, the onus is much more geared towards spending as a sign of your affection.
In many Latin American countries, residents refer to Valentine’s day as Día de los Enamorados (Day of Lovers), Día del Amor y la Amistad (Day of Love and Friendship), or Día del Cariño (Affection Day). This means the day extends to the wider appreciation of friends, rather than just lovers.
This is the sentiment in a few other countries too, such as Finland and Estonia, which celebrate “Friends Day” to appreciate platonic relationships and not necessarily romantic partners. We think this is a lovely way for everyone to feel involved in the fun. Friends are just as important as partners — they deserve some recognition!
Many people see France as one of the most romantic countries in the world. However, it’s possible that France played a crucial role in the story of the original Valentine’s card. Rumour has it that French nobleman Charles, Duke of Orléans, send the first-ever Valentine to his wife when he was imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1415. In referring to her as his ‘Valentine’ in a poem, Charles inadvertently started a tradition that would endure hundreds of years and spread around the world.
Unlike in Latin America, in modern-day France, Valentine’s Day traditions are for lovers only. So, don’t go sending Valentine’s cards to all of your French friends — they might get the wrong impression!
From the late 1950s, Valentine’s Day traditions started to gain traction in Japan. This was due to a stint of well-targeted marketing campaigns aiming to popularise the custom. Now, it’s typical (although currently disputed) for Japanese women to give chocolates to their male coworkers every year. The emphasis really is on Valentine’s chocolate here – and why would you give anything else? Western gifts such as cards, flowers, and date nights aren’t standard practice for Valentine’s day in Japan.
Interestingly, it’s also customary for women in South Korea to give chocolate to men on the 14th of February. Apparently, they are rumoured to give more generous amounts than their Japanese counterparts! Men return the favour one month later on March 14th (known as White Day) when they give non-chocolate confectionery to women. Sometimes, you’ll get left out and find yourself with no presents at all! If this happens, it’s tradition to go to a Chinese-Korean restaurant to eat black noodles and anguish at your torturously single life.
South Koreans actually celebrate love, not just on Valentine’s Day, but on the 14th of every other month. Maybe we should take a leaf out of their book!
On Valentine’s day in the Philippines you’ll find lovers exchanging roses and chocolates in keeping with the stereotypical Western tradition. What might surprise you, however, is that the 14th of February is actually the most common date to have your wedding anniversary in the Philippines. This could be because of free mass wedding ceremonies held by local governments on Valentine’s Day each year.
Being true romantics at heart, many Filipinos choose this day to confess their feelings to a secret crush. How? Sometimes they’ll offer a gift, or a havana — a common serenade tradition. Of course, they can also just bite the bullet and straight-up tell them!
Fantastically, in Ghana, the government named the 14th of February “National Chocolate Day” by the government. This was a strategy to increase the domestic consumption of cocoa, which is usually exported. The day encourages lovers to give each other chocolate gifts and to take part in various chocolate-based activities. Ghana is one of the largest cocoa producers in the world – something that they should definitely celebrate!
There you have it — it seems that not many countries are exempt from Valentine’s fever. Wherever you’re based, don’t be afraid to show your affection and spread the love.
Gift-giving seems to be a recurring theme in each of the Valentine’s day traditions we’ve discussed. And why shouldn’t it be? It’s a great way to take part in the tradition. It’s true that choosing a present can be daunting. But, if you’re looking for the perfect token of your love to give to him or her, it’s clear you can’t go wrong with some high quality, ethical chocolates and a meaningful card.