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Love should be celebrated every day, no matter where on the planet you are—but people the world over somehow get a little loonier (or lovesick) every Valentine's Day.
Capitalism aside, the day of love has birthed some interesting, amusing, and occasionally downright unsettling traditions. Here are 14 of them.
Usually demure Japanese women use this day as an opportunity to express their love and affection for the important (and even not-so-important) people in their lives—through chocolate. “Cho-giri choko,” or the cheapest of chocolate, is given to people the woman may not like but feel obligated to gift. “Giri choko” is reserved for all the male friends, colleagues, and family members—people she feels no romantic interest toward. “Tomo choko” is for her female friends. And naturally, “honmei choko,” or homemade chocolate, is solely for the person she considers special. There have beenrumors circulating recently about women putting more than just sugar into the batter, however.
Exactly a month later on March 24, males reciprocate the affection given them on Valentine's on “White Day.” The unspoken rule is that the chocolate is way more expensive than what the woman gave, and that they may also give gifts like clothing and jewelry.
South Korea adapted the Japanese tradition almost to a tee. The women give the men chocolates on Valentine's Day, the men reciprocate on White Day (also March 14)—and on April 14, members of both sexes who received no gifts or chocolate on either day, get together at restaurants and eat jajangmyeon, a black noodle dish. April 14 has been thus dubbed “Black Day,” and can be seen both as a celebration and mourning ritual of the single life.
In addition, every 14th of the month in Korea has been marked as a day in which to show one's love in very different ways. Recently, couples have also been going for the "Keo-Peul-Look," in which a couple dons twinned articles of clothing in public as a proud display of their relationship status in a nation where public displays of affection are still frowned upon.
Which sex gives what gift on Valentine's Day and White Day in Japan and Korea is reversed in Taiwan. Also, the men take giving flowers to the extreme: it is said each flower (and their colors) has meaning, but in Taiwan, it's not so much about what kind you get (usually roses) as how many you've been given. One rose means the woman is his one and only love, 11 signifies his favoritism toward you, 99 can be taken to mean that he is saying his love is everlasting, and finally, 100 is the equivalent of a marriage proposal.
For one of the most romantic countries in the world, France sure has something strange up its sleeve with this now government-banned tradition. Single men and women entered houses facing each other and called to one another until paired in “Une loterie d'amour” or “love lottery.”
However, if a man did not like the woman he was paired with, he can simply leave her and let another man call her. Afterward, all the rejected women get together for a bonfire, into which they threw some of the belongings of the men who rejected them, cursing freely. The ensuing riots ensured that the French would have to find some other, less rowdy Valentine tradition to uphold.
Technically, this version of the day of love is St. George's Day in Catalonia, which is held on April 23. It goes by the name “El dia de la Rosa” (“The Day of the Rose”) or “El dia del Llibre” (“The Day of the Book”), as in the past, men gave women roses and women gave men books. This resulted in the saying, “a rose for love and a book forever.”
These days, both sexes exchange books as well. The tradition of exchanging books was first begun by a bookseller who wanted to commemorate the deaths of British playright William Shakespeare and Spanish novelist Miguel Cervantes on April 23, 1616. The rose and book exchanges have become so popular that Catalonia is sprinkled all over with rose stalls and book stands. The UNESCO has also turnedApril 23 into World Book Day.
In Portugal, chocolates simply aren't enough—men and women give each other full-blown gift baskets. Although, the baskets men give to women are inclusive of gourmet goodies and even gift certificates in addition to chocolate; while the baskets the women hang over to the men contain fine liquors and cheeses.
Though no longer officially recognized as a saint by the Vatican, for many Welsh, St. Dwynwen is the patron saint of lovers, and January 25 is her feast day. On this day, in a tradition that goes back to the 1600s, men give their intended hand-carved spoons, which the women are free to accept or reject. The designs carved onto the spoons were usually intricate and symbolic. These days, the tradition is still upheld for tradition's sake.
Men and women are usually paired up by a lottery drawing of names from two hats at a festival. Once paired, the men give the women gifts and the women pin the names of the men on their sleeves or above their hearts; then they dance—and sometimes, at the end of the festival, they marry.
By far, this sounds more romantic than the Scottish tradition of marrying the first man or woman an individual encounters on the street that day.
The UK has a lot of Valentine's-timed tradition that actually have nothing to do with Valentine's as we know it at all—which is great, as that widens the occasion to more than just a lovers' affair. In fact, you could say that Valentine's in the UK is a lot like Christmas and Halloween: for example, children carol door-to-door and get sweets in return. In Norfolk, someone called Jack Valentine or Old Father/Mother Valentine goes around leaviing presents on Valentine's Eve.
But that is not to say that England doesn't have a lovers-only tradition. Women used to line their pillows with bay leaves in the hopes that these would give them dreams of their future husbands.
The rage during Valentinsdag, as it is called in Denmark, used to be in giving each other pressed white flowers called Snowdrops. In addition, Danish men pen rhymes called Gaekkebrev, or “joking letters” that are signed with dots corresponding to each of the letters of the man's name.
If the woman guesses who he is, she gets an Easter egg later in the year. However, if she is unable to guess, it is she who owes the Easter egg. The Danes also throw parties in celebration of Valentinsdag, even going so far as to take the day off from work.
Finland and Estonia
Valentine's Day is known as Ystävänpäivä in Finland and Sõbrapäev in Estonia. Both roughly translate to “Friend's Day,” and is more about celebrating friendship than romantic love. “Happy Friends' Day!” is the greeting as people exchange cards and gifts. However, it is also common to propose or get married on this day.
Brazil's Dia dos Namorados ("Day of Lovers") is actually on June 12. The day before, women write the names of the men they like on pieces of paper, fold them up, and leave them in a pile.
Whoever they pick from the pile on June 12 will either be the person they will marry or the person they will pursue. Notably, June 13 is the feast day of St. Anthony, who is considered the patron saint of marriage.
February 14 is not celebrated at all in Brazil, as it is often too close to the Brazilian Carnival. For this reason, single Westerners looking to get away from Valentine's Day often flock to Brazil at this time of year.
In ancient times until the Middle Ages, the people of India adored the lord of love Kamadeva. The height of this was the writing of the Kama Sutra, the primary Sanskrit work on human sexuality, and the erotic carvings of the Khajuraho Group of Monuments. After the Middle Ages, public displays of affection fell out of favor until the 1990s.
In contemporary India, the Western version of Valentine's Day is quickly growing popular, despite the protests of traditionalists who consider this an invasion of Indian culture via Western culture.
Handed down from ancient Persian culture, Sepandarmazgan or Esfandegan is more like Mother's Day, when people express their affections toward mothers and wives. The day is also used to honor the earth and its deity, and is traditionally held on February 17 or 18.
Because certain traditionalists also do not like their people to celebrate the Western Valentine's Day, the Association of Iran's Cultural and Natural Phenomena have been trying to make Sepandarmazgan a national holiday since 2006. — KDM, GMA News