UPDATED: This article was originally published on February 9, 2017.
This week, shelves will be brimming with kissing teddy bears, heart-shaped chocolates and other novelty marketing gimmicks designed to make single people weep. Yep, Valentine’s Day is here again.
But although February 14 has become synonymous with Hallmark, smugness and consumerism in many parts of the world, not every culture chooses to declare their love via a sappy greeting card or overpriced rose. Some dedicate a day (or week) to celebrating friendship, while others choose to pin their hearts to their sleeve or burn photographs of people who’ve done them wrong (which we definitely don’t condone).
From mourning the single life over a plate of noodles to walking barefoot through frozen fields, here are some of the more unusual ways that Valentine’s Day is celebrated around the world:
One day isn’t enough for the passionate Argentinians – they also devote an entire week in July to the festival of love, calling it ‘Sweetness week’. Between the 13th and 20th, lovers exchange kisses for candy, and finish up the week of celebrations with a friendship day as well. Cute.
Finland and Estonia slow things right down on Valentine’s Day, opting for a friendlier celebration called Ystävän Päivä in Finnish and Sõbrapäev in Estonian instead. Here, February 14 is all about celebrating friendship, and people exchange presents and cards with the greeting ‘Happy Friends Day’. Probably not what you’ve been waiting to hear from your crush all this time…
Finding love can be a lottery, and no one knows this better than the French! Une loterie d’amour – a surprisingly unromantic custom from the country of love – saw hopeful singles line up in houses facing each other and call through the windows until they eventually paired up. Those women left partner-less then built a large bonfire, ceremoniously burning images of the men who rejected them whilst hurling insults into the sky. If that doesn’t call for an impassioned ‘Sacre bleu!’ I don’t know what does!
Fortunately, after things started getting a little unruly, the French government decided to ban the practice altogether. We get it. Instead of setting things on fire, we recommend heading to the nearest market and stocking up on the four Cs for a perfect Valentine’s Day: cheese, croissants, chocolate and champagne. C’est magnifique.
In Japan, it’s the gals who spoil the object of their affections with chocolates – but it’s the type of chocolate given that counts.
For husbands, boyfriends, or prospective partners, high quality/very very delicious honmei-choco (‘true feeling’) chocolates are hand delivered, while colleagues or acquaintances receive giri-choco (the cheaper ‘obligation chocolate’). If you’re unlucky (or unlikeable?), you might even end up with a box of cho-giri choco: ultra-obligation chocolate reserved for the most unpopular of male colleagues. Ouch.
When White Day comes around on March 14, those who received honmei-choco are expected to return the sweet favour by giving their loved ones presents worth two to three times the chocolates they received, like jewellery or fancy underwear.
Translated into English roughly as ‘joke letters’, Gaekkebrev – a Norwegian tradition originating in the 18th century – is more romantic than it sounds. Secret admirers pen poems to their beloved, before cutting intricate patterns into the paper and pressing a small white Snowdrop flower inside. The ‘joke’ comes from the letter’s signature – or rather, it’s absence. Instead, budding poets sign off with a dot for each letter of their name.
If the lady correctly guesses who her admirer is, she wins an Easter egg at Easter. If not, the yolk’s on her and she has to give him one instead.
If you’ve ever dreamed of getting married alongside your best friends, acquaintances, neighbours, colleagues, and the waiter from your favourite restaurant, Valentine’s Day in the Philippines may just be your celebration.
Every year on Valentine’s Day, hundreds (sometimes thousands) of couples come together to be married en masse in public places. Often, the celebrations are sponsored by the government as a public service, allowing underprivileged couples the opportunity to tie the knot.
In Slovenia, where St Valentine is one of the patron saints of spring, February 14 marks the first day of working in the fields for the New Year. It’s believed that this is the day that plants start to regenerate (there’s even a proverb that says “St Valentine brings the keys of roots”).
There’s also a belief that birds ‘propose’ to each other on this day, and to bear witness to the occasion, you have to walk barefoot through fields that are often still frozen. It’s Saint Gregory’s Day on March 12 when people generally celebrate their love for each other (in a hopefully warmer, less frostbite-y way).
8. South Korea
Adapted from the Japanese tradition, women in South Korea are also in charge of the chocolate-giving on Valentine’s Day, receiving presents in return on White Day a month later.
If your first two Valentine’s Days pass without a whiff of romance, never fear. The Koreans have taken things one step further by adding a third day: to mourn being forever alone. ‘Black Day’ on April 14, has become an informal celebration/commiseration of the single life, when singletons dress in head to toe black, gather with their friends to enjoy jajangmyeon, Korean noodles with a black bean sauce (in all honesty, slurping up noodles actually sounds like a pretty great way to spend the day).
The romance, or lack of, doesn’t end there though, with romantic celebrations continuing on the 14th of the month throughout the year; May’s Rose Day, June’s Kiss Day, and December’s Hug Day to name a few.
9. South Africa
Many South Africans celebrate the day of love with chocolates, flowers, and candlelit dinners in romantic locations. But, for the times when an anonymously signed card doesn’t do the trick, South Africans don’t mind wearing their heart on their sleeve – literally.
Following a Roman festival called ‘Lupercalia’ (thought to be the predecessor to Valentine’s Day), young girls pin the name of their love on their sleeve for the day. Luckily, this is a much tamer version of the original festival, at which goats were sacrificed and men would run through the streets wearing the skins, whipping women to bless them with fertility.
Embrace the traditions you like (ie. eating noodles and cheese) and ditch the ones you don’t on an Intrepid small group adventure now. Check out our full range of adventures here.
Feature photo by Pat O’Neill.