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Valentine's Day around the World

Valentine's Day has its origin in the Roman Empire as a holiday on Feb 14th to celebrate the Queen of Roman gods and goddesses. The ancient Romans considered Queen Juno to be the goddess Queen of Women and Marriage. But wait, there's another legend. St. Valentine was a priest who defied the Roman emperor's order banning marriage between lovers during wartime and he secretly married them. When found out, he was put to death on Feb 14th and later became a Saint. Sounds about right, all our holidays stem from something gruesome. With that in mind, and with my own experience celebrating the V-Day, I was curious about how Valentine's Day is celebrated around the world.

Growing up in England, Valentine's Day to me always represented secret love. Apart from my Dad who always gave his daughters a Valentine's Day card, any other Valentine card you would receive would generally be anonymous. As a kid in a girls school, the only acknowledgement at school would be the girls doodling hearts or telling stories of the boys that they fancied. As a teenager and beginning to encounter some boys in my every day life, other than my brother, Valentine's Day took on this secretive love. Which boy might send you a card? Who did put that rose on your desk?

When I moved to America, Valentine's Day as everything is in the States, was much, much bigger. The stores were decorated with hearts and chocolate hearts, red beautiful dresses, chocolate heart cupcakes - Valentine's Day was almost as big a holiday as Christmas! Going out on a date on Valentine's Day somehow became more romantic. Gone was the cynicism of the Brits who would avoid anything that was smulchy. But also, instead of Valentine's Day being only something that was only kept for those who were in the romance club, it was a holiday for everyone! So parents show their love to their kids, kids show their love to their parents, love to all the extended family, friends acknowledge the holiday with their friends, to their pets!

So dating and meeting my husband, and raising my children in America, Valentine's Day symbolized all the above and became a day in our household to tell everyone how much they love them. Okay, you can be cynical and just say it's another was for the consumer industry to make money, but that cynicism is reserved for Brits only as only they do that best ;-)

When I recently returned to the UK, I thought the cynicism may have gone and the English may have embraced the holiday - but although all the shops fully embrace it - people still only see it as a day for those in the romance club. And those who don't fit within the club, feel depressed.

So when I picked my kids up from school, I asked if any of them had received a Valentine - No, was the answer. No candy gift, no chocolate wrapped up in a funny note as you see in the images above and to the side, no Valentine party, no Valentine craft, no excitement. Shame, really. However, when they got home, they discovered a huge bowl full of chocolate and candy ready and waiting for them - it is Valentine's Day after all!

When I posted my kids eating chocolate on Valentine's Day, I had many other friends in the UK and other countries other than the USA ask why chocolate today? What has Valentine's day got to do with chocolate? So it made me think - how do other countries celebrate V-Day? So here we go...

1. France! You would think France being the country of L'Amour and the top destination of love in the world, would be all about the love. Yes it is but only for those 'in love'. No loving gestures to your friends or family or to your pets (surprisingly for those gorgeous little poodles are deserving of lots of love). Roses, chocolate, jewelry, romantic dinners.

2. Italy! Another country known for it's romance! Again though, Italy is very much like France. V-Day is only for those 'in love'. But certain chocolates are given like 'Baci Perugina', which are small, chocolate-covered hazelnuts wrapped with a romantic quote printed in four languages.

3. Japan/South Korea, V-Day is the day women woo their men with chocolates, candies and flowers! In Japan they make two kinds of chocolates for men - 'Giri-choco' which is meant for your male friends, colleagues, bosses, acquaintances. Those who are and were your true love get what is called 'Honemi-choco'. The ladies have to wait until March 14th, White Day, when men celebrate their sweethearts giving them chocolates, flowers and a gift. For those who are single, there is Black Day on April 14th! Singles were black to commiserate and eat soup!

4. Denmark/Norway: Celebrated in a very American way with red roses still remaining the top gift for loved ones. However there is a tradition of 'Gaekkebrev' which are funny little poems or rhyming love notes that men send to their women anonymously on V-Day, giving them clues in the number of letters in the sender's name. If the lady in question guesses correctly, she will receive an Easter egg at Easter! If she doesn't know, she has to buy him an Easter egg...

5. Slovenia: Although Valentine's Day is celebrated now on the 14th, the Slovenian true version of Valentine’s day is called St. George’s day celebrated on 12th March. This is when the “birds are merry and they get ready to be wed”, meaning the spring is coming and love is in the air. It is said that many years ago, for this occasion people used to dress up as brides, grooms and wedding guests, going around the villages asking for gifts, all for good luck. 🙂

6. Czech Republic: Valentine's Day is on Feb 14th but the Czech love tradition usually takes place on May 1st. Many couples make a pilgrimage to the statue of poet of Karel Hynek Macha in Petrin Park, whilst a kiss beneath the cherry blossom is meant to bring good luck for the coming year.

7. Finland and Estonia: Here it's more a celebration of friendship rather than a day of love. People exchange cards and gifts among friends with the greeting 'Happy Friends' Day' (so a little more of the American holiday) and it is also a popular day to get engaged!

8. Philippines: February 14th is well known for a day of mass marriage! For some reason, increasingly popular. I really don't get this one.

9. Bulgaria: Valentine's Day is known as Winemakers Day where couples celebrate their love for each other over a good bottle of the nation's wine! Perfect!

10. Argentina: They set aside the whole week known as 'Sweetness week' where kisses are exchanged for sweet treats. I like this one :-)

11. China: The Chinese festival of love happens on the 7th day of the 7th month on the Chinese calendar. The store of two star crossed lovers who were forced apart due to their social status, yet allowed to reunite once a year. Trust the Chinese to have a far more epic and magical day of love.

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