Valentine’s Day traditions
Unusual Valentine’s Day traditions from around the world
Many countries celebrate Valentine’s Day. Whilst in the UK we tend to buy cards, flowers and chocolates for our Valentines, other countries have other Valentine’s Day traditions to show their love to their Valentine.
My favourite must be in Finland. Fins are very inclusive and since the 1980’s February 14th has been called Ystävänpäivä, or Day of the Friends. It’s a day to celebrate friendships with a card and a small gift. Sweethearts can be included but it’s about recognising friends, family and even work colleagues and neighbours. With over 60% of the population living alone, this is a lovely way to send some love.
In Argentina, home of the sensual tango, they don’t just reserve one day to their Valentines, but a whole week. “Sweetness Week” starts on the 1st July and during the next 7 days kisses are exchanged for sweet treats. Unsurprisingly this week of celebration was the cunning plan of confectionery company Arcor. The Argentine food company started an advertising campaign “Candy for a Kiss” in 1989 and it was wholeheartedly embraced by the passionate population. During Sweetness Week candy sales increase by around 20%.
Taiwanese suitors are all about flowers. Not unusual for Valentine’s Day but in Taiwan the number of roses is very significant. If one red rose is given it signifies one love. Giving ninety-nine roses tells the valentine they are your forever love. One hundred and eight is a marriage proposal. Taiwan is also not content with having to wait a full year to celebrate love, they have two days, 14th February and 7th July.
In Japan they have a reciprocal day to Valentine’s Day called White Day. The tradition started in the 1970s, women would give chocolates or a Honmei choco (true feeling chocolate) to their Valentine on 14th February. One month later on 14th March (White Day) the men would reciprocate with white chocolates. Today gifts may be given instead of chocolates. Yes you’ve guessed it, White Day was the idea of the National Confectionery Industry Association on the pretext of answering or paying back the gifts given to the men on Valentine’s Day. Sometimes the White Day gift can be tripled, sanbai gaeshi, which means triple the return. The man will give a gift that is three times the value of the gift he received!
China has a festival for lovers. The Festival of Qixi takes place in August on the 7th day of the 7th month of the lunisolar calendar. This festival has been celebrated since the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD). The festival celebrates the beautiful mythological love story of the cowherd and weaver girl.
The story goes like this. There was once a poor but kindly young cowherd called Niulang. Niulang had helped an old sick ox that been demoted from the god of cattle due to poor behavior! The ox wanted to show his gratitude to Niulang by helping him meet up with Zhinü a weaver girl he admired from afar. Zhinü was in fact a fairy and the seventh daughter of the Goddess of Heaven and the Jade Emporer. She found life in heaven pretty boring so had escaped to earth to find excitement and once she met Niulang they fell in love. Unbeknownst to the Goddess of Heaven they married and started to live a very happy life together along with their two children.
As with all good stories their secret was not to remain a secret for long, the Goddess found out and was furious she didn’t want her daughter marrying a mere mortal. She sent soldiers to bring Zhinü back to live in heaven. Niulang and the children were beside themselves with sadness. The ox seeing the family’s distress told Niulang to kill him and then use his skin to hide under and then gain entry into heaven to find his wife. Reluctantly Niulang agreed and along with his children, he travelled to heaven with his children to find his true love.
When Niulang reached Zhinü in Heaven the Goddess saw his deception and made a deep river open up between them (the milky way). The family was beside themselves with grief at the thought of being separated forever. The magpies saw what was happening and took pity on them. All the magpies joined together to form a bridge so the lovers could meet on the magpie bridge. The Goddess softened once she saw their love and decided to allow the couple to meet on the bridge once a year on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month.
In modern-day China the Qixi Festival is celebrated much like ours by lovers going out to dinner and/or exchanging cards and gifts. Traditionally young girls would prey to be bestowed with great sewing skills like Zhinü. They would sew samples to show how skilled they were and prepare fruit to worship Zhinü. Children would hang flowers on the horns of oxen to honour the old ox.
Whatever Valentine’s Day traditions you have, whether you are single or have a partner, have a great Valentine’s Day and spread a bit of love and happiness around the world.
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