14 Valentine’s Day traditions from around the world
En Masse Marriages in the Philippines, snowdrop letters in Denmark, and more!? Globe Aware volunteers, find out how the rest of the world celebrates Valentine’s Day!
14 Valentine’s Day traditions from around the world
Find out how countries like France, Italy, Germany and others celebrate February 14 each year.
Jan. 6, 2023
By Barbara Bellesi Zito and Sarah Lemire
Each year on Valentine’s Day, Americans shower friends, family and lovers with gifts, greeting cards and romantic gestures to let their special someones know just how much they’re loved.
But what about other countries around the world — what kinds of Valentine’s Day traditions do they commemorate? And how are they the same and how do they differ from V-Day celebrations in the U.S.?
To find out more, TODAY.com looked at various Valentine’s Day customs in far-flung locales like Italy, Germany, England, Finland and, naturally, France too, since it’s home to The City of Love.
Read on to learn about the practices and romantic gestures citizens of those countries and others do to recognize the international day of love.
You might be surprised to learn that some countries, like Finland for example, don’t celebrate romance on Valentine’s Day, but rather the special bond of friendship.
Let’s take a look at some of the countries that are hit by Cupid’s bow each year and how they mark the occasion.
Instead of celebrating a traditional Valentine’s Day, in which significant others are honored with gifts, greeting cards and romantic gestures, Finland, instead celebrates Ystävänpäivä (pronounced YOUS-ta-van-PIE-vah).
Ystävänpäivä, loosely translates to “Friendship Day,” and that is exactly what’s commemorated each year on Feb. 14. Rather than showy displays of love and affection on Valentine’s Day, Fins offer their pals and loved ones small presents and mementos to let them know how much they’re valued.
Not so different from the U.S., people in Spain honor San Valentín, or Saint Valentine, on Feb. 14 and celebrate the holiday much like Americans, with gifts, romantic dinners and other sweet traditions.
For some, the real holiday for celebrating love comes on Oct. 9 when some Spaniards, particularly Valencians, commemorate a different saint: Saint Dionysus, who’s considered by many to be the patron saint of love. In honor of Oct. 9, certain regions of Spain host parades, festivals and other celebrations. It’s also customary for men to give their sweethearts silk scarves or handkerchiefs with marzipan in a tradition known as Mocaorà.
Valentine’s Day has gotten more popular over the years in the Czech Republic, although it’s celebrated as “The Day of Love” on May 1 instead of Feb. 14. It’s become a tradition for couples to visit the statue of Czech poet Karel Hynek Macha, situated near a cherry tree grove. As if this celebration of poetry weren’t romantic enough, the lovers kiss under the boughs of the cherry trees for good luck.
Couples are not the only ones who partake in Valentine’s Day festivities in Denmark and Norway. Friends and family swap “lover’s cards,” which range in sentiment from touching to hilarious. Some might even send an anonymous joke letter — the signature is written only using dots — called a “gaekkebrev.” The letter features intricate paper cut-outs and a short poem or message.
If recipient of the gaekkebrev — which translates to “snowdrop letter” — guesses the identity of the sender, they are owed an egg at Easter. It works in reverse, too: If the guess incorrectly, they must give the sender an Easter egg.
There’s a variety of ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day in England, but one of the more popular ways is to be regaled by the sweet sound of children singing. In turn, little crooners get candy, fruit or money. Some might even trade Valentine buns — also known as “plum shuttles” — baked with raisins, plums or caraway seeds to commemorate a bountiful harvest.
France, especially Paris, has long been considered one of the most romantic destinations on the planet, regardless of what day of the year it happens to be. But when Feb. 14 rolls around, lovers trade letters or cards and give gifts, much like they do in the U.S.
If you’ve had enough of heart-shaped trinkets on Valentine’s Day, get inspired by German couples who exchange pig-shaped gifts instead. Apparently, the pig is the symbol of both love and lust, so it’s not uncommon to give and receive pig statues, stuffed animals and more. Flowers and chocolates are also shared, as well as ginger cookies featuring loving phrases in icing.
You don’t have to be in a romantic relationship to revel in the love fest that is Valentine’s Day in Mexico. That’s because Feb. 14 is “El Día del Amor y Amistad,” which translates to the “Day of Love and Friendship,” where everyone regardless of their relationship status can celebrate with flowers, cards, stuffed animals and more.
No pressure if you’re dating someone in the Philippines and Valentine’s Day rolls around. The government actually hosts a huge marriage ceremony en masse so hundreds of lovebirds can tie the knot.
Chocolate is the way to celebrate Valentine’s Day in Japan. If someone’s really into you, you’ll get “honmei choco” (true love chocolate). But if you’re a friend or relative, you’ll enjoy “giri choco” (obligatory chocolate) instead. Honestly, it sounds like a sweet deal either way.
You won’t find many secret admirers on Valentine’s Day in South Africa, which is actually celebrated on Feb. 15 in honor of the Roman festival Lupercalia. That’s because some women will literally wear their heart on their sleeves — or rather, they’ll write the name of the object of their affection on a slip of paper and pin it to their sleeve. Not feeling that bold? You could simply shower someone with flowers or small gifts instead.
Flowers and gifts are abundant here, but so is chocolate — at least for the men. For Valentine’s Day, women gift their men with chocolate; the men respond in kind a month later on White Day. But singles are also given their day on April 14. This is known as Black Day, when uncoupled folks brood over (or celebrate?) their single status with a bowl of “jajangmyeon,” noodles in a black bean sauce.
To say that the Taiwanese like flowers as a token of love is an understatement. Men will give huge bouquets to their loves on Feb. 14 and later again on July 7. If you’re in Taiwan and receive a bouquet with exactly 108 roses, someone is asking you to marry them!
Italians celebrate “La Festa Degli Innamorati” in commemoration of Juno, the Goddess of Women and Marriage. Old-school tradition has it that the first man a single woman sees on Feb. 14 will become her husband (or at least look like him). It’s common to gift romantic partners with those well-loved Perugina Baci chocolates — delectable chocolate candies with a hazelnut or sweet cherry center covered by wrappers featuring poetic sentiments.
In Verona, where the star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet lived, Valentine’s Day stretches into four days of festivities marked by free concerts in the Piazza dei Signori and heart lanterns lighting up the town. Inspired lovers can share their sentiments in a love-letter writing contest, while foodies can indulge in one of the many dinner specials being offered by local restaurants.