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Feb 14, 2022 12:00:00 AM | Valentine's Day Across Cultures

Global understands that language and culture go together and here we examine the culture surrounding Valentine's day.

I am a hopeless romantic. I married my high school sweetheart. Even if we are saying nothing, as long as we are sitting next to each other, my heart is at peace. I remember in school for Valentines Day we would decorate paper bags or shoe boxes and then hand out little valentines to our classmates. Everyone would put these valentines in each other’s decorated paper bag or shoebox like a little mailbox and then you got to read them later. What joy it was to look through all these little pieces of happiness. Such fond memories.

It got me to thinking…how do other countries celebrate this sweet little holiday of love? Is a “Hallmark” holiday or does it have deeper roots? Google…point the way!

First, it is NOT a “Hallmark” holiday. It is celebrated in the name of St. Valentine, a priest who served during the 3rd century in Rome. Why we honor this priest is a bit of a mystery though. One story says that when the Emperor Claudius the second announced that single men made better soldiers than married men and then outlawed marriage for young soldiers, Valentine went against this order. He would perform secret marriages for young lovers. When Claudius found out, he ordered Saint Valentine be put to death.

Another story states Saint Valentine helped Christians escape Roman prisons where they were treated horribly and tortured. To honor his heroics, couples celebrate this day with love.

While the history is fascinating, I did find that most countries do celebrate some sort of Valentines Day. If they don’t share the date of February 14, they have some sort of celebration of love during the year. (I also found that a few countries have used this to their advantage to showcase their major export like wine or cocoa. Ghana for instance, has a National Chocolate Day. It began in 2007, and they are one of the worlds largest cocoa producers. This is sponsored by their government.). Here are a few that stood out to me:

Argentina: They celebrate a week of sweetness in July where they share gifts of cards and chocolates. (A week of chocolates? Sign me up!)

France: Do you really think I could avoid talking about France? It wreaks of romance! This could be why…it is believed the first ever Valentine Card was sent here in 1415 when Charles, the Duke of Orleans sent love letters to his wife from prison. (My heart be still…)

Also, they have a village named Valentine that decorates for Valentines Day every year. Flowers, cards, all of it, everywhere.

South Korea: They celebrate love on the 14th of every month. For instance May 14 is the day of roses, June 14 is the day of kisses, December 14 is the day of hugs. April 14 is for single people and is called Black Day. It’s traditional to eat black noodles on this day.

Wales: On January 25 they have the Day of Dwynwen when lovers exchange handcrafted wooden spoons. This has been happening since the 16th century.

Spain: Day of love in Valencia on October 9. On this day they have the Feast of Dionysus. They have colorful parades. It is customary for men to make Macadora, a marzipan figurine and give it to female companions.

South West China: Miao…on March 15 they have what is called the Sisters Meal. Women wear silver accessories and beautiful dresses. They make a meal of colorful cooked rice and put it in silk fabric. (Inside the rice they hide things). They offer the fabric with rice to the young men walking along the road. The items hidden in the rice tell the destiny of their relationship. If they receive 2 chopsticks, love is in the air. If they receive a clove of garlic, love is over before it has begun.

Estonia: This is my favorite. They celebrate Sobrapaev, Friendship Day. A festival for everyone to exchange gifts and celebrate love, friends and family alike.

Japan: Women buy gifts for men on February 14. Men cannot return gifts until March 14, known as White Day.

As you see, there are so many different types of celebrations, yet at the center is a relationship and love. (And usually a gift!). I’m of the opinion you don’t need a day to show you care, show you care every day.

Here at Global Interpreting Services, we understand that language is just the beginning. Language and culture are tied together which is why we work with some of the best interpreters. The best way to show your clients and patients you care is to show respect for their language and their ability to make choices. And at Global we are here to help you show you care.

Dawn Flanigan

Written By: Dawn Flanigan