Monday, February 2, 2009
The History of Valentine's Day and Worldwide Celebrations
Valentine's Day or Saint Valentine's Day is a holiday celebrated on February 14 by many people throughout the world. In the West, it is the traditional day on which lovers express their love for each other by sending Valentine's cards, presenting flowers, or offering confectionery. The holiday is named after two among the numerous Early Christian martyrs named Valentine. The day became associated with romantic love in the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the High Middle Ages, when the tradition of courtly love flourished.
An alternative theory from Belarus states that the holiday originates from the story of Saint Valentine, who upon rejection by his mistress was so heartbroken that he took a knife to his chest and sent her his still-beating heart as a token of his undying love for her. Hence, heart-shaped cards are now sent as a tribute to his overwhelming passion and suffering.
The day is most closely associated with the mutual exchange of love notes in the form of "valentines." Modern Valentine symbols include the heart-shaped outline, doves, and the figure of the winged Cupid. Since the 19th century, handwritten notes have largely given way to mass-produced greeting cards. The sending of Valentines was a fashion in nineteenth-century Great Britain, and, in 1847, Esther Howland developed a successful business in her Worcester, Massachusetts home with hand-made Valentine cards based on British models. The popularity of Valentine cards in 19th-century America was a harbinger of the future commercialization of holidays in the United States.
The U.S. Greeting Card Association estimates that approximately one billion valentines are sent each year worldwide, making the day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year behind Christmas. The association estimates that women purchase approximately 85 percent of all valentines.
Similar traditions from around the world
In the West
Valentine's Day has regional traditions in the UK. In Norfolk, a character called 'Jack' Valentine knocks on the rear door of houses leaving sweets and presents for children. Although he was leaving treats, many children were scared of this mystical person. In Wales, many people celebrate Dydd Santes Dwynwen (St Dwynwen's Day) on January 25 instead of or as well as St Valentine's Day. The day commemorates St Dwynwen, the patron saint of Welsh lovers. In France, a traditionally Catholic country, Valentine's Day is known simply as "Saint Valentin", and is celebrated in much the same way as other western countries. In Spain Valentine's Day is known as "San Valentín" and is celebrated the same way as in the U.K, although in Catalonia it is largely superseded by similar festivities of rose and/or book giving on El Dia de San Jordi (Saint George's Day). In Portugal it's more commom refered to it as "Dia dos Namorados" (Boy/Girlfriend's Day).
In Denmark and Norway, Valentine's Day (14 Feb) is known as Valentinsdag. It is not celebrated to a large extent, but a lot people take time to eat a romantic dinner with their partner, to send a card to a secret love or give a red rose to their loved one. In Sweden it is called Alla hjärtans dag ("All Hearts' Day") and was launched in the 1960s by the flower industry's commercial interests, and due to influence of American culture. It is not an official holiday, but its celebration is recognized and sales of cosmetics and flowers for this holiday are only bested by those for Mother's Day.
In Finland Valentine's Day is called Ystävänpäivä which translates into "Friend's day". As the name indicates, this day is more about remembering all your friends, not only your loved ones. In Estonia Valentine's Day is called Sõbrapäev, which has a similar meaning.
In Slovenia, a proverb says that "St Valentine brings the keys of roots," so on February 14, plants and flowers start to grow. Valentine's Day has been celebrated as the day when the first works in the vineyards and on the fields commence. It is also said that birds propose to each other or marry on that day. Nevertheless, it has only recently been celebrated as the day of love. The day of love is traditionally March 12, the Saint Gregory's day. Another proverb says "Valentin - prvi spomladin" ("Valentine — first saint of spring"), as in some places (especially White Carniola) Saint Valentine marks the beginning of spring.
In Romania, the traditional holiday for lovers is Dragobete, which is celebrated on February 24. It is named after a character from Romanian folklore who was supposed to be the son of Baba Dochia. Part of his name is the word drag ("dear"), which can also be found in the word dragoste ("love"). In recent years, Romania has also started celebrating Valentine's Day, despite already having Dragobete as a traditional holiday. This has drawn backlash from many groups, reputable persons and institutions but also nationalist organizations like Noua Dreaptǎ, who condemn Valentine's Day for being superficial, commercialist and imported Western kitsch.
Valentine's Day is called Sevgililer Günü in Turkey, which translates into "Sweethearts' Day".
According to Jewish tradition the 15th day of the month of Av - Tu B'Av (usually late August) is the festival of love. In ancient times girls would wear white dresses and dance in the vineyards, where the boys would be waiting for them (Mishna Taanith end of Chapter 4). In modern Israeli culture this is a popular day to pronounce love, propose marriage and give gifts like cards or flowers.
Central and South America
In Guatemala, Valentine's Day is known as "Día del Amor y la Amistad" (Day of Love and Friendship). Although it is similar to the United States' version in many ways, it is also common to see people do "acts of appreciation" for their friends.
In Brazil, the Dia dos Namorados (lit. "Day of the Enamored", or "Boyfriends'/Girlfriends' Day") is celebrated on June 12, when couples exchange gifts, chocolates, cards and flower bouquets. This day was chosen probably because it is the day before the Festa junina’s Saint Anthony's day, known there as the marriage saint, when traditionally many single women perform popular rituals, called simpatias, in order to find a good husband or boyfriend. The February 14's Valentine's Day is not celebrated at all, mainly for cultural and commercial reasons, since it usually falls too little before or after Carnival, a major floating holiday in Brazil — long regarded as a holiday of sex and debauchery by many in the country — that can fall anywhere from early February to early March.
In most of South America the Día del amor y la amistad (lit. "Love and Friendship Day") and the Amigo secreto ("Secret friend") are quite popular and usually celebrated together on the 14 of February (one exception is Colombia, where it is celebrated on September 20). The latter consists of randomly assigning to each participant a recipient who is to be given an anonymous gift (similar to the Christmas tradition of Secret Santa).
Thanks to a concentrated marketing effort, Valentine's Day is celebrated in some Asian countries with Singaporeans, Chinese and South Koreans spending the most money on Valentine's gifts.
In Japan, it has become an obligation for many women to give chocolates to all male co-workers. This is known as giri-choko (義理チョコ), from the words giri ("obligation") and choko, ("chocolate"). This contrasts with honmei-choko (本命チョコ); chocolate given to a loved one. Friends, especially girls, may exchange chocolate referred to as tomo-choko (友チョコ); from tomo meaning "friend". By a further marketing effort, a reciprocal day called White Day has emerged. On March 14, men are expected to return the favour to those who gave them chocolates on Valentine's Day.
In South Korea, women give chocolate to men on February 14, and men give non-chocolate candy to women on March 14. On April 14 (Black Day), those who did not receive anything on the 14th of Feb or March go to a Chinese restaurant to eat black noodles and "mourn" their single life. Koreans also celebrate Pepero Day on November 11, when young couples give each other Pepero cookies. The date '11/11' is intended to resemble the long shape of the cookie. The 14th of every month marks a love-related day in Korea, although most of them are obscure. From January to December: Candle Day, Valentine's Day, White Day, Black Day, Rose Day, Kiss Day, Silver Day, Green Day, Music Day, Wine Day, Movie Day, and Hug Day.
In China, the common situation is the man gives chocolate, flowers or both to the woman that he loves. In Chinese, Valentine's Day is called (simplified Chinese: 情人节; traditional Chinese: 情人節; pinyin: qing ren jie).
Similar Asian traditions
In Chinese culture, there is an older observance related to lovers. It is called "The Night of Sevens" (Chinese: 七夕; pinyin: Qi Xi). According to the legend, the Cowherd star and the Weaver Maid star are normally separated by the milky way (river) but are allowed to meet by crossing it on the 7th day of the 7th month of the Chinese calendar.
An observance on the same day in Korea is called Chilseok, but its association with romance has long faded.
In Japan, a slightly different version of 七夕 (called Tanabata, which is said to mean 棚機 a weaver for a god) is celebrated, on July 7 on the Gregorian calendar. The legend behind it is similar to the Chinese one. However, it is never regarded that the celebration is even remotely related with the St. Valentine's Day or lovers giving gifts to each other.
The Middle East
In Iranian culture, Sepandarmazgan is a day for love, which is on 29 Bahman in the Jalali solar calendar of Iran. The corresponding date in the Gregorian calendar is February 17. Valentine's day is currently celebrated in Iran despite some restrictions made by government; young Iranian boys and girls are seen on this day going out and buying gifts and celebrating.
In Saudi Arabia in 2008, religious police banned the sale of all Valentine's Day items, telling shop workers to remove any red items, as the day is considered an un-Islamic holiday. This ban created a black market of roses and wrapping paper.