Valentine’s Day around the world

Have you ever wondered how people celebrate Valentine’s Day around the world, what Valentine’s day really is or where it came from? Though its precise origins are difficult to pin down, many believe Valentine’s Day comes from the days of the Roman empire, when Emperor Claudius II prohibited all marriages in order to boost recruitment for his military. The Christian priest, Valentine, disobeyed the emperor’s orders, and spent the rest of his life in prison after he was caught performing marriages.

Since the days of Roman rule (don’t we miss those), Valentine’s Day has morphed into nearly a worldwide holiday when we celebrate romantic love and exchange cards, chocolates and other “valentines” with loved ones. Though European in origin, many cultures celebrate Valentine’s Day around the world in different and interesting ways.


United Kingdom

Today’s UK Valentine’s traditions consist of the typical sweets, cards and flowers exchange. However, one interesting Valentine’s Day tradition from years ago was especially for women. On Valentine’s Day, women would place bay leaves on each corner of their pillows and one in the middle. Women were supposed to go to sleep on the pillow and dream of their future spouses. Another tradition that became popular during Saxon England was that on Valentine’s Day, boys would hand over a token of love, like a pair of gloves, to the special girl that caught their eye.



Though many Spaniards take part in the traditions typically associated with Valentine’s Day (chocolates, flowers, dinner), the citizens of Valencia have their own tradition to celebrate romantic love. On October 9th, they celebrate the Day of Saint Dionysius, known locally as the patron saint of lovers. On this day men give their partners what’s called a “Mocaorà”, a special gift comprising of marzipan figurines wrapped in silk.


Valentine's Day around the world


United States

Valentine’s Day is believed to have come to the United States thanks to English settlers. Exchanging cards was originally the Valentine’s custom until the mid-20th century when gift-giving became part of the tradition. Today the most common Valentine’s Day gifts in the United States include jewelry, chocolate candy, stuffed animals and roses.


Hong Kong/China

Chinese Valentine’s Day comes in the form of the Qixi Festival, which is celebrated on the seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar. The holiday, which dates back to the Han Dynasty, commemorates the day each year when a legendary cowherd (Niulang) and weaving maid (Zhinü) are allowed to be together as lovers. The legend of these lovers says the couple were banished from each other and would be united only on the seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar, when magpies would fly to form a bridge that brings them together for only that one day.


Valentine's Day around the world



In Colombia, Valentine’s Day (Dia de San Valentín) doesn’t have the same importance as the national “Día del Amor y la Amistad” (Day of Love and Friendship), which falls on the third Saturday of September. A common practice during the month is to play the game “Amigo Secreto” (Secret Friend), which is similar to the game Secret Santa, where you put the names of a group of friends in a hat, each pull out a name and then secretly give that person gifts throughout the month.



Exchanging elaborately decorated Valentine’s Day cards was an important part of how Australians celebrated romantic love. The custom actually dates back to the Ballarat Mine gold rush in Victoria. Today, in addition to cards, chocolates, jewelry and other gifts are exchanged as tokens of love. What’s unique about Australia is the men do a bit more card-giving than women. A local study said on Valentine’s Day, 58% of men buy cards on the occasion, while just 41% of women buy Valentine’s Day cards.




Photo 1. based on Candy Hearts, by Tyler Burrus, CC-by-2.0

Photo 2. based on Por ser San Valentín, by Manuel, CC-by-2.0

Photo 3. based on Valentine’s Day, by Cláudia Assad, CC-by-2.0


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Elizabeth Trovall

After short stints in Argentina and Belize, Elizabeth is finishing up her fourth year in Santiago, Chile. Elizabeth writes about international internships, life abroad and professional development for The Intern Group. She also reports on politics, business and culture in Latin America for public radio and print media. An Austin, Texas native, Elizabeth first left home to earn her journalism degree from the Reynolds Institute of Journalism at the University of Missouri. Besides her friends and family, she misses live music and Mexican food the most.
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