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Valentine’s Day around the globe: corporate ploy or a universal love-fest?

Kate Brayden speaks to TheCity.ie readers worldwide about their homegrown customs and traditions on Cupid's favourite day
Photo: Pexels

Kate Brayden speaks to TheCity.ie readers worldwide about their homegrown customs and traditions on Cupid’s favourite day

There are plenty of valid reasons why a person doesn’t acknowledge Valentine’s Day as a holiday worth celebrating, unless you’re a hopeless romantic who counts down the days until red roses appear and chocolates manifest themselves in front of your eyes. Maybe you’re more of a believer in Galentine’s Day, or Palentine’s Day?

How does February 14 play out in different countries around the world? Some nations have unique traditions and customs that Westerners have never even heard of, but it’s usually the cliché of dinner dates under the Eiffel Tower that make it onto Hollywood movie sets.

TheCity.ie asked its readers from around the globe if they worship Saint Valentine with candles and a decreasing bank balance (do you realise how expensive red roses are?), and whether they treat their significant other any differently based on the calendar date.

There are some niche ideas to show love to those around you hidden within this article, so take note. Some of these customs may need to die a slow death, based purely on their patriarchal origins: try to park those thoughts at the door and you just might end up as a Hallmark salesperson one day.

Japan (31-year-old Hitomi Kaguyama)

Photo: Pexels

“In Japan, we don’t “celebrate” Valentine’s Day per se. Valentine’s day is the day people give chocolates unilaterally or bilaterally. We follow this custom because we imagine the meaning of Valentine’s Day is the day of giving chocolates, instead of the day of celebration. In Japan, the feeling of “everyone is doing” tends to be focused more than the actual reason for the action.”

[Giri(義理)means a duty or an obligation.“Giri-Choco” is the Japanese word which means “to give chocolate from a sense of obligation”. ] 

“Most of the time, a “Giri-Choco” is the chocolates which people give to somebody without a sense of love or affection. When girls feel too shy to present chocolates to the only person who they like, they give chocolates to other people as camouflage. Like that, giving a “Giri-Choco” is the way to distract their shyness as well as to thank their bosses, friends etc. whom they think they are supported by in everyday life.”

The Guardian reported last Valentine’s Day in 2019 that the tradition is falling out of favour in Japan, as a result of skyrocketing pressure being placed on women’s shoulders. 

Women spend obscene amounts of yen buying male colleagues chocolates in the practice of “forced giving”, with men under pressure to reciprocate on March 14. White Day is an event essentially dreamed up by chocolate makers in the 1980s to earn more cash.

“I used to think “why only girls have to do it?” but now I don’t care at all because Valentine’s Day is only a day in which we are expected to follow the custom in society. So, even if girls are expected to do something on the day, it doesn’t matter for me anymore.

“For me, Valentine’s Day is the day I feel weary of the pressure from my company by which I need to consider whether I should give chocolates to someone or not. Also, in case someone gives me a ‘Giri-Choco’, I would have to think whether I should return them something back on ‘White Day’ on March 14, which is quite tiring.”

The sense of obligation can arguably lead to incidents of harassment and abuse in the workplace, the Guardian article argues. 

Belgian chocolatier Godiva ran a full-page newspaper ad urging businesses to encourage female employees not to hand out giri choco if they felt they were doing so under duress.

“Valentine’s Day is a day when people convey their true feelings, not coordinate relationships at work,” said the advertisement.

South Korea, 23-year-old Jamie

“Well, Pepero Day is basically a day when you give a ‘pepero’ or a ‘pocky’ to someone you care about! It’s like a Korean Valentine’s Day, I guess, and Pepero Day is celebrated on November 11 as the date shows resemblance to pepero sticks!”

Photo: Maangchi.com

While this sounds all very jovial, an alternative tradition for single people sounds slightly depressing. In South Korea, people who do not receive gifts on Valentine’s Day or White Day gather to eat Jajangmyeon (noodles with black sauce).

The unusual holiday takes place on April 14, and anyone who wants to celebrate the occasion of loneliness wears all-black clothes for the meal of comfort food. Unorthodox as it may be, black noodles are a delicious delicacy which would almost encourage someone to stay single for the day. 

India, 24-year-old Anmol and 24-year-old Sangha

“In India, Valentine’s Day is still celebrated on the 14th. It’s a similar idea, with a lot of gift exchanges, holidays or going out to dinner. It’s very Westernised – it was never a real thing, it was adopted by India. It’s seen as cool to celebrate because it’s the same holiday that America has. Interestingly, the people aren’t really allowed to engage in PDA, or there’s a sort of moral policing of sorts.”

Woman selling roses in India. Photo: Pinterest

Some rowdy protests take place every year on February 14th – mainly because the holiday is seen as overly-Westernised, but also because it is seen as a corporate scam for economic gain. The day is an unwelcome influence of Western culture on India, according to certain political parties.

The Mumbai city unit chief Nana Wadekar of Shiv Sena has stated that Valentine’s Day encourages obscene and vulgar acts. Sri Ram Sena leader Pramod Muthalik was quoted in saying that couples seen celebrating the day by his activists would be forcibly married. If the couples reject marriage, then the girl will be forced to tie rakhi to the boy, a ritual which would make them siblings. The Luke and Leia storyline doesn’t exactly scream romance, in our opinion…

Brazil, 28-year-old Schillachi

“There’s no original Brazilian Valentine’s Day, it’s celebrated every second Friday of June instead of during February.” 

Photo: Unsplash

Brazilians celebrate Dia dos Namorados (‘Sweethearts’ Day’) on June 12. This date is special for Brazilian people, as it occurs on the eve of St. Anthony’s Day – the famous matchmaker and protector of lovers in the country’s folklore. Women who are single pray and practice rituals to the saint in the hopes of finding a husband. Drowning an image of the saint upside down in water until someone proposes is just one option. We haven’t acquired any hard evidence of the success of this tactic, but we suspect it’s usually a failure. 

South Africa, 26-year-old Kevin

“In South Africa, go wear the name of the person you love, or have  romantic feelings for, pinned to your wrist. It’s literally wearing your heart on your sleeve!” 

It’s a tradition dating back to the ancient Roman festival Lupercalia, and sometimes men partake in the act. It’s a stealthy way to communicate your secret crush, but some people prefer to advertise this on billboards or via cloud writing. To each their own.

Bulgaria (Trifon Zarezan), 29-year-old Mattas

Saint Trifon (also referred to as ‘Trypho’) was a 3rd-century Christian who lived in the Roman Empire, or modern-day Turkey. He acquired fame for his healing abilities, but was persecuted for his religion and died as a martyr.”

According to Bulgarian scientists, Saint Trifon was transformed by the pagan pre-Christian wine god Dionysius, who was worshiped by the ancient Thracians. Legend has it that Saint Trifon went to his vineyard to cut some branches away from the vines. A beautiful woman passed him by, seducing him in such a way that he accidentally cut his nose off with the clippers. Easily done, in some cases. 

He is now considered a guardian of vineyards, and wine is a token of celebration each year for Bulgarians, rather than sharing red roses and chocolates with a lover. Why not do both, we say? The Day of Saint Trifon is celebrated by the church on February 1, while February 14 is when the bigger public celebrations take place. Bulgarians can’t decide what they love more: Their other half, or a glass of wine. To celebrate Trifon Zarezan or Valentine’s Day? That is the question. Our vote is for Trifon, 100%.

France (30-year-old Jonas Hopp)

Photo: Unsplash

“It’s customary to gift flowers and chocolate, prepare a fine meal for Saint-Valentin if you have the skills, maybe allowing to commemorate the spirit of the beginning of the relationship with some candles and good wine. Usually, it’s possible to find a romantic restaurant somewhere in town. It’s mostly the responsibility of boys to find and plan something, but as the celebration of love, ladies are welcome to have a gift for boys too! It’s pretty balanced in this regard. Sometimes the gifts can be a bit risqué to encourage the intimacy of the couple. Usually people only gift their partner for this event, and the ‘free’ people can go to some events organised in bars and things. Red roses, of course, are a must.”

Of course, France wins the romance race. Who among us is surprised? 

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