The 24 hours of affection known as Valentine’s Day originated in Europe more than 1,500 years ago as a Christian feast commemorating the martyrdom of Rome’s St. Valentinus. However, the earliest known mention of Feb. 14 as an actual celebration of love occurs in 1375 AD within medieval poet Geoffrey Chaucer’s Parliament of Foules, a work that cites the 14th as the day both birds and humans are most likely to find mates.
American Valentine’s Day expressions of endearment include everything from greeting cards, love letters, and heart-shaped chocolates to a dozen roses, teddy bears, and balloons. It’s a day of marriage proposals, weddings, and nights dining out. But the United States isn’t the only country to celebrate romance. Nations around the world have spent centuries developing their own unique ways to mark love’s holiday. Here’s how some countries across the globe celebrate the day of love.
In South Korea, show affection with dark or white chocolate
South Korea’s unique, extended version of Valentine’s Day begins and ends with different color chocolates. On Feb.14th, women give dark chocolates to their favorite man, then, exactly one month later, on White Day, men return the favor by gifting their maidens the palest of chocolates, and sometimes, marshmallows. Sweet, but this is only the start — the 14th of every month in South Korean is called a “Couple’s Day.” May holds Rose Day, September brings Photo Day, and October, Wine Day. For the unattached, April 14 heralds Black Day, when singles gather to share national comfort food, jajangmyeon, a white noodle dish stewed with pork in a black bean paste.
Celebrate natural fertility in Slovenia
Because St. Valentinus is venerated as a patron saint of a fruitful spring, Slovenia postpones its celebration of romance until March, instead choosing to spend Feb. 14 outdoors, honoring nature’s fertility. In the great tradition of Chaucer’s poem, Slovenia recognizes Feb. 14th as the start of avian mating season, the day birds are most likely to find their choicest co-pilot. Spotting birds on 14th is said to bring luck to farmers, though tradition dictates that those who seek to observe these feathered flirts must walk the mountain forests barefoot, where the ground is typically still frozen. By early March, plants have begun to sprout, and on the 12th, St. Gregory’s Day (the Slovenian equivalent of Valentine’s Day) gives the green light for people to celebrate their own love.
Give highly personal love notes in France
The first Valentine’s Day card is said to have been dispatched from the Tower of London in 1415, in the form of a springtime love letter sent from the imprisoned French Duke of Orleans to his estranged wife, and signing them, “Your Valentine.” Modern-day French couples continue this tradition with extended, highly personal love notes called cartes d’amities. To seal their bond, Parisian couples are known to attach padlocks to the railing of the city’s Pont des Arts “love bridge,” then toss the key in the River Seine below. Rural French traditions include dressing the entire village of St. Valentin with flowers for public weddings and renewals of vows, followed by tree plantings.
In Wales, carve utensils for your sweetheart to express affection
While the term spoon-feeding has come to represent an excessive action, the Welsh find that a custom-carved “love spoon” expresses just the right amount of care. For nearly 400 years, Welsh men have been carving intricate wooden utensils as gifts for the special ladies in their lives. Traditional love spoon symbols and their meanings include wheels as signs of support, horseshoes for luck, and keys as representations of devotion. St. Valentinus however does not set the table for Welsh love — Wales unveils its love spoons on January 25, the day of honor for its own patron saint of lovers, St. Dwynwen.
Literally wear your heart on your sleeve in South Africa
Every Feb. 14, the women of South Africa not only celebrate affection, but literally wear their hearts on their sleeves in a tradition known as Lupercalia. Participants sew the name of their current partner, or that of one they wish to court, onto the sleeve of their shirts, confirming relationship status for some men and altering others to secret admiration. The practice’s name comes from a pastoral festival observed annually in ancient Rome from Feb. 13 to 15 to dismiss negative spirits and bestow health and fertility upon all Roman citizens.
Honor friendships in Estonia
On Northern Europe’s Baltic Coast, Estonians honor Feb. 14 as Sobrapaev, or “Friends Day,” a joyous occasion celebrating the sacred bond of friendship that anchors both romantic and platonic relationships. As in global Valentine’s Day tradition, kind cards and presents are given, but Sobrapaev gift recipients vary — a giver may honor a favorite neighbor, a teacher or mentor, even a favorite clerk at a local store. For those seeking real-deal romance, Estonia offers a Sobrapaev tradition called the Love Bus, essentially a blind date on wheels. Singles board the Love Bus at various stops throughout the day and wait onboard, hoping to meet that special someone.
Exchange chocolates or pray for the right partner in Brazil
Brazilians wait until their early winter to celebrate romance. On June 12, Dia dos Namorados, or “Sweethearts’ Day,” couples exchange dark chocolate and walnut candies, amorous cards, and fresh exotic flowers.
For the unattached, Dia dos Namorados serves as the perfect occasion to appeal to St. Anthony, patron saint of courtship and wedlock, who is said to be especially receptive to prayer on that day. One curious prayer ritual involves single women plunging an upside-down image of St. Anthony into a container of water, where it is to remain until the right partner is found.
Give pig-themed gifts in Germany
Though Valentine’s Day in Deutschland is a more serious affair centered around mature adult love, expressions of that love are significantly less haughty. Germany’s most popular Valentine’s gifts are pig-themed: pig-shaped charms are given for good fortune, candy pigs to symbolize lust, and an endless selection of pig-pun cards are German Valentine staples. In lieu of boxes of chocolate, which Germans enjoy year-round, couples are known to trade enormous heart-shaped gingerbread pieces bearing romantic messages written in white frosting.