We’re all familiar with Valentine’s Day traditions in America. There are the candlelit dinners, the heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, the frantic faces scanning the greeting card aisles on February 13. Then there are the school kids who exchange candy hearts and superhero-themed Valentines with their friends, and the parents and grandparents who can’t resist spoiling the little ones with gifts. With gestures both grand and modest, we celebrate the ones we love on February 14.
That’s the American way, at least. So how do other cultures celebrate Valentine’s Day? I went on a quest to find the answer to this very question, and I discovered lots of fun and interesting Valentine’s Day traditions from all over the world. Here are five of my favorites – I hope you find them as fascinating as I did!
Japan – White Day
In Japan, Valentine’s Day is a chance for women to lavish their men with gifts. The most popular gift is chocolate. The men get their turn to answer on March 14, or “White Day,” when men are expected to return the favor by giving gifts to anyone who bought them chocolates on Valentine’s Day.
South Korea – Black Day
South Koreans celebrate both Valentine’s Day and White Day in the same way that the Japanese do (with the women giving chocolates on February 14, and the men giving gifts in March). However, Koreans have a third Valentine’s-themed tradition that takes place on April 14. On this day, young people who are not in relationships get together and eat Jajang noodles, which are black in color. Hence, the day is known as “Black Day.”
Denmark – Gaekkebrev, Love Cards, and Snowdrops
The Danish celebrate Valentine’s Day on February 14 with several unique traditions, each one sweeter than the last. First, there is the tradition of “Lover’s Cards,” which were originally transparent cards that you held up to the light to reveal a romantic image, usually of a man presenting his lady with a gift. Now the term applies to any card exchanged on Valentine’s Day. Another custom is to send pressed white flowers called “snowdrops” to friends and sweethearts. Then there are the lighthearted love poems called “gaekkebrev.” These cards are traditionally written by men and signed with dots in place of letters – one dot for each letter of his name. If the recipient of the card can guess the name of the sender, she is rewarded with an Easter Egg later in the year.
Finland – Friends Day
In Finland, February 14 is widely known as Friends Day (or Friendship Day). As the name suggests, it’s a day to celebrate all your friends and relatives, rather than just your sweetheart. Much like Valentine’s Day in the U.S., the Finns exchange cards, flowers (the pink rose is the official flower of Friends Day), candy and jewelry as tokens of friendship and love.
Norfolk, England – Jack Valentine
The people of Norfolk have a rather unique Valentine’s Day tradition involving a mysterious nighttime visitor known as Jack Valentine (or sometimes Old Father Valentine or even Old Mother Valentine). Much like our Santa Claus, this friendly visitor appears on the eve of February 14 while the children are asleep and leaves them little gifts and treats to enjoy upon waking.
Do you know of a fabulous Valentine’s Day tradition that I didn’t mention? Perhaps you have your own unique way of celebrating this day of love and friendship. I’d love to hear about it, so please share!
Meanwhile, if you’re looking for unique Valentine’s gifts to give on February 14, visit our site, where we have a comprehensive Valentine’s Day gift guide filled with heart-melting ideas for everyone you love. And as always, thanks for reading!Five Unique Valentine's Day Traditions from Around the World by Ann Kelley