Valentine’s Day Traditions Around the World

What Does It All Mean?

Who was the mysterious Saint Valentine that we celebrate on February 14th here in the United States?

Was he the Roman priest executed for performing forbidden marriages for young lovers in the third century?

A man imprisoned by the Romans who fell for his jailer’s daughter and sent her the original valentine—a love letter signed, “From your Valentine”—just before his death?

What we do know is that the name Valentine is associated with a string of heroic, swoon-worthy martyrs with an appreciation for the enchantment of romance.

Valentine’s Day falls in mid-February to displace Lupercalia, the pagan fertility festival in which men whipped eager women with the bloody hides of a sacrificial goat to bring the women fertility in the coming year. (Yikes. Maybe that’s preferable to expensive payments at the fertility clinic?)

A matchmaking lottery brought young men and women together to pair off for the festival, which sometimes led to marriage. To all those Tinder naysayers, if pulling a name out of an urn can lead to a happy marriage…

The celebration of Valentine’s Day became more commonplace (and sweeter!) as Chaucer and Shakespeare romanticized it in their writing, and handmade paper cards began to flutter from one lover to another each February.

This year, are you looking for some special gesture to impress your new sweetie? Or perhaps you’re looking for something out of the ordinary because you’re such a doting and attentive lover that flowers and chocolate are commonplace all year? (You Casanova, you!)

While you’re racking your brain for just the right way to commemorate your love, explore artist Marie Muravski’s illustrations of traditional love celebrations, or take some inspiration from our collection of Valentine’s Day traditions around the world. 

Hopelessly Devoted to You

Valentine's Day Candy

Candies and colorful bouquets of flowers are given as tokens of affection across most cultures.

In South Korea, women do the gifting of chocolates and flowers on February 14th, and men return the favor with larger gifts a month later on White Day.

In Italy, Hershey’s hasn’t cornered the market on chocolate kisses. There, lovers exchange chocolate-covered hazelnuts called Baci Perugina—baci means kisses!—wrapped with a romantic quote printed in four languages.

German couples give each other candy pigs to show their desire and bring good luck, or heart-shaped ginger cookies that say “ich liebe dich” (I love you) or occasionally more… explicit messages.

After the typical romantic exchanges of flowers and chocolate on Valentine’s Day, lovers in the Czech Republic celebrate a Day of Love on May 1st by kissing under a cherry tree for happiness and good health.

When it comes to customized gifts, the Welsh have perfected the practice in their celebration of Saint Dwynwen, the patron saint of lovers. In a romantic tradition from 17th century Wales that survives to this day, men make their affections known by gifting an intricately carved wooden spoon to the object of their desire. It shouldn’t surprise you that in maker spaces throughout Wales, young hip Welsh men are still carving bespoke wooden love spoons by hand!

You don’t have to tell us—you don’t owe your date a kiss just because they paid for your meal! Transactions like this are welcome, however, during Argentina’s La Semana de la Dulzura, or Sweetness Week, when giving someone a chocolate means they owe you a kiss.

Once a marketing campaign by a candy company, this romantic bartering that takes place in the first week of July has become a national tradition.

ISO LTR

Paper heart in sky

For the romantic still trying to attract that special someone, take a note from South Africans who aren’t embarrassed to be caught wearing their hearts on their sleeves.

During the colorful Valentine’s Day festivals there, young folks pin the name of their love interest onto their shirtsleeves. Keep your eyes peeled in the crowd and you may discover your own secret admirer.

Think the cryptic messages from that cutie you met on OKCupid are hard to decipher?

Try decoding a garlic stalk hidden within a mound of colorful rice! (Hint: She’s just not that into you.) This enigmatic exchange punctuates the spectacular three-day festival of China’s Miao people that involves bullfighting, horse racing, and a singing battle between potential lovers where the losers owe the winners gifts.

All the Single Ladies

What about the single people?! In South Korea, one month after White Day is Black Day, where single friends gather together for a bowl of black bean-paste noodles to mourn their spinster status in style.

If you’re not feeling the woeful vibe, look to Finland for a refreshing spin that would make Leslie Knope proud. Finland has its own official Galentine’s Day!

When the country adopted Valentine’s Day in the late 1980s, they dubbed it Ystävänpäivä, or Friends Day. Finns celebrate their friendship with cards, gifts, and activities like skating or sledding. What bestie wouldn’t love a heartfelt card and a bouquet this February 14th?

Not moved by any of these great ideas? Find more in these lists from Reader’s Digest and HuffPost.

Could this be the start of something special?