When we think of Valentine’s Day, our mind is immediately filled with images of heart-shaped chocolate boxes, love letters, and bouquets of red roses. These traditional gifts symbolize romance, the theme of this fast approaching holiday. However, the roots of Valentine’s Day are decidedly more austere than Hallmark cards and tasting menus.
According to NPR, this February holiday can be traced to Ancient Rome, where between the 13th and 15th of the month, (likely inebriated) Roman males celebrated the feast of Lupercalia by sacrificing animals and then whipping women with their hides—thought to help fertility. The name “Valentine,” likely hails from Roman times as well, as Emperor Claudius II executed two men named Valentine in different years, but both on February 14th. The Catholic church declared them martyrs, and February 14th was forever known as the celebration of St. Valentine’s Day. After Pope Gelasius I confused Galatin’s Day (a day celebrating the love of women) with Lupercalia, removing any Pagan associations, the current love and romance-filled Valentine’s Day was born.
Its’ ancient roots notwithstanding, Valentine’s Day is an altogether fuzzier celebration these days. It’s a popular holiday in many parts of the world, but wasn’t widely popularized until Hallmark Cards began printing Valentine’s day cards in 1939. As a result, many countries don’t celebrate the holiday, or have begun to only recently. For a look into how five different countries celebrate, keep reading.
In Japan, the tradition of women receiving chocolate is turned on its head, with Valentine’s Day celebrated by women instead gifting sweet treats to men. There are different classes of chocolates for types of men in your life; a platonic friend will receive one type, known as ”Giri-choco,” or obligation chocolate, whereas a romantic partner will be gifted finer chocolates. On March 14th, known as “White Day” (so called for its purity and the color of many Japanese chocolate boxes), men shower women with gifts and chocolates far more expensive than those that they received.
South Korea follows similar Valentines Day guidelines as Japan, with men and women traditionally receiving gifts and chocolates on February 14th and March 14th, respectively. However, they have an added twist: April 14th is known as “Black Day,” where single people dress in black, gather, and eat jjajang myeon—noodles covered in inky black bean paste.
While Italian sweethearts celebrate February 14th with traditional celebrations of restaurant meals, gifts, and plenty of romance, there is a widespread national token for this day of lovers: Baci Perugina. These small chocolates are wrapped in silver and blue foil, and filled with hazelnuts. Inside each baci, which means “kisses,” is a small love note written in various languages. In Verona, the city that inspired Romeo and Juliet, the city is decorated to celebrate the occasion, and romantic events are scheduled throughout the week.
With the world’s most romantic city as their capital, France doesn’t have to try hard to be a country for lovers. French cuisine is of course, especially romantic: Roast meats with whipped pommes purées (mashed potato), accompanied by a glass of French Beaujolais and easily shareable chocolate mousse or crème brûlée is likely the most love-infused food out there.
If you’re planning to celebrate Valentine’s Day in Russia, steer clear of Belgorod. The romantic holiday’s been banned there, as city officials believe it goes against Russian cultural traditions. But, bright red borscht, caviar, and vodka would make for a perfect Russian-inspired V-Day meal.