On St Valentine’s Day in early Britain, unmarried girls would wake up early to stand by their bedroom windows and wait for a man to pass by, in the belief that the first man they saw would marry them within the year. Ophelia, in William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, sang,
Tomorrow is St. Valentine’s Day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.
Today, Valentine’s Day (as it is now usually known) is hugely popular in the UK, with masses of people rushing out to buy cards, flowers and other gifts for loved ones. Although the way people celebrate this day varies from person to person, one shared custom does exist: children sing songs and then receive gifts in return.
Valentine’s Day is also firmly established in the USA, where it has developed into one of the nation’s largest card-giving occasions and achieved national holiday status. The festivities range from romantic dinner dates and private parties through to huge performances organised by school children. The tradition of Valentine’s Day is said to have been brought to 19th-century America by British settlers, with the first mass-produced Valentine’s Day cards being created in 1847. Towards the end of the 20th century, people started giving gifts, along with cards. The most common gifts are roses and chocolates.
Japan celebrates Valentine’s Day on two separate occasions: 14 February and 14 March. In February, the females present gifts to their male partners, and in March the gesture is reciprocated. The tradition holds that women give men the gift of chocolate. However, the type of chocolate given depends greatly on the nature of the relationship. Giri-choco is bought for bosses, colleagues and close male friends. Giri means ‘obligation’ and, therefore, these chocolates do not carry any romantic association. By contrast, Honmei-choco is presented to boyfriends, lovers or husbands. These chocolates are very special, because they are hand made by the women themselves. Men who receive Honmei-choco on Valentine’s Day are very lucky. On 14 March, also called White Day, men traditionally give their loved ones white chocolate, but this is now often accompanied by other gifts, such as flowers and sweets.
In Italy, Valentine’s Day has long been viewed as a holiday imported from the United States. The Italian’s have their own day of love, which is called il giorno della festa degli innamorati. This day is exclusively reserved for lovers, so family members and friends do not exchange gifts. However, more recently, the people of Italy have started to celebrate the more commercial version of Valentine’s Day. One of the most popular gifts on Valentine’s Day in Italy is Baci Perugina, which are small hazelnuts covered in chocolate.
Valentine’s Day has only recently reached India, where it has been embraced by the younger generation but resisted by many who view it as a western import. The hype of Valentine’s Day begins weeks before the actual date, with companies targeting young people in attempt to get them to spend heavily on cards and gifts. Even restaurants are laden with Valentine’s Day decorations in the run up to Valentine’s Day.
China has its own unique day devoted to love – the Festival of the Double Sevens, so called because it is celebrated on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month. The legend tells of a poor orphan boy, Niu Lang, who worked the fields. He married Zhi Nu, the youngest of the emperor’s seven beautiful daughters, after meeting her when she came down from heaven to bathe. However, after a while, the emperor began to miss his daughter so much that he sent her grandmother to bring her back to heaven. The grandmother took pity on the couple and allowed them to meet once a year – on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month. It is also believed that magpies form a bridge with their wings on this day, to enable Zhi Nu to cross to earth and meet her husband.
Valentine’s Day in Denmark has three main traditions. The most popular is the writing of transparent ‘lover’s cards’ bearing an image of a man presenting his lover with a gift. Another is the sending of white snowdrops to friends and lovers, known as the Custom of the White Flower. The third most popular tradition is called Gaekkebrev and involves the writing of poems and letters. These are often unsigned by their authors, so that the recipient can try and guess the name of her admirer. If she succeeds, she is rewarded with an Easter egg that year.
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*Information taken from www.stvalentinesday.org