Valentine’s Day customs developed in early modern England and spread throughout the Anglosphere in the 19th century. In the later 20th and early 21st centuries, these customs spread to other countries, but their effect has been more limited than those of Halloween, or than aspects of Christmas, (such as Santa Claus).
Due to a concentrated marketing effort, Valentine’s Day is celebrated in some East Asian countries with Chinese and South Koreans spending the most money on Valentine’s gifts.
Americas: Latin America
In some Latin American countries Saint Valentine’s Day is known as “el día de los enamorados” (day of lovers) or as “Día del Amor y la Amistad” (Day of Love and Friendship). For example, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Puerto Rico, as well as others. It is also common to see people perform “acts of appreciation” for their friends. In Guatemala it is known as the “Día del Cariño” (Affection Day).
In Brazil, the Dia dos Namorados (lit. “Lovers’ Day”, or “Boyfriends’/Girlfriends’ Day”) is celebrated on June 12, probably because that is the day before Saint Anthony’s day, known there as the marriage saint, when traditionally many single women perform popular rituals, called simpatias, in order to find a good husband or boyfriend. Couples exchange gifts, chocolates, cards and flower bouquets. The February 14 Valentine’s Day is not celebrated at all because it usually falls too little before or too little after the Brazilian Carnival — that can fall anywhere from early February to early March and lasts almost a week. Because of the absence of Valentine’s Day and due to the celebrations of the Carnivals, Brazil is a popular tourist spot during February for Western singles who want to get away from the holiday.
In most of Latin America the Día del amor y la amistad and the Amigo secreto (“Secret friend”) are quite popular and are usually celebrated together on February 14 (one exception is Colombia, where it is celebrated on the third Saturday in September). The latter consists of randomly assigning to each participant a recipient who is to be given an anonymous gift (similar to the Christmas tradition of Secret Santa).
In the United States, about 190 million Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year, not including the hundreds of millions of cards school children exchange. Additionally, in recent decades Valentine’s Day has become increasingly commercialized and a popular gift-giving event, with Valentine’s Day themed advertisements encouraging spending on loved ones. In fact, in the United States alone, the average valentine’s spending has increased every year, from $108 a person in 2010 to $131 in 2013.
In Chinese, Valentine’s Day is called lovers’ festival (simplified Chinese: 情人节; traditional Chinese: 情人節; pinyin: qíng rén jié). The “Chinese Valentine’s Day” is the Qixi Festival, celebrated on the seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar. It commemorates a day on which a legendary cowherder and weaving maid are allowed to be together. In Chinese culture, there is an older observance related to lovers, called “The Night of Sevens” (Chinese: 七夕; pinyin: Qi Xi). According to the legend, the Cowherd star and the Weaver Maid star are normally separated by the Milky Way (silvery river) but are allowed to meet by crossing it on the 7th day of the 7th month of the Chinese calendar.
In recent years, celebrating White Day has also become fashionable among some young people.
In India, in antiquity, there was a tradition of adoring Kamadeva, the lord of love; exemplificated by the erotic carvings in the Khajuraho Group of Monuments and by the writing of the Kamasutra treaty of lovemaking. This tradition was lost around the Middle Ages, when Kamadeva was no longer celebrated, and public displays of sexual affection became frowned upon. This repression of public affections persisted until the 1990s.
Valentine’s Day celebrations did not catch on in India until around 1992. It was spread due to the programs in commercial TV channels, such as MTV, dedicated radio programs and love letter competitions, in addition to an economical liberalization that allowed the explosion of the valentine card industry. Economic liberalization also helped the Valentine card industry. The celebration has caused a sharp change on how people have been displaying their affection in public since the Middle Ages.
In modern times, Hindu and Islamic traditionalists have considered the holiday to be cultural contamination from the West, a result of the globalization in India. Shiv Sena and the Sangh Parivar have asked their followers to shun the holiday and the “public admission of love” because of them being “alien to Indian culture”. Although these protests are organized by political elites, the protesters themselves are middle-class Hindu men who fear that the globalization will destroy the traditions in their society: arranged marriages, Hindu joint families, full-time mothers, etc.
Despite these obstacles, Valentine’s Day is becoming increasingly popular in India.
In the first part of the 21st century, the celebration of Valentine’s Day in Iran has been harshly criticized by Islamic teachers who see the celebrations as opposed to Islamic culture. In 2011, the Iranian printing works owners’ union issued a directive banning the printing and distribution of any goods promoting the holiday, including cards, gifts and teddy bears. “Printing and producing any goods related to this day including posters, boxes and cards emblazoned with hearts or half-hearts, red roses and any activities promoting this day are banned … Outlets that violate this will be legally dealt with”, the union warned.
In Iran, the Sepandarmazgan, or Esfandegan, is a festival where people express love towards their mothers and wives, and it is also a celebration of earth in ancient Persian culture. It has been progressively forgotten in favor of the Western celebration of Valentine’s Day. The Association of Iran’s Cultural and Natural Phenomena has been trying since 2006 to make Sepandarmazgan a national holiday on February 17, in order to replace the Western holiday.
In Israel, the Jewish tradition of Tu B’Av has been revived and transformed into the Jewish equivalent of Valentine’s Day. It is celebrated on the 15th day of the month of Av (usually in late August). In ancient times girls would wear white dresses and dance in the vineyards, where the boys would be waiting for them (Mishna Taanith end of Chapter 4). Today, Tu B’Av is celebrated as a second holiday of love by secular people (beside Valentine’s Day), and it shares many of the customs associated with Saint Valentine’s Day in western societies. In modern Israeli culture Tu B’Av is a popular day to pronounce love, propose marriage and give gifts like cards or flowers.
In Japan, Morozoff Ltd. introduced the holiday for the first time in 1936, when it ran an advertisement aimed at foreigners. Later in 1953, it began promoting the giving of heart-shaped chocolates; other Japanese confectionery companies followed suit thereafter. In 1958, the Isetan department store ran a “Valentine sale”. Further campaigns during the 1960s popularized the custom.
The custom that only women give chocolates to men may have originated from the translation error of a chocolate-company executive during the initial campaigns. In particular, office ladies give chocolate to their co-workers. Unlike western countries, gifts such as greeting cards, candies, flowers, or dinner dates are uncommon, and most of the activity about the gifts is about giving the right amount of chocolate to each person. Japanese chocolate companies make half their annual sales during this time of the year.
Many women feel obliged to give chocolates to all male co-workers, except when the day falls on a Sunday, a holiday. This is known as giri-choko (義理チョコ), from giri (“obligation”) and choko, (“chocolate”), with unpopular co-workers receiving only “ultra-obligatory” chō-giri choko cheap chocolate. This contrasts with honmei-choko (本命チョコ, lit. “true feeling chocolate”), chocolate given to a loved one. Friends, especially girls, may exchange chocolate referred to as tomo-choko (友チョコ); from tomo meaning “friend”.
In the 1980s, the Japanese National Confectionery Industry Association launched a successful campaign to make March 14 a “reply day”, where men are expected to return the favour to those who gave them chocolates on Valentine’s Day, calling it White Day for the color of the chocolates being offered. A previous failed attempt to popularize this celebration had been done by a marshmallow manufacturer who wanted men to return marshmallows to women.
Men are expected to return gifts that are at least two or three times more valuable than the gifts received in Valentine’s Day. Not returning the gift is perceived as the man placing himself in a position of superiority, even if excuses are given. Returning a present of equal value is considered as a way to say that the relationship is being cut. Originally only chocolate was given, but now the gifts of jewelry, accessories, clothing and lingerie are usual. According to the official website of White Day, the color white was chosen because it’s the color of purity, evoking “pure, sweet teen love”, and because it’s also the color of sugar. The initial name was “Ai ni Kotaeru White Day” (Answer Love on White Day).
In Japan, the romantic “date night” associated to Valentine’s Day is celebrated on Christmas Eve.
In a 2006 survey of people between 10 and 49 years of age in Japan, Oricon Style found the 1986 Sayuri Kokushō single “Valentine Kiss” to be the most popular Valentine’s Day song, even though it sold only 317,000 copies. The singles it beat in the ranking were number one selling “Love Love Love” from Dreams Come True (2,488,630 copies) and “Valentine’s Radio” from Yumi Matsutoya (1,606,780 copies). The final song in the top five was “My Funny Valentine” by Miles Davis.
Bouquet of homemade cupcakes made by Chantal Hanna on Valentine’s Day
Saint Valentine is the patron saint for a large part of the Lebanese population. Couples take the opportunity of Valentine’s feast day to exchange sweet words and gifts as proof of love. Such gifts typically include chocolates boxes, Valentine’s Cupcakes as well as red roses which are the emblem of sacrifice and passion.
Islamic officials in Malaysia warned Muslims against celebrating Valentine’s Day, linking it with vice activities. Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said the celebration of romantic love was “not suitable” for Muslims. Wan Mohamad Sheikh Abdul Aziz, head of the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim), which oversees the country’s Islamic policies said that a fatwa (ruling) issued by the country’s top clerics in 2005 noted that the day ‘is associated with elements of Christianity,’ and ‘we just cannot get involved with other religions’ worshipping rituals.’ Jakim officials planned to carry out a nationwide campaign called “Awas Jerat Valentine’s Day” (“Mind the Valentine’s Day Trap”), aimed at preventing Muslims from celebrating the day on February 14, 2011. Activities include conducting raids in hotels to stop young couples from having unlawful sex and distributing leaflets to Muslim university students warning them against the day.
On Valentine’s Day 2011, Malaysian religious authorities arrested more than 100 Muslim couples concerning the celebration ban. Some of them would be charged in the Shariah Court for defying the department’s ban against the celebration of Valentine’s Day.
The concept of Valentine’s Day was introduced into Pakistan during the late 1990s with special TV and radio programs. The Jamaat-e-Islami political party has called for the banning of Valentine’s Day celebration. Despite this, the celebration is becoming popular among urban youth and the florists expect to sell a great amount of flowers, especially red roses. The case is the same with card publishers.
In 2016, local governing body of Peshwar officially banned the celebration of Valentine’s Day in the city of Peshwar. The ban was also implemented in other city such as Kohat by the local government.
In the Philippines, Valentine’s Day is called Araw ng mga Puso in much the same manner as in the West. It is usually marked by a steep increase in the price of flowers, particularly red roses.
In Saudi Arabia, in 2002 and 2008, religious police banned the sale of all Valentine’s Day items, telling shop workers to remove any red items, because the day is considered a Christian holiday. This ban has created a black market for roses and wrapping paper. In 2012, the religious police arrested more than 140 Muslims for celebrating the holiday, and confiscated all red roses from flower shops. Muslims are not allowed to celebrate the holiday, and non-Muslims can celebrate only behind closed doors.
“Saudi cleric Sheikh Muhammad Al-‘Arifi said on Valentine’s Day Eve that celebrating this holiday constitutes bid’a – a forbidden innovation and deviation from religious law and custom – and mimicry of the West.”
According to findings, Singaporeans are among the biggest spenders on Valentine’s Day, with 60% of Singaporeans indicating that they would spend between $100 and $500 during the season leading up to the holiday.
In South Korea, women give chocolate to men on February 14, and men give non-chocolate candy to women on March 14 (White Day). On April 14 (Black Day), those who did not receive anything on February 14 or March go to a Chinese-Korean restaurant to eat black noodles (자장면 jajangmyeon) and lament their ‘single life’. Koreans also celebrate Pepero Day on November 11, when young couples give each other Pepero cookies. The date ’11/11′ is intended to resemble the long shape of the cookie. The 14th of every month marks a love-related day in Korea, although most of them are obscure. From January to December: Candle Day, Valentine’s Day, White Day, Black Day, Rose Day, Kiss Day, Silver Day, Green Day, Music Day, Wine Day, Movie Day, and Hug Day. Korean women give a much higher amount of chocolate than Japanese women.
In Taiwan, traditional Qixi Festival, Valentine’s Day and White Day are all celebrated. However, the situation is the reverse of Japan’s. Men give gifts to women on Valentine’s Day, and women return them on White Day.
In the UK, just under half of the population spend money on their Valentines and around £1.3 billion is spent yearly on cards, flowers, chocolates and other gifts, with an estimated 25 million cards being sent.
In Wales, some people celebrate Dydd Santes Dwynwen (St Dwynwen’s Day) on January 25 instead of (or as well as) Valentine’s Day. The day commemorates St Dwynwen, the patron saint of Welsh lovers.
Finland and Estonia
In Finland Valentine’s Day is called ystävänpäivä which translates into “Friend’s Day“. As the name indicates, this day is more about remembering friends, not significant others. In Estonia Valentine’s Day is called sõbrapäev, which has the same meaning.
In France, a traditionally Catholic country, Valentine’s Day is known simply as “Saint Valentin“, and is celebrated in much the same way as other western countries.
St. Valentine’s Day, or Ημέρα του Αγίου Βαλεντίνου in Greek tradition was not associated with romantic love; In the Eastern Orthodox church there is another Saint who protects people who are in love, Hyacinth of Caesarea (feast day July 3), but in contemporary Greece, this tradition has mostly been superseded by the “globalized” form of Valentine’s Day.
In Portugal it is more commonly referred to as “Dia dos Namorados” (Lover’s Day / Day of the Enamoured).
In recent years, Romania has also started celebrating Valentine’s Day. This has drawn backlash from several groups, institutions and nationalist organizations like Noua Dreaptǎ, who condemn Valentine’s Day for being superficial, commercialist and imported Western kitsch. In order to counter the perceived denaturation of national culture, Dragobete, a spring festival celebrated in parts of Southern Romania, has been rekindled as the traditional Romanian holiday for lovers. Its date used to vary depending on the geographical area, however nowadays it is commonly observed on February 24. The holiday is named after a character from Romanian folklore who was supposed to be the son of Baba Dochia. His name has been associated, possibly through folk etymology, to the word drag (“dear”), which can also be found in the word dragoste (“love”).
Lars Jacob and Emil Eikner host a Valentine’s Day celebration dinner in Stockholm in 2015
In Denmark and Norway, although February 14 is known as Valentinsdag, it is not celebrated to a large extent, but is largely imported from American culture, and some people take time to eat a romantic dinner with their partner, to send a card to a secret love or give a red rose to their loved one. The cut-flower industry in particular is still working on promoting the holiday. In Sweden it is called Alla hjärtans dag (“All Hearts’ Day”) and was launched in the 1960s by the flower industry’s commercial interests, and due to the influence of American culture. It is not an official holiday, but its celebration is recognized and sales of cosmetics and flowers for this holiday are only exceeded by those for Mother’s Day.
In Spain, Valentine’s Day is known as “San Valentín” and is celebrated the same way as in the UK, it is however not celebrated in Catalonia.