Every year, British stores, televisions, and online shopping sites bombard us with a non-stop Tetris shower of adverts for flowers and chocolates and expensive gifts on Valentine’s Day. But is this really what February 14th is all about? Aren’t there better ways to celebrate love?
Probably, but it seems that many of the V-Day customs of our foreign neighbours also revolve around gift-giving; but not without a few quirky twists. So, if you’re stuck for romantic inspiration or you’re not sure how to impress your loved one, read on to see what other countries do on Valentine’s Day!
Okay, so, the Welsh aren’t really ‘foreign’ to us, but they have some pretty unique traditions. For starters, unlike in Britain, Valentine’s Day is also celebrated on January 25th. More importantly, it’s actually known as St. Dwynwen’s Day, in honour of the Welsh patron saint of lovers.
Here, there’s a centuries-old tradition of men giving ‘love-spoons’ to their romantic interests. Wooden spoons are carved with ornate and intricate symbols and are seen as the ultimate gesture of love if given to a woman. In essence, they are meant to reflect the skills of the male carver and their intention to court the female receiver.
The custom of gifting love-spoons have spread to parts of Scandinavia as well, and although they aren’t functional as actual spoons, they work as cute, folksy decorations!
In the likes of Norway and Denmark, V-Day (or ‘Valentinsdag’) isn’t as vehemently embraced as other European countries. However, the Danes have a tradition known as ‘Gaekkebrev’, where love notes or rhyming poems are anonymously sent to women by aspiring suitors.
With only a few clues in the notes as to the identity of the mysterious sender, the woman has to guess who it may be. If she is correct, she gets… an Easter egg! If she gets it wrong, she owes the guy an egg instead.
Meanwhile, in Finland, V-Day isn’t exactly a huge love fest either. It’s more commonly known as ‘Ystävänpäivä ‘, which translates into ‘Friend’s Day’. As the name suggests, it’s a day to celebrate friendship rather than romance, and many exchange gifts and cards with a greeting of ‘Happy Friend’s Day’!
In stark contrast, Valentine’s Day is huge deal in Asia and Japan is no exception. But unlike in the West, it’s the woman’s turn to spoil the man; and it’s not just the boyfriend who gets a treat. Japanese women are expected to gift chocolates to many men in her life, including co-workers, family, and friends.
In fact, there’s a social system in place whereby the type of chocolate given corresponds to the relationship between the woman and man. First off, there’s ‘giri-choko’ or ‘obligation chocolate’, which women traditionally give to male friends who aren’t considered romantic interests, such as colleagues, co-workers, and so forth.
Then, there’s ‘honmei-choko’, meaning ‘favourite chocolate’, which is given to boyfriends, husbands, or lovers. It’s considered an added bonus if this type of sweet treat is made by hand to signify the depth of the woman’s affections. Finally, there’s ‘tomo-choko’, which is ‘friend chocolate’, as gifts are often exchanged between female friends on Valentine’s Day in Japan.
While all of this seems a tad unfair on women, fret not. There’s also something dubbed ‘White Day’, which falls on the March 14th every year. In a nutshell, this is the day for men to pay it all back, and more. Not only is it customary to present gifts such as jewellery and lingerie to their lucky gals, but they also have to buy chocolate that is at least two or three times more expensive than the ones they received on V-Day. Sounds like a pretty solid deal for both parties.
It seems other Asian countries such as South Korea have taken up the Japanese way, while in Vietnam, things are taken one step further; couples actually wear matching outfits! Finally, in Taiwan, the Japanese tradition is reversed so that men still do most of the work on Valentine’s Day while women reciprocate on White Day.
Taiwanese culture also gives great importance to the colour and number of roses given to a woman. One red rose means she is his true love; 11 roses means she is his absolute favourite; 99 roses signifies his endless love for her, and a 100 roses is often seen as a marriage proposal.