Like hundreds of millions of people around the globe, February 14th is your day to either receive a special gift, give some special flowers, or both.
In the US and the UK, Valentine’s Day means heart-shaped cards and heart-shaped boxes of chocolates. But what does Valentine’s Day mean to people in other countries? Some cultures have Valentine’s Day traditions that have been around well before chocolate hearts, cards and flowers became synonymous with friendship, companionship, and love. Other cultures have imported the celebration of Valentine’s Day and put their own spin on it. Here’s a quick look at what Valentine’s Day means around the world.
Denmark: The Danes have traditionally exchanged pressed white flowers called snowdrops instead of fresh bouquets. It’s also traditional for them to send their heart throbs “joke letters” called gaekkebrev. These poems or rhymes are signed only with dots, so the recipient has to guess who sent it. If they guess correctly, the sender will owe them a chocolate Easter egg later in the spring.
South Korea: Boyfriends and husbands are spoiled on Valentine’s Day with chocolates and flowers. March 14th is “White Day” when women are doted on with chocolates, flowers and a gift.
Japan: Like Korea, February 14th in Japan is the day to spoil men. However, it’s not just your sweetheart you’re expected to spoil. Chocolate is given to male friends, coworkers and even bosses, as well. Different types of chocolate are expected for different relationships: “giri choco” or “obligatory chocolate” is for platonic relationships, and love interests get “honmei choco” (true love chocolate) along with a handmade gift. Again, March 14th is the day that Japanese women are pampered with all the same gifts and more. For retailers, February 14th and March 14th are when they hit their sales for the year out of the ballpark!
Germany: If someone gave you a chocolate pig for Valentine’s Day, you might just raise your eyebrows a bit wondering why this would be such a romantic gift. However, you wouldn’t if you lived in Germany. The pig represents both luck and lust. It’s traditional to exchange pig-themed gifts with the one you love. Germans also celebrate Valentine’s Day with a much tastier version of those “conversation heart” candies that include big, heart-shaped ginger cookies with personalized messages written on them.
Norfolk, England: The English County of Norfolk is known for its particularly lavish and elaborate Valentine’s Day traditions. Many people in Norfolk celebrate Valentine’s Day with gifts from “Jack Valentine,” a Santa Claus-type figure that leaves gifts on the front porch.
The Philippines: For more than a decade, Filipinos have been celebrating Valentine’s Day with mass weddings. Couples gather to exchange vows and celebrate at the same time. Local government agencies usually sponsor these mass weddings. For couples who are economically challenged, this is a way they can afford a wedding ceremony.
Ghana: In Ghana, February 14th is National Chocolate Day. Tastings, dinners and other events are held around the country to promote Ghana’s top agricultural export- the cocoa bean. As you know full well, Valentine’s Day would be sorely lacking if the cocoa bean had not been developed into the sweet chocolate that we can’t get enough of.
Estonia: In Estonia it’s called Sobrapaev, which means “Friendship Day.” Instead of a day for sweethearts, it’s a day to celebrate friendships of all sorts. This is really a nice way because not everyone has a love interest and making the holiday into just a “good feeling” day, makes it much more inclusive.
Taiwan: Taiwan celebrates Valentine’s Day on February 14th (as well as another similar holiday on July 1st). Just as in Western countries, girlfriends expect to receive flowers. However, in Taiwan, the color and number of flowers in the bouquet often carry a secret message. Red roses mean “you’re my one and only.” Ninety-nine roses mean “I will love you forever.” One hundred and eight roses mean “will you marry me?” The question then becomes, what will over one hundred and eight roses get you?
Holidays and cultural symbols can carry different meanings in different cultures and Valentine’s Day is just one example. If you do business internationally, or you have friends and relatives overseas, it would be a nice touch to modify your Valentine’s Day gifts and messages accordingly.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Nancy Seiverd, President, CMI Credit Mediators, Inc.