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International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

Valentine’s Day: A Global Celebration of Love

In the United States, one can tell that the 14th of February is approaching when stores begin to fill up with candy, chocolates, teddy bears, and other Valentine’s Day memorabilia. It has become one of the United States most popular holidays, with over 62% of Americans celebrating it and an estimated one billion cards being sent each year. The Valentine’s Day tradition we know today contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition. The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different martyred saints by the names of Valentine or Valentinus. One legend claims that Valentine was a priest in Rome during the third century who performed marriages in secret after the emperor had outlawed marriage because he thought that single men made better soldiers. By the Middle Ages, Valentine had become one of the most popular saints in Europe. What has now become a highly commercialized holiday not only has its beginnings in Christian and ancient Roman tradition but also unique roots and methods of celebration around the world.

Couples praying at the Qixi Festival

Nowadays, Chinese people celebrate western Valentine’s Day along with gift exchanges and special dates. However, they have also celebrated their own equivalent of the day for centuries in the form of the Qixi Festival. It means the “Night of Seven” and is usually celebrated on the seventh day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar, in early August. The celebration is in honor of the love story of Zhinu, a heavenly king, and Niulang, a poor cowherd, who fell in love, However, Zhinu’s father did not approve and when he found out, he created the Milky Way to separate them, with the star Vega on the east side representing Niulang and Altair, for Zhinu, on the west side. Once a year, on Qixi, the lovers can see each other again. The tradition is for young Chinese women to prepare offerings of melon and other fruits to Zhinu in hopes of finding a good husband. Couples also head to temples to pray for happiness and prosperity. At night, people look to the heavens to watch as stars Vega and Altair come close during the star-crossed pair’s annual reunion. The Miao people, who live primarily in China’s southern mountains, celebrate the Sisters’ Meal Festival on the 15th day of the third month of the lunar calendar. During the three day celebration, women cook an assortment of colorful rice dishes, which are then wrapped in silk and offered to their suitors who serenade them. The fate of their relationship is then decided by the multi-colored rice dishes. If they find two chopsticks in their serving, it means love, but a clove of garlic signifies that relationship is doomed.

Off of China’s coast, Taiwan actually celebrates its own version of Valentine’s Day two times a year: on February 14th and July 7th. Men are expected to gift bouquets of flowers to their significant others. However, in accordance with Taiwanese tradition, the number of flowers and their color can have different meanings. Red roses represent “an only love”, while 99 of them mean “love forever”, and 108 lead to popping the question of “will you marry me?”

In South Korea, the 14th of February is reserved for women to gift their significant others flowers, cards, and candy. The 14th of March, also known as “White Day, is the men’s turn to reciprocate. Lucky for everyone else, April 14th is for singles to eat black bean paste sauce on jajangmyeon noodles.

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Argentina takes the celebration of Valentine’s Day one step further by setting aside an entire week in July to celebrate “Sweetness Week”, exchanging kisses and sweet treats. It was originally meant as a confectioners marketing campaign but quickly became a tradition. In Brazil, the 14th of February tends to coincide with the country’s famous carnival. The event is marked by massive parades accompanied by upbeat, traditional Brazilian music and elaborate costumes. However, the “Dia dos Namorados, or “Lover’s Day”, falls on June 12th, a day Brazilians also dedicate to Saint Anthony. Similarly to the United States and many other countries, Brazilians will exchange chocolates, flowers, cards, and other tokens of their affection. As their own tradition, they also hold musical performances throughout the cities and the towns, bringing together people from all walks of life. In addition to this, Saint Anthony’s Day commemorates the patron saint of marriage and singles may perform diverse rituals with the hope of improving their chances of finding a good husband or wife.

Germans also avidly celebrate Valentine’s day, but the tradition has not become as commercialized as in other parts of the world. While the exchange of chocolate, flowers, and other heart shaped gifts is not uncommon, love is also represented by an unexpected animal: the pig. It represents luck and wanting, and it can be seen in many forms, ranging from chocolates to miniature statues or even stuffed animals. A quintessential part of the German tradition is to prepare large heart-shaped gingerbread cookies called Lebkuchenherzen, which usually are inscribed with phrases like “Ich liebe Dich” (I love you) or “Du bist mein süßes Herzchen” (You are my sweetheart). In Estonia, on the other hand, Valentine’s Day is not a celebration of love. Sobrapaev is celebrated on the 14th of February, literally translating to “Friendship Day.” The same is the case in Finland, where the celebration goes by the name of Ysävän Päivä.

A German Gingerbread Heart


Given the vast differences in cultural traditions surrounding celebrating love, it is clear that the celebration has made its way around the world. No matter how you choose to celebrate, have a Happy Valentine’s Day!

By Ainhoa Petri-Hidalgo

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