Lovespoons, white chocolate and bonfires are just some of the origins of Valentine’s Day traditions around the world.
Wego.com, a travel search site in the Asia Pacific and Middle East, explores some of the more unique backgrounds of traditions for the day that the world celebrates love.
“Valentine’s Day is steeped in history and tradition and has evolved in many countries to appear nothing like what our modern day notions of what the day is all about,” said Wego chief marketing officer Joachim Holte.
“In South Korea, it’s a popular celebration where the women are responsible for giving gifts from Feb 14 and continuing through to April,” explained Holte. “It’s not until March 14 that men return with gifts of their own for their partner. Should you not have a partner by April 14, South Korean singles sadly consume bowls of jajangmyeon (black bean paste noodles).”
Similarly, Japanese women give men gifts of chocolates, sometimes handmade, and the men respond with white chocolate on March 14 (called ‘White Day’), as a result of a popular marketing campaign by Japan’s national confectionery association in the 1980s, which has since become an annual tradition.
“It’s all about chocolate in Japan,” said Holte. “The shops overflow with some incredibly creative displays and in true Japanese tradition, each chocolate represents different meanings.”
‘Giri-choco’ which literally means ‘the obligation chocolate’ is shared with classmates, co-workers or acquaintances; ‘tomo-choco’, ‘the friend’s chocolate’, which is given with a bit more sincerity to closer friends, and ‘hommei-choco’, is for your beloved.
In the Philippines, weddings are better when celebrated en masse on Valentine’s Day.
“It’s become an annual tradition that the government, church or a charitable group, sponsor a group wedding in the Philippines on Valentine’s Day, and not just because the country is more romantic than others,” said Holte. “Mass rites are particularly helpful to low-income families, yet the yearly celebration now sees up to 4,000 couples join their lives together on Feb 14.”
China has their own Valentine’s Day, traditionally falling on the seventh day of the seventh month each year, which in 2016 is Aug 19. However, they still participate in western traditions by exchanging gifts.
“There are some interesting reasons behind what not to give in China on Valentine’s Day,” Holte continued. “Don’t give your partner an umbrella, as the sound of the Chinese symbol for ‘umbrella’ and ‘breaking up’ is very similar. It’s not advisable either to give shoes as a gift as it implies you are sending your love away.”
The Chinese in Malaysia celebrate Valentine’s Day on ‘Chap Goh Meh’ or the 15th day of the Lunar New Year. Chap Goh Meh literally means 15th night in Hokkien, one of the Chinese dialects. On that day, the single ladies would sometimes throw tangerines or mandarin oranges into the sea, river or lake, to wish for a good husband. They have also been known to write their handphone numbers on the orange, hoping that if it was picked up by an eligible gentleman, this would lead to a good match. It was also a good evening for the young men to check out the eligible young ladies.
It’s not known where the tradition started from, but some believe it to have stemmed from a Hokkien saying: “Tim kam, keh hor ang. Tim kor, chuar hoe bor” which means “Toss a tangerine, marry a good husband. Toss an apple, marry a good wife”. The practice of tossing mandarin oranges into bodies of water is still practised today although single ladies rarely rely on it to find partners now.
In India, Valentine’s Day is a more recent phenomenon, although in West Bengal, the festival of Saraswati, which is more closely aligned with learning, is seen as a modern day version of Valentine’s Day by the young.
“While rarely acknowledged as a public holiday, a traditional celebration of love and romance is adapted through a variety of translations around the world, even if not always on Feb 14,” Holte said. “Celebrations can be traced back to Roman times and were not originally linked to romance, but instead connects the Saint to the beginning of spring.”
“In fact, Britian has a wide variety of regional traditions honouring St Valentine. One of the oldest traditions, dating back to the 17th century, is the presenting of an intricately carved lovespoon in Wales, decorated with symbols of love to show their intended their amazing skills.”
It is not all about love to the French though.
“Revenge was the order of the day in France where jilted women would gather to burn images and hurl abuse in huge bonfires. The aggressive ritual became a little too much for the French government who eventually banned the tradition.”
Today’s singles can take heart, as opportunities now abound on Valentine’s Day to find a perfect match.
“If you’re single, this can be one of the best times to take a trip,” said Holte. “Travel can be one of the most romantic experiences you can undertake and many cities around the world now hold extravagant events for those who are single on Valentine’s Day.”
London, New York and Sydney, in particular, are hotspots for exclusive single parties attended by hundreds.
“You never know who you might be seated next to on the plane, bump into at the baggage carousel, or ask for directions,” said Holte in conclusion. “Travel and romance go hand-in-hand.” – Ming Teoh