9 Valentine's Day Traditions Around the World

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Love is in the air! Valentine’s Day, the romantic February 14 holiday also known as Saint Valentine’s Day or the Feast of Saint Valentine, is often celebrated with chocolates, flowers, and gifts. In some countries, such as Japan, women lead the gift-giving charge, while in others, such as Thailand, the more extreme your declaration of love, the better. Regardless of the affectionate act, the same thing is true just about everywhere: Valentine’s Day is ultimately a time to celebrate and show appreciation for loved ones. Here are nine other Valentine’s Day traditions around the world. Maybe you can adopt some of these as your own!

Japan

Pattern of red gift boxes heart shaped and chocolate sweets on pink.
Credit: Svetlana-Cherruty/ iStock

In most Western countries, Valentine’s Day is an occasion for a mutual exchange of romantic gifts between partners, but in Japan, women give chocolate to the special men in their lives. The custom was adopted after marketing companies attempted to bring the holiday to Japan in the 1950s, but misrepresented the Western traditions. Chocolates are distributed in tiers: Expensive treats are reserved for the men with whom the women are romantically involved, while cheaper “giri choco” (obligatory chocolates) are gifted to coworkers, friends, and family members. Since the 1970s, Japan has also celebrated White Day, a holiday that takes place one month later on March 14, when men reciprocate the gesture by giving chocolate to the special women in their lives. The tradition has since spread to other countries such as Taiwan and South Korea.

South Korea

Korean Chinese noodle topped with a thick sauce made of chunjang, diced pork and vegetables.
Credit: Jo Theera/ Shutterstock

Much like Japan, South Korea splits Valentine’s Day into multiple occasions — on February 14, women give chocolate to men, and a month later on White Day, men return the gesture by showering the women in their lives with gifts. But they also take it a (dramatic) step further. Another month later, on April 14, all the single people who didn’t give or receive any special gifts put on their best all-black outfits and mope over a meal called jajangmyeon (noodles tossed in black bean paste). This sad holiday for singles is known as — you guessed it — Black Day, and its inception inspired South Korea to create romance-themed holidays for the 14th day of each month, including Diary Day (January), Rose Day (May), Kiss Day (June), Silver Day (July), Green Day (August), Photo Day (September), Wine Day (October), Movie Day (November), and Hug Day (December).

Thailand

Red balloon in the shape of a heart at Promthep Cape in Phuket, Thailand.
Credit: artpritsadee/ Shutterstock

Thailand has eagerly taken to all the Western customs of Valentine’s Day — chocolates, flowers, and wining and dining — but they’ve also put an adventurous spin on the romantic holiday. In the province of Prachin Buri, about two hours east of Bangkok, couples looking to get married on or near February 14 partake in everything from themed role-playing activities (such as escaping from people dressed up as pirates), to ziplining or rappelling down the side of a mountain.

The Philippines

Wedding rings in the shells with the words of Boracay, Philippines.
Credit: Elizaveta Galitckaia/ Shutterstock

February 14 has become a popular day for marriage in the Philippines. The holiday is so popular, in fact, that thousands of couples exchange vows during mass civil ceremonies. And while other couples end up breaking the bank on their big day (never mind the money people spend on fancy meals and gifts for a special Valentine’s Day), these group weddings are sponsored by the Philippines government. Everything from the venue to the food, flowers, and in some cases, even rings, are free of charge to young couples willing to share their special day with many other like-minded lovebirds.

Slovenia

Blue and pink hydrangeas in Ljubljana, Solvenia.
Credit: Hasmik Ghazaryan Olson/ Unsplash

Slovenians celebrate love twice — first on February 14, and then again almost a month later on March 12. Known as Saint Gregory’s Day (or Gregorjevo), the date coincides with the early days of spring, when the flowers are in bloom and the birds are singing. Traditionally, single women would look to the sky on this date; it was believed that the first bird they saw would indicate what type of husband they would have in the future. The Slovenian tradition of sending glowing lanterns downstream on this date adds to the holiday’s romantic ambience.

Mexico

Heart shaped balloons in the sky.
Credit: Anand Thakur/ Unsplash

Valentine’s Day is officially known as El Día del Amor y la Amistad in Mexico — or the “Day of Love and Friendship.” While locals definitely indulge in the more traditional markers of the holiday, such as dining out and delivering roses, they also amp up the affection that is already a defining part of their culture — friends and family can expect to be showered with elaborate balloon arrangements, gifts, or simple cards and messages.

South Africa

Embroidered red heart on a white cloth close up.
Credit: Davizro/ iStock

In South Africa, people use Valentine’s Day as an excuse to wear their hearts on their sleeves — quite literally. In a custom that is believed to have been inspired by the ancient Roman Lupercalia festival, women will publicly declare their love by writing down the name of their significant other — or even their crush — and pinning it to their shirt sleeves. Men will occasionally do the same, but it’s much more likely they’ll partake in the more traditional aspects of the holiday, such as dinner and drinks, chocolates, or gifts for their lover.

Brazil

Brazilian Valentine's Day with decorations hanging from the tree.
Credit: Eri Kay/ Shutterstock

Brazilians celebrate what’s known as Dia dos Namorados — or Lover’s Day — with chocolates, flowers, and date-night dinners. But instead of taking place on February 14, the Brazilian day of love takes place on June 12 to honor Saint Anthony of Padua, the patron saint of marriage and matchmaking. Brazilians aren’t opposed to the established Western Valentine’s Day traditions, but the February date simply falls too close to Carnival week, one of the biggest events in the country.

El Salvador

Picnic Steak House at sunset in El Salvador.
Credit: Esau Gonzalez/ Unsplash

As in many other countries in Latin America, Valentine’s Day is a day of love and friendship in El Salvador. One of the more unique (and adorable) traditions is a children’s game called “Angelito” or “Amigo Secreto.” Much like with Secret Santa, kids draw a name that’s been written on a piece of paper, and gifts are then anonymously given to their “secret friend.” Adults also sometimes give secret gifts for fun, and indulge in the chocolate and fine dining that are associated with the holiday in North America.

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