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Valentine's Day Traditions From Around the World

Kerstin Meergans Papadopoulos

Valentine’s Day is a special day for people in love all around the world, but what if you are an international student? And what if you are not in a relationship? Whether you are in a relationship or not, find out about all the different Valentine’s day traditions there are around the world (and how to escape them, too):

United States

Valentine’s Day is one of the most popular festivities in the United States. Originally, people honoured St. Valentine by expressing their love to their sweethearts, but throughout the years it’s developed into something big, to the point where friends or parents might also get a present.

Usually, partners get cards, flowers, and chocolates, along with a dinner for two. A very popular tradition is to send candy and other gifts to their loved ones, where some might take it a step further and personally deliver flowers to their partner’s office. Nowadays, even children celebrate Valentine’s Day with great enthusiasm, by handcrafting gifts and cards to present them to their friends and teachers.

If you are single, or alone, check out the events organised by student unions, as some universities offer an Anti-Valentine’s programme.

UK

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Like in many other countries, British people express their love through flowers, cards, chocolates, and other special gifts. In certain areas of the UK, it’s traditional to bake some “Valentine Buns” — made with caraway seeds, plums, or raisins — and to compose a few verses for your loved one.

Are you currently single and studying in the UK? No problem! A lot of campuses host events on Valentine’s Day so that you don’t spend the day alone. For some British universities, Valentine’s Day is a great opportunity for students to raise money for various foundations.

At Newcastle University, the Students’ Union promises an “Anti-Valentine’s film night”, featuring a movie which does not refer to love a single time.

In case you really don’t want to spend Valentine’s alone, then try out Sheffield University’s event on February 8th. This night is all about charity, where speed dating is taken to another level. Students of every sexuality can join in to meet people during Valentine’s Day. All money from ticket sales go towards Nightline, a charity that exists to support, promote and develop Nightline services for students. If you’re lucky you might just find someone to celebrate the day with!

France

Who doesn’t want to spend Valentine’s Day in the city of love? Tourists from all around the globe come here to have a romantic time with their beloved ones. It’s common to exchange letters and cards, and legend has it that Charles, the Duke of Orleans, wrote the first Valentine’s card, when he signed below his poem as “Your Valentine”.

It’s hard to get away from the romantic spirit Paris emanates, so if you want to avoid Valentine’s celebrations it’s best to either plan a day trip to the slagheaps on the old coal fields of northern France, which are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, or just go for a relaxing day at the Four Seasons George V SPA. You only live once, so embrace the awesome nightlife in the evening, and, who knows, maybe a new love is just around the corner.

Italy

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There was a time when Italy celebrated Valentine’s Day as a Spring Festival. It was an open air festival for young people to listen to music and to read poetry. Unfortunately this festival no longer exists.

Nowadays, Valentine’s Day is mainly seen as a holiday imported from the US. Young people take this as an opportunity to show off their love to their sweethearts the American way, with gifts like perfume, chocolates, flowers, cards, and jewellery. Couples usually enjoy a dinner for two at a nearby pizzeria or ristorante, which ends in exchanging gifts with each other. A popular gift for those with a sweet tooth are Baci Perugina — a small, chocolate-covered hazelnut containing a small slip of paper with a romantic poetic quote.

For those of you who are single, there’s an Italian saying that goes: “The first man a girl sees that day, will become her husband within a year.” So keep your fingers crossed.

Well, what to do if indeed you are single? If you’re a girl in Milan, it’s quite easy: how about a shopping spree? There’s nothing better than giving yourself a gift — when did you last pamper yourself? But there are also places in Milan where dining alone is refreshing. Try the Tapa’n Kitchen Bar with tapas at their best, or Caffè della Pusterla — a landmark for locals — which is a spot you can enjoy at any point of the day (and it has Wi-Fi).

Germany

The German celebration of Valentine’s Day is similar to most other places around the world. It is mainly a day for celebrating love and spending time with sweethearts. On this day, young men offer flowers to their loved ones. Valentine’s gifts are usually heart-shaped chocolates or candy, but for the ones who love gingerbread and cannot wait until Oktoberfest, why not offer a gingerbread heart with a message to your boo?

To get away from the romantic mood, it is best to choose locations which are far from cosy for a date. How about the Knofi restaurant in Berlin, which only serves garlic dishes? A sports bar might be also a great alternative too. Or why don’t you invite your single friends for a round of bowling at the Strike Lanes Lounge Bowling — a hidden gem with a great and chilled atmosphere.

Denmark

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Valentine’s Day in Denmark is mostly celebrated by the young population, who send Valentine’s cards to their beloved. The Danish Valentine Card is also known as a “lover’s card”.

In the old days these cards were transparent, which, when held before light, showed a picture of a lover handing over a wonderful present to his beloved. Today there are many other varieties of lover’s cards, and you can find these cards in shops all across the country.

Another Danish Valentine’s Day custom is to send your friends pressed white flowers, called snowdrops. And for the ones who like a mystery: there is also the tradition of sending a gaekkebrev (or “joking letter”). This gaekkebrev is a romantic letter that contains a rhyme penned by the sender himself. The catch here, is that the letter does not contain the sender’s name, so the receiver needs to guess the right one. If the girl he sends the gaekkebrev to correctly guesses his name, he rewards her with an Easter egg during Easter.

Argentina

In the land of Tango, celebrating Valentine’s Day just on one day is too mainstream. In Argentina, love is celebrated for a whole week, where they exchange candy and kisses, and which ends with the “Friendship Day”. Getting away is easy; just go to one of the tango bars and go with flow in the heat of the moment.

Brazil

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You want to get away from Valentine’s Day? Then Rio might be an option, because during the month of February and March, the Brazilian Carnival takes place. Are you sad because you want to celebrate love? Then you need to come here on June 12th, which is the local equivalent to Valentine’s Day (“Dia dos Enamorados”). On this day, Brazilians love to exchange chocolates, flowers, and cards, but also love to hold musical performances throughout the cities and towns, bringing everyone together.

Japan

Valentine’s Day is also celebrated in Japan, but the celebration only ends on March 14th, known as the “White Day”. In February, women present chocolates or gifts to the men they love. There are two types of gifts: the traditional “Giri Choco” (chocolates with no romantic association, but obligatory to give on that day), which are only given to their male friends, colleagues or even bosses; and to show another kind of “affection”, a handmade gift plus the “Honmei Choco”.

Men who receive chocolates and gifts on Valentine’s Day should then return the favour to women on “White Day”. The tradition is believed to have been introduced by a marshmallow company in the 1960s.

China

Today, many Chinese celebrate the western Valentine’s Day with romantic gift exchanges and special dates. Despite the commercial import of Valentine’s Day, the Chinese have celebrated their own “Day of Love” for centuries with the “Qixi Festival (“The Night of Seven”), which usually takes place in early August, on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month.

Behind this festivity lies a tragic love story about two stars in the Milky Way. A fairy named Zhinu married a mortal young man named Niulang after love at first sight. When they got married, the Goddess of Heaven became so furious that she created the Milky Way to separate them. On the east side of the Milky Way lies the star Vega, which represents the Zhinu, and on the west side is Niulang, crying for his wife. Once a year, the lovers get the chance to see each other during the Qixi celebration. During this time, Chinese women pray to find a good husband and offer fruits to Zhinu, the ancient goddess of love and relationships, to hear their prayers.

Taiwan

In Taiwan, love is celebrated twice a year: February 14th and the July 7th. On these days, men are expected to give bouquets of flowers to their partner. According to Taiwanese tradition, the colour and number of flowers represent an important message: red roses mean “only love”, while 99 roses mean “love forever”, and 108 roses is basically popping the question, “Will you marry me?”.

Still counting your flowers?

Wherever you are on the 14th, it is usually hard to completely get away from the Valentine’s Day spirit, so why not get in touch with the other international students and plan a fun dinner at home or at a restaurant (garlic-themed or Ethiopian?), have a karaoke night with friends or just play a round of bowling — there is no reason to be alone!


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What are your plans for this year’s Valentine’s Day? Let us know in the comments.
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