‘Tis the season to be all lovey-dovey! Hello folks, are you looking forward to Valentine’s Day? This is the universally recognized holiday dedicated to romantic love, after all. Are you going to share a nice box of chocolates with your significant other and chill? Or perhaps a nice night out in a restaurant with a Valentine’s Day special? These are what come to mind here, in the West. But what about over in its land of origin, Europe or farther East? The way we celebrate the holiday is pretty different from how it is celebrated over in Europe, never mind the East that started off without it. Today I want to take the time to share with you how this holiday is celebrated worldwide.
We’ve all heard the stories, the holiday originates from some bloke called St. Valentine. He did something that made people want to remember him forever, evolving to a holiday that commercializes kisses. Ok, hold on. Rollback the clip. Holidays that relate to love (or love-making) have been around since the beginning of organized religion, and sometimes holidays “evolve” thanks to religion. This one is one of them. Historians believe this (along with Christmas) has roots in the Roman festival of Lupercalia, a festival of fertility that celebrated the coming of spring. The festival served the important social mission of hooking up the youngins together, through the lottery!
As with anything pagan back then, the church just has to step in. At the end of the 5th century, Pope Gelasius I replaced the holiday with one that celebrates a long gone martyr called St. Valentine (this is his cue). There have been several Valentines, it’s a pretty popular family name for martyrs apparently. This was before the Roman legalization of Christianity, so hoods and secret codes were part of the Christian experience. Anyways, one Valentine was martyred by Emperor Claudius II Gothicus. We know this because he sent a letter to his jailer’s daughter, whom he supposedly saved from blindness; it was signed “from your Valentine”. This sounds like the plot of a 70s historical movie, not the erotic Italian kind. Another story says he secretly married couples so the men won’t have to go to war, which generally made Roman emperors mad. Unfortunately, the holiday doesn’t really change into a celebration of romance until the end of the 14th century.
Do you remember doing Valentine’s cards in elementary? If we were lucky it was pre-made cut-out cards with some kind of Nickelodeon character on it, and those were fun/easy to make. If we weren’t so lucky, we had to make them from scratch using construction paper. The sizes weren’t uniform, and it was just a few scribbles inside (blegh). This has its roots in the 1500s when the printing press was just invented. Although it wasn’t really a thing until the 1700s when papermaking was more widespread. The cards usually featured Cupid (the Roman god of love), hearts (which were believed to be the seat of emotion), and birds (because it was commonly believed at the time that birds mate during this time). Roses had been established as a symbol of love and passion since the Middle Ages, so naturally, it became the traditional flower of Valentine’s Day. Candy is just customary on special occasions all over the world; it’s a luxury item, has special meanings, and it’s just so good.
The Americans got their own card-making business going in the 1800s, but this is where Valentine’s Day starts to diverge dramatically. Our version, as you know, gets taken to new heights (and new lows) by the businesses that provide for the holiday. We still do cards, but it could be decorated with anything from superheroes to body part humour. France, the possible birthplace of the Valentine’s Day card and world-famous city of romance, had a very fun (but now illegal) event called the loterie d’amour, or “lottery of love”. Men and women would take turns calling to each other from buildings that faced each other, and they’d pair up. If the men didn’t like who they got, they can leave. But the single women had to stay together for a bonfire and burn their pictures, possibly swear and curse them. See, this is where it starts going south. The girls shouldn’t HAVE to stay for the pity party, they should’ve just went to town and have some sort of bachelorette party. This is how they end up escalating the situation and eventually, the French government has to ban this altogether. What a shame.
Boys, have you ever wondered why YOU have to do all the work to celebrate Valentine’s Day? Do you ever wish the girls can understand the pressure that comes with it? Just take a trip to South Korea (or Japan)! I’m guessing it’s leftover from ye olde days of women staying in kitchens, but it leaves the men in the dark too. The fun doesn’t stop there, because there are two more months of fun! On March 14th, the boys are expected to return the favour. Traditionally it’s some kind of candy (that’s not chocolate), and different kinds mean different things. Depending on who you are, the chaos continues to April 14th where all the singles lament their pain and eat bowls of jajangmyeon or black bean paste noodles. Granted, that dish has been around since before the holiday but it does fit. The darkness of the sauce fits the atmosphere.
Love is so interesting, and there are so many more ways to express it. If you have the opportunity, I suggest you go out and see these celebrations for yourself. You can thank me with a wedding invitation.