By Lara Cornelius, Staff Writer
Oh, Valentine’s Day.
As shelves in the U.S. brim with Russell Stover heart-shaped boxes, oversized teddy bears, and Hallmark cards, other countries engage in their own ways of declaring love, indulging, and gift-giving. Most countries have their particular customs and traditions of celebrating Valentine’s Day, but they seem to have largely avoided the commercialization of the holiday we have here in the United States. Some exchange obligatory chocolates and carve symbolic wooden spoons, while some mourn their single lives over a bowl of black noodles. Here is a some insight into how four different countries celebrate Valentine’s Day around the world.
In Japan, it’s the women who do the gift giving on Valentine’s Day, and the men have the choice to reciprocate a month later on White Day. This is the day they have the chance to return this kind of affection. The giving of chocolate is not just limited to lovers or boyfriends; women give this gift to family, friends, and co-workers as well.
Valentine’s Day is a bigger business in Japan than the United States! The Chocolate and Cocoa Association of Japan claims that an estimated $500 million is spent annually on chocolate for this holiday while Americans only spend less than a third of that. Furthermore, Japanese spend another $500 million on ‘White Day,’ also known as “Answer Love White Day,” March 14, the day of reciprocation.
The Japanese even go as far as to give certain kinds of chocolate that have different meanings depending on the intention and the recipient. For example, giri-choco is “obligatory chocolate” which is for colleagues at the office, brothers, or bosses; honmei-choco is “the real thing” chocolate given to someone with romantic intention; and jibun choco is what you give to yourself because you’ve earned it.
Much like the Japanese tradition of Valentine’s Day, women in South Korea give their men chocolates on this day and wait for White Day for men to return the gift in a similar fashion as they do in Japan. However, the country has gone even further, introducing a “Black Day” on April 14th, a month after White Day, which is basically specifically for single people. Singles who didn’t receive any gifts on Valentine’s Day or White Day gather together dressed in all black from head to toe and eat jjajang myeon, noodles covered in black bean paste. This is one of South Korea’s national comfort foods and is comparable to the American image of eating Ben and Jerry’s straight out of the carton.
France has the reputation of being one of the most romantic countries in the world, so it’s no wonder they have been celebrating this day for lovers for centuries.
There is an old Valentines day custom in France that was called “une loterie d’amour” or “drawing for love” which is now officially banned. This event entailed single people of all ages entering houses that faced opposite each other and calling out through the windows until they all paired off with one another. If the male suitor was not particularly attracted to his partner he would leave her. The women left single at the end of the customary event would build a large bonfire and ceremoniously burn images of the men that had deserted them. Inevitably, this became a practice that was eventually banned by the French government.
The Welch celebrate “St. Dwynwen’s Day,” the part saint of lovers, on January 25th, which is their equivalent to Valentine’s Day. As a tradition on this day, it is customary to gift love-spoons. This age-old tradition started when Welsh men, among sailors, would carve intricate designs on wooden spoons and present them to a lady that they were courting or interested in marrying. The designs that were carved were symbolic, each carrying a different meaning, and a token of affection for the women they loved. This tradition is still carried on today, and the spoons are also exchanged at celebrations such as weddings and births.
And just for fun…
“Don’t get into capitalist BS, February 14 is a regular day!”