Valentine’s Day is a time that gets two opposite reactions: Love or disgust. Although I enjoyed celebrating with packages of candies and Hello Kitty cards, not everyone shared my sentiments. I’d always hear, “Happy Singles Awareness Day!” or shouts of “Happy VD!” Whether you celebrate with chocolates covered in red and pink foil or groan and roll your eyes at this day, it’s still enjoyed throughout the world. As February 14th approaches, I’m taking time to enjoy and take a look at how other countries participate in the festivities of love and singlehood and perhaps inspire you to look at this day of love in a different light.
Japan and Korea
In both of these Asian countries, Valentine’s Day is observed on two days. On February 14th, women give gifts to boyfriends, husbands and lovers, usually chocolate or hon-mei. They also give chocolate to bosses, co-workers, friends and family. This type of chocolate is known as Giri-coco, “Giri meaning obligation. A month later on March 14th, White Day sees men pampering women who give them gifts. Like the superstition that Valentine’s Day was started by the chocolate industry, it is believed White Day was started by the marshmallow chocolate company. In addition to these days for couples, Korea also enjoys Black Day on April 14th where those who are single eat Jajang noodles that are black in color. Looks like I’ll be adding Janjang noodles to my grocery list . . .
Traditionally, Italy is known for tragic tales of love like “Romeo and Juliet,” but stories of long ago also tell of engagement announcements in the city of Turin. It was also believe that unmarried girls should wake up before sunrise and the first man they saw would be or resemble their future husband. This is the first I had heard of arranged marriages in the West, and it has me wondering if this is where the idea of “Love at first sight” came from. Even though this tradition is no longer practiced, Baci Penegina, chocolate-covered hazelnuts with quotes on a piece of paper, is still gifted on this day of love.
Also known as “Seven Sisters Festival,” Qi Qiao Jie, celebrates the story of Niu Lang on the 7th Day of the 7th Lunar month. A young man and cowherd, Niu Lang, went to the river as instructed by an ox where he met the Emperor’s seven daughters. He was captivated by Zhi Nu, he secretly took her fairy clothes and only returned them once she promised to marry him. Although Zhi Nu and Niu Lang were very happy, Zhi Nu’s grandmother took her back to the sky. Niu Lang tried to chase Zhi Nu by wearing a cow hide and carrying their children in bamboo baskets dressed in Zhi Nu’s fairy clothing, but the grandmother separated them by placing a Milky Way between them. They were only allowed to meet once a year, the date mentioned earlier. On this day, people visit the Temple of the Matchmaker for luck in finding their soulmate. Sometimes I wish I lived in China so when my sister asks if I visit this temple I would have a specific date, instead of her constantly wondering if I’ve been to Match.com recently.
If you’ve ever sent or received a Valentine’s Day card then you know about this country’s “Lover’s Card.” Pressed white flowers (Snowdrops) are also exchanged to express love. My favorite exchange of love, Gaekkebrev (“joking letter”), involves a rhyme written but not expressed by the sender. If the woman receiving the letter guesses the sender correctly, he gives her an Easter egg at Eastertime. Dear future boyfriend, if you’re clever like this, you’ll win my heart.
Whether you celebrate Valentine’s Day with open arms or raise an objection for singles to be noticed, you’re not the only one. These unique practices and celebrations all over the world are proof that we all have an opinion about love. Although anyone will tell you a day for giving and receiving love is just the beginning and that it takes more to make a relationship work, it’s nice to have a day to just celebrate this crazy thing we call love.
What holiday traditions do you know that celebrate love?