From saying “I love you” with a spoon to pigs on parade, these global traditions take February 14 far beyond the typical flowers and candy.
Whether you adore it, detest it, or are just plain ambivalent about it, Valentine’s Day is upon us. This Roman martyr’s feast day was first linked to lovers by Geoffrey Chaucer in a 14th-century poem and has been with us in some form or fashion ever since.
Valentine’s celebrations typically include declarations of love tangibly demonstrated by chocolates, cards, flowers, or jewelry. But take a closer look around the world, and you’ll find a handful of quirky and endearing traditions that shine in a sea of ho-hum hearts and routine roses.
Here are 11 that truly stand out.
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Valentine’s Day is all about men in Japan. Women are the ones doing the bulk of wooing—and shopping. They purchase heart-shaped chocolates to express kokuhaku, or confess their feelings, for the men in their lives. Japanese women give candies to friends, colleagues, and family members, as well as their significant others.
Reciprocity comes a month later, on March 14—or White Day. Then, it’s the men’s turn to give gifts to the women who treated them back in February.
Way back when, Welsh men wouldn’t present trinkets or flowers to declare their affection. Instead, they offered spoons. While the origins of this custom are a bit murky, the messaging and intent behind it are not. Great care was taken to hand-carve these wooden tokens and many feature intricate designs with fine attention to detail. They are still given on Saint Dwynwen’s Day in tribute to the Welsh patron saint of lovers, and on Valentine’s Day as well. They’re a lovely way to celebrate a romantic relationship.
In most places, the traditional floral favorite of Valentine’s Day is a big bunch of long-stemmed red roses. Not so in Peru! During the country’s February 14 Día del Amor y la Amistad—or Day of Love and Friendship—admirers instead gift sprays of locally-grown orchids to their sweet ones. Bonus: they last longer than cut bouquets.
Une loterie d’amour, or “love lottery” was a tradition held throughout France on Valentine’s Day designed to help pair up new sweethearts. All the single ladies—and gentlemen—packed homes on opposite sides of a town’s streets, yelling to one another through the windows. When a couple connected, voila! A meeting took place. Alas, the lottery wasn’t a fair one, as the man was the only one who could back out if he wasn’t pleased with his pick. The women’s recourse? They built bonfires, burning images of the men who rejected them. C’est l’amour!
Want to trade all that sappy love talk for a glass of wine instead? Head to Bulgaria on February 14, where another saint shares the day with Valentine. We’re talking about St. Trifon, a patron saint of vineyards and winemakers. To celebrate the venerated vintner, faithful Bulgarians head to wineries for a special blessing of the vines, then hold a feast (served with plenty of red and white, of course!) to help ensure a good harvest in the year ahead.
Denmark and Norway
In both these Scandinavian countries, Valentine’s Day is all about the power of the pen, with a bonus bit of whimsy and humor mixed in. Men send women funny poems, or gaekkebrev. They are always signed anonymously, with a series of dots matching the number of letters in the secret admirer’s name. It’s then up to the ladies to figure out who sent the note. If a recipient is correct in her identification, the author owes her an Easter egg in the spring.
Filipinos are the hands-down winners when it comes to declaring devotion on Valentine’s Day. Several cities in the Philippines sponsor special mass matrimonial ceremonies, where hundreds of lovers take their lifelong vows in unison on February 14. Those special nuptials often include flowers, dinner, cake, and sometimes even rings free of charge for the newly-married crowd.
We’re all familiar with the term ”wearing your heart on your sleeve,” but in South Africa on Valentine’s Day, it’s taken quite literally. Women there affix paper hearts with the name of their love—or secret crush—on their shirtsleeves. It’s hoped their potential partners take notice and courtship can begin. The tradition is thought to have roots in the ancient Roman fertility festival Lupercalia.
In many ways, Germans celebrate Valentine’s Day with typical, traditional gestures. Sweethearts purchase each other chocolates, flowers, and other baubles.
It’s the pigs that stand out.
In Germany, porcine-themed charms, cards and ornaments are also exchanged on February 14. They are thought to represent both luck and lust. In addition to the sweet swine, gingerbread hearts make a comeback from the Christkindlmarkts of December. They are each decorated with sugar icing messages of love, and also popular Valentine’s gifts.
It’s the only country in the world with the word “love” in its name, however, Valentine’s Day in Slovenia is a bit more practical than romantic. In fact, February 14 is recognized as the first day to work in the fields! Slovenian folklore holds that plants begin to grow on the middle day of February. However, love is not completely lost. Legend also holds that February 14 is the day the birds of the field pair off; becoming lovebirds by marrying the following month on St. Gregory’s Day.
Finally, sweethearts in the Czech Republic wait until spring, and for its far better weather, to celebrate their day of love. On May 1, couples across the country make sure to kiss under a blooming cherry tree—a birch will also do in a pinch. As the legend goes, the smooches help to keep lovers beautiful and radiant all year round.