Flowers, chocolate and cherubic cupids all conjure images of the standard American Valentine’s Day. But when it comes to love, variety is the spice of life. Around the world, different countries and cultures have countless ways to celebrate interpersonal affection — and of course, not all of them happen on February 14. If you’re looking to explore the realm beyond roses and heart-shaped boxes, take a peek into these unique Valentine’s Day traditions across the world. Maybe they’re onto something.
In Japan, the way to the heart is through the stomach. “The women make homemade chocolate, and if the guy is interested, he reciprocates a month later by buying white chocolate on March 14th,” said Dean Foster, author of Bargaining Across Borders and co-host of the podcast Oops, Your Culture’s Showing!. Why white chocolate? It’s considered to be a higher-class variety, Foster said.
In South Korea, singles have more fun. “They have ‘Black Day’ on April 14th where people who don’t have partners get together and celebrate the fact that they’re single,” said Foster. “They eat a special noodle dish cooked in black sauce.” And they’re not the only culture to come together around being uncoupled — in China, Singles Day falls on Nov. 11th—or 11/11—since those ones represent singlehood or loneliness.
Brazil may have inherited St. Anthony’s Day, June 12, from Portuguese culture (due to colonization and immigration, Brazil is home to one of the largest Portuguese populations in the world) but their traditions are all their own to celebrate their patron saint of love. Brazilians honor his name by writing down the names of people they have feelings for the night before on separate pieces of paper and crumple them in a ball. Then, they take the night to think and dream about them. In the morning, the name they pick is said to end up their life partner, though “I don’t know if that’s ever proved itself out,” said Foster.
Every February 14, a mass wedding takes place on Cape Town’s Robben Island, which Foster said is a reflection of collectivist values in South African society.
But for those not quite at the tying-the-knot phase, women quite literally wear their heart on their sleeve by wearing the name of the man they love written and pinned to their sleeve.
To the north in Denmark, men release their inner Shakespeare by sending a love poem called a Gaekkebrev to their object of affection, said Foster. The woman then sends a note to the person she thinks it’s from. If she gets it right, he’ll send her an Easter egg between Valentine’s Day and Easter.
The Czech use May 1st — also known as May Day — as an opportunity to celebrate “Day of Love,” their version of Valentine’s Day. “When they were under socialist and communist control, the government mandated when things were celebrated,” said Foster. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it was designated as the day they’d celebrate an equivalent of Valentine’s Day.” He said it’s customary for the Czech to ensure a relationship full of health and happiness by kissing under a cherry tree, and May 1st guarantees they’re in bloom.
In Wales, tradition trumps climate. While January can be excruciatingly cold, Foster said it’s when the Welsh honor the patron saint of love, St. Dwynwen. “The men carve a wooden spoon and give it as a gift of love to their sweetheart,” he said. “It speaks to Welsh domesticity. Up until very recently it was a very agricultural country. Seen through our eyes today it does speak to that [heteronormativity] but it’s maybe lost some of that implication.”