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Sweethearting Through the Ages: Exploring Valentine’s Day Traditions

Sweethearting Through the Ages: Exploring Valentine’s Day Traditions

Believe it or not, the United States of America is not the center of Earth. There are more than 200 countries worldwide. Many of the holidays that we celebrate and the traditions that we have originated in other continents. Like Valentine’s Day, whose start is a bit of a mystery; but we know one of the earliest accounts are recorded in 15th century Europe. Fast forward to this millenium, Daya Sugden wrote this piece in 2009 but you will still find these to be timeless and you may adopt them as a way to level up your gift giving game.

How Saint Valentine’s Day is Celebrated Around the World

By Daya Sugden

Fundamentally, Valentine’s Day is a mass outward expression of love. Love is universal; it is what makes us human. So the essential spirit of Valentine’s Day is within every man and woman, regardless of nation. But, how is Valentine’s Day celebrated in other countries — if at all? In this article, we lift the lid on how Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the United Kingdom, France, Australia, Brazil and Portugal.

Valentine’s Day in the UK

Can Valentine’s Day be celebrated without romantic verses and sonnets by love-struck couples in the Bard’s own land? While the mandatory cards, flowers and chocolates dominate the day, youngsters in the UK also take recourse to love poetry (published in magazines and tabloids on the Big Day) to express their heart’s desire.

Photo by Adam Kring on Unsplash

This is, and always has been, a deep-rooted tradition in the UK, tracing its origins to the fact that it was the British poets who wrote the bulk of romantic verses for Valentine’s Day.

Interestingly, birds have also long shared an intimate association with Valentine’s Day. Tradition has it that birds choose their mates on 14 February each year. So, there could not be a better day to honour love and commitment — a fact that was first pointed out by Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th century!

Photo by Scott Gummerson on Unsplash

In the UK, the coming of Valentine’s Day also marks the end of winter and the onset of spring — new life, new beginnings. In some parts of England, Valentine’s Day is also referred to as ‘Birds’ Wedding Day’. Traditionally, special buns topped with caraway seeds, raisins and plums are baked to celebrate.

Recent surveys showed that Cupid-struck Britons spend around £503m on cards, flowers, chocolates and other gifts for Valentine’s Day annually! Not too bad for a nation famous for its emotional reserve?!

Valentine’s Day in France

It was a Frenchman who made history of sorts by writing the world’s first ever Valentine’s Day card! Charles, Duke of Orleans was a young Frenchman who had been captured at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 and was imprisoned in the Tower of London. While languishing in prison, he wrote a poem or ‘Valentine’ to his wife, little knowing that he was setting into motion a trend that would far outlive him.

frozen wave against sunlight
Photo by Hernan Pauccara on

Valentine’s Day in France was characterized by a rather unusual custom known as ‘drawing for’. In this activity, unmarried couples would enter the house facing across the street. Then would follow a ‘calling out’ session and, those who liked the person whose name was being called out, would go off with that man/woman. However, if the young man took a dislike to the chosen valentine, he would simply refuse to go! After the ritual was over, the rejected girls would light a bonfire and burn images of the young man (men), bellowing abuse as they did so!

Later, a decree of the French government banned this custom on the grounds of it reflecting poorly on the basic emotion of love and friendship that was the hallmark of Valentine’s Day. In France, elegant greeting cards, containing tender love messages, called ‘cartes d’amities’ were also exchanged between lovers.

Valentine’s Day in Australia

It was during the Gold Rush in Australia that Valentine’s Day fervour reached its peak! Nothing was too extravagant or expensive to woo the chosen one.

The Gold Rush saw hundreds of men grow rich overnight. Flush with all that newfound money from the Ballarat mines, the smitten men spared no expenses in presenting the most extravagant ‘valentines’ to their sweethearts.

The men actively competed with one another in giving the most expensive valentine to their chosen lady. After all, their gift sealed their romantic fate. ‘Valentines’ were often made of a perfumed satin cushion, and exquisitely embellished with flowers and colourful shells and even a taxidermied humming bird! This ‘valentine’ was then packed in a beautifully decorated and expensive box to be sent to the fair maiden. Whether their labour bore fruit or not is, of course, an altogether different matter!

Recent surveys have now revealed a little-known fact about Valentine’s Day in Australia — that the men are not only more romantic than the women when it comes to open declarations of affection, they also beat the women in the purchase of Valentine’s Day cards!

Valentine’s Day in Brazil

In the land of carnivals and joie de vivre, Valentine’s Day takes on a slightly different hue. Young Brazilians observe ‘Dia dos Namorados’ or Boyfriend’s/ Girlfriend’s Day on 12 June instead of Valentine’s Day on 14 February. But the inherent spirit of love and romance dominates the occasion.

The date — 12 June — was chosen for a particular reason. This date is observed by devout Brazilians as the day of St. Anthony of Padua, the saint who is believed to bestow fortune and blessings on marriages.

Even though it may not be carnival time, Brazil resembles a carnival alright with stores stocked with flowers, cards, chocolates and assorted popular Valentine’s Day gift items. Giving gifts is a major activity and thoughtful gifts are exchanged between girlfriends and boyfriends, husbands and wives. There is a lot of love, laughter and general merriment all around. Elaborate meals are cooked at homes, there are parties and family get-togethers in the evening, while the younger ones spend the day with their beloved.

No Brazilian celebration can be complete without dance and music and this day is no exception. Work is suspended and almost everyone gets into the mood. There are cultural shows, concerts and musical extravaganzas — all a huge hit with Brazilians.

‘Dia dos Namorados’ is not for the youngsters alone but is looked upon by men and women of all ages as the occasion to shower their loved one with some special care..

Valentine’s Day in Portugal

Portugal has a unique custom that is all its own — giving gift baskets on Valentine’s Day. The contents of the basket can range from chocolates to spa products to even aged liquor! Each basket carries a meaning and for a shy young man, it is a lifesaver!

The contents of the basket can be as varied as the young man’s imagination. One gift basket could have just chocolates, yet another wine and cheese, while another can have fruits of all types.
Gourmet food and snacks, exotic spa products, delectable cookies and candy bouquets have also been making their way into these gift baskets in recent years.

In Portugal, the girls aren’t the only ones receiving baskets of gifts: the men can also eagerly look forward to receiving one. For a man, the basket is preferably of aged liquors from their sweethearts. These gift baskets are more than just baskets laden with exotic contents. They assume a special significance on Valentine’s Day!

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