For many, Valentine’s Day is a commercial campaign masquerading as a celebration for lovers and couples. Heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, kitschy greetings cards, and soppy romcoms have become synonymous with the celebration of St Valentine - the patron saint of love, engagements, and happy marriages. However, the history of Valentine’s Day is considerably older than we give it credit for. Celebrations of love, romance, and lust can be dated back to ancient history and are found in cultures and societies from across the world.
As we celebrate it now, Valentine’s Day was very closely linked with the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia. A major event in the Roman calendar, it wasn’t until the 5th century that the Roman Church banned the pagan celebration and declared 14th February a day of feasting in memory of Saint Valentine (who had supposedly been executed on that day in 269AD).
However, celebrations of romance, marriage, and love aren’t exclusive to Roman/Christian traditions. Global cultures have their historical festivals and days dedicated to romance. Here are four of the most unique and interesting ways that people celebrate love from around the world.
Day Of St Dwynwen - Wales
Perhaps one of the most unique offerings of love, St Dwynwen’s Day falls earlier in the year than the traditional Valentine’s Day and is dedicated to a 4th century princess. It’s said that, despite being the most beautiful of a Welsh King’s 24 daughters, Dwynwen was rather unlucky in love. Having fallen for a local boy, she was devastated to learn that her hand in marriage had instead been promised to a prince.
Heartbroken, Dwynwen fled to the nearby forests, where she pled for God’s help. An angel appeared and gave her a potion to help her forget the boy she loved. She was then granted three wishes by God. Her first was that her lover is thawed (we forgot to mention the potion turned him into a block of ice as a rather bizarre side effect), the second was that God helps all those who were truly in love, and the third was that she would never have to marry. So thankful to God for answering her pleas, Dwynwen set up a convent on an island and became a nun.
To celebrate St Dwynwen’s Day, lovers take time to spend with their paramour and spend a romantic day together. Affection is shown in the hand carving of love spoons that are gifted to one another. These intricate cutlery items can carry hidden messages depending on their design and patterns.
Feast of San Dionisio - Spain
The Feast of San Dionisio is celebrated on 9th October in Valencia. Much like Valentine’s Day (which is also celebrated in Spain as El día de San Valentín), the Feast of San Dionisio is a celebration of love and romance in the name of the patron saint of lovers and has been observed since around the 18th century.
A sweet custom of men gifting their romantic partner with a silk scarf filled with decorated marzipan treats (called Mocaorà) is one of the day’s main traditions. It holds that the women who receive this gift should keep all of their scarves to show how long the couple has been together.
Black Day - South Korea
South Korea doesn’t just celebrate Valentine's Day on 14th February each year, but they celebrate it on the 14th day of every month! Each month represents a different aspect of love and involves different themed gifts and customs. The three most popular (and expensive) days fall in February, March, and April.
In February, women are encouraged to buy gifts and chocolates for the men, and then in March, the men return the favour by showering the women with romantic gifts and sweets. In April, however, all the singletons come together to celebrate (or rather, mourn) their single life on ‘Black Day’. Those observing the unofficial holiday of Black Day will often come together with their single friends and eat black bean noodles to commiserate their non-existent love life.
Gaekkebrev - Denmark and Norway
If you’re a fan of a sickly-sweet love poem or an affectionately turned limerick, you might want to visit Denmark or Norway for Valentine’s Day. The tradition of Gaekkebrev - the sending of a humorous love poem - is still very much alive in these two Nordic countries.
Affectionate and funny poems are written on hand-decorated cards or letters that resemble paper snowflakes and are sent anonymously. If the recipient of the poem can guess who the aspiring Shakespeare is, then the sender must gift them with a chocolate egg for Easter. If, however, the sender remains undiscovered, then the recipient must buy a gift for them when their identity is revealed!