Every Feb. 14, across the United States, loved ones exchange gifts of flowers and chocolate, but what is the origin of Valentine’s Day and how is it celebrated in countries other than the U.S.?
St. Valentine’s Day is both a Christian and an ancient Roman tradition. The Catholic Church recognizes three saints named Valentine. One of the church’s legends says that Valentine was a priest who served in Rome in the third century. The legend says that the emperor decided that single men made the best soldiers over men who had wives and families, so he outlawed young men from marrying. Valentine found the law unjust and continued to perform marriages between young men and women in secret. However, Valentine’s secret was discovered and he was sentenced to death by the Emperor.
Other legends suggest that Valentine was killed when he attempted to help Christians escape the harsh Roman prisons where they experienced beatings. Another legend said Valentine was imprisoned himself and sent the very first “valentine” greeting after he fell in love with a young girl who visited him while he was imprisoned.
Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of St. Valentine’s death. It was not until the Middle Ages that the month of February and Feb. 14 was associated with love. In France and England, Feb. 14 was believed to be the beginning of birds’ mating season, adding to the idea that the day should be celebrated as a day of romance.
The oldest known valentine was written by Charles, the Duke of Orleans, to his wife in 1415. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London during a battle. The valentine was a poem.
The U.S. is not the only country that gushes over Valentine’s Day, the day is also celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France and Australia, among others.
Valentine’s Day Across the Globe
In Italy, during the month of February, a four-day festival is celebrated instead of just one single day. The festival is called “Verona in Love,” during which the town is decorated with heart-shaped lanterns and hosts romantic events like a contest to see who can write the best and most beautiful love letter to Juliet.
In South Korea, three Valentine’s Day-like holidays are celebrated. On Feb. 14, females in relationships are expected to give their male partners candy, on “White Day” on Mar. 14, males give females candy, and “Black Day,” Apr. 14, is the country’s singles awareness day. On “Black Day,” singles dress in black mourning robes and get together to share a bowl of popular sweet and savory noodles.
In China, single cynics began celebrating “Singles’ Day” on Nov. 11, but in 2009 the holiday became the country’s version of Cyber Monday. It became a day when singles could treat themselves to online shopping deals. According to CNBC, last year’s Singles’ Day in China was the largest online shopping event in history.