At Opportunities Credit Union, we celebrate cultures, beliefs, and traditions from all corners of the world. Our home, Winooski, Vermont and the greater Burlington area is one of the largest immigrant and refugee populations in the state. This diversity is something we take pride in as it allows for expansion and a new point of view in our community.
We are always curious about going deeper to learn about the historic roots of holidays, especially when they are largely Americanized, as it helps us to recognize our place in the world and explore the rich cultures right in our backyard. With February upon us, Valentine’s Day is right around the corner. Take a look at what Valentine’s Day means to other countries around the world.
Denmark & Norway – “Valentinsdag” was not widely celebrated until rather recently. The Dutch and Norwegians have developed fun traditions like “Gaekkebrev” where funny poems or rhyming love notes are sent from men to women anonymously on Valentine’s Day. These notes are anonymous but may give the recipient a clue of the person’s identify with dots to indicate the number of letters in the admirer’s name. The recipient must then guess who the card was sent from. If guessed correctly, she wins an Easter Egg on Easter later than year. If she guesses wrong, she owes her admirer an egg instead!
Slovenia – St. Valentine’s Day, or “Zdravko” as it’s known in Slovenia, marks the first working day in the fields. February 14th is often when Slovenians start to notice the revival of plants and flowers and they believe that the birds of the fields propose to their loved ones and get married on this day. It is a tremendously significant time in the agricultural community but it is not until March 12th, on St. Gregory’s Day, that most Slovenians celebrate their annual day of love.
France – It is said that the first Valentine’s Day card originated in France when Charles, Duke of Orleans, sent love letters to his life while imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1415. Now, although cards are still popular, France celebrates Valentine’s Day primarily with fine cuisine instead. Valentine’s Day in France is also considered to be the best time to propose for marriage.
Japan – In Japan, the focus of Valentine’s Day is on spoiling your man, instead of the other way around. Women will express their love in the form of gifts (particularly chocolates) to their significant other or to female friends. Different types of chocolate signify different types of relationships. For example, a woman can gift “gifi-choko” which means “obligation chocolate” to men that they do not have a romantic interest in (such as friends, colleagues, or brothers). There is also the “honmei-choko” which means “favorite of true feelings chocolate” that is gifted to boyfriends, lovers or husbands.
Estonia – Estonia focuses not on couples, but on celebrating being single. February 14th is referred to as “Friend’s Day” so that single people do not feel left out. Friends and family members gift presents to each other to share love on a more universal level. Romance and decorations still have their place, but this country focuses on inclusion. In fact, there is a “love bus” where people can take a ride looking to meet others who are also looking for love!
Saudi Arabia – Quite the opposite of Estonia, Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where Valentine’s Day is banned. In fact, Saudi officials instructed florists and gift shops to remove all red items until after Valentine’s Day in 2008. They claimed that celebrating a holiday like this was “sinful” as it encouraged “immoral relations between unmarried men and women.”
England & The United Kingdom – On the eve of Valentine’s Day in the 1700’s, single women in England used to place or pin five bay leaves onto their pillows. They believed that these leaves would bring about dreams of their future husbands. Although this is now primarily folklore, the tradition can still be seen once in awhile. In the United Kingdom, Valentine’s Day cards are oftentimes sent anonymously–a tradition dating back as far as the bay leaves. The UK recipients discover they have secret admirers while the sender’s feel satisfied knowing that those they admire feel desired.
Italy – Vermonters think of Valentine’s Day as being full of romance and winter magic. However, in Italy, Valentine’s Day was originally celebrated as a Spring Festival. People would gather outdoors in the gardens to enjoy poetry readings and music. Now, they prefer to have romantic dinners and to exchange gifts just like Americans, especially when chocolate is involved!
Now that you have a different perspective on Valentine’s Day, how will you celebrate this year?