There are hundreds of ways to say “I love you” and just as many traditions for showing romantic adoration. In many cultures, February 14th is the special day, but for others it’s celebrated throughout the year. Forget about heart-shaped chocolates and roses, too—tokens can range from anonymous poems to carved fruit. Yet, no matter the tradition, the same sentiment translates around the world.
The old saying goes, on Valentine’s Day, the first man an Italian woman lays her eyes on will be (or at least strongly resemble) the man she marries within that year. Traditionally, superstitious Italian women would wake up early to peer out of their windows, in hopes of spotting their future husbands. Today, Italian men typically give their love Baci Perugina, chocolate covered hazelnuts wrapped in paper decorated with romantic sayings.
With France considered one of the most romantic destinations in the world, it’s no surprise that Valentine’s Day is an important holiday to the French. It is believed that the first Valentine’s Day card was given from Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife in 1415 while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London after being captured during the Hundred Years’ War—and, today, the exchange of cards is one of the holiday’s most enduring traditions.
On the eve of Valentine’s Day, British women traditionally conjure dreams of their future husbands by laying five bay leaves on their pillow. Today in the county of Norfolk, children anxiously await a visit from “Jack Valentine,” who knocks on their front door and leaves treats.
Celebrating Valentine’s Day is a relatively new custom in Denmark, but the Danish have been quick to establish their own signature Valentine’s Day traditions. Danish men present a special “Lover’s Poem” to their admirer, anonymously signed with a dot for each letter of his name. The woman is supposed to guess the author of the poem. Pressed white flowers, called “snowdrops,” are also popular tokens of love.
Instead of celebrating St. Valentine, the Welsh honor Saint Dwynwen, the patron saint of lovers, on January 25th. Back in the 17th century, men carved wooden spoons for their loves on Valentine’s Day. These intricately decorated “love spoons” are still exchanged today, on Valentine’s Day as well as occasions such as as weddings, anniversaries and baby showers.
South Koreans celebrate variations on Valentine’s Day three times a year. On February 14th, women woo their significant others with flowers and chocolate. Then it is the men’s turn to reciprocate on March 14th, called “White Day” so-called because of the traditional gift of white chocolate. April 14th is known as “Black Day,” a day designated for singles who were unable to participate in either previous celebration to lament their solitary status while eating black noodles.
The Qixi Festival is the Chinese’s variation of Valentine’s Day. The festival is also called the Seventh Night Festival as it falls on the seventh day, of the seventh month of each year. At the festival, women present delicately carved fruit in hopes of showcasing their domestic skills and finding a good husband. Established couples flock to temples to pray for happiness and prosperity together.
On Valentine’s Day, South African couples make a point to celebrate together by having a romantic date. Putting a twist on the ancient festival of Lupercalia, many South African women wear their hearts on their sleeves—literally. In some cases, men discover their secret admirer by spying their own name on a woman’s shirtsleeve.