Valentine's Traditions From Around the World

In the United States, Valentine’s Day has expanded beyond the traditional commemoration of romantic love. Students often celebrate by exchanging simple cards with classmates and sharing “conversation hearts” candies with friends. And at home, some parents and children gift each other with more elaborate greeting cards, stuffed animals and chocolates.

With schools around the globe, GEMS Education is always interested in how communities in other parts of the world observe traditions. Does your family enjoy exploring new experiences to enhance established customs? If so, take inspiration from the practices that align with your children’s interests to develop some new traditions of your own.

For literature lovers

In Verona, Italy, a bronze statue of Shakespeare’s lovelorn heroine Juliet receives more than 1,100 Valentine letters each year and your family can participate by creating and sending your own. In early 2014, the statue was moved from its position outside the Juliet House museum—under a balcony much like the one upon which she declared her commitment to Romeo—to the Museum Castelvecchio for restoration and permanent display, and will be replaced with an exact replica. Once you have mailed your letter, you can share baci perugina, the traditional Italian Valentine gift of chocolate-covered hazelnuts wrapped in romantic quotes.

For your future Jonas Salk

In Romania, the annual celebration of love—Dragobete Day—takes place on February 24 and legend has it that if you practice its rituals, you will have perfect health for the rest of the year. In each village, young girls gather up snow and family members melt this “fairy snow,” as it’s called, for use in “magic potions” and medical remedies which can be concocted with help from grandmothers. If the weather is nice, boys and girls meet at the local church to gather early spring flowers, nettles and herbs in surrounding fields. If it’s stormy, families go for sleigh rides. The day concludes with storytelling and folkloric songs.

For music enthusiasts

Sing along to one or more of the top five Valentine’s Day songs in Japan. In a survey conducted with people ages 10 through 49 by Japanese music industry statistics supplier Oricon, the most popular are: “Valentine Kiss,” by Sayuir Kokousho; “Love Love Love,” from pop band Dreams Come True; “Valentine’s Radio,” by Yumi Matsutova; and “Happy Happy Greeting,” from pop duo KinKi Kids. Rounding out the top five is an American standard—“My Funny Valentine,” by Miles Davis.

For handcrafters

In Wales, it’s a popular custom to honor Saint Dwynwen—the patron saint of love—on January 25 with the carving of intricate “love spoons” as symbols of affection, a tradition that dates back to the 18th Century. If you make one for a friend or family member with a horseshoe in the handle, it’s a wish for good luck to your recipient; a wheel indicates support; and a key represents—you guessed it—the key to your heart.

For up-and-coming chefs

On February 14 in Mexico, the emphasis is less on romance and more about celebrating all kinds of love and affection with El Dia del Amor y La Amistad, which translates to The Day of Love and Friendship. Amigos gift each other with a red rose or a balloon and celebrations often take place with a group meal—perhaps including ceviche or chili-rubbed chicken—served with salad and candy. If it’s chilly outside, share some Mexican hot chocolate spiked with cinnamon and a little kick of cayenne pepper.

For creators and critical thinkers

The observance of Valentine’s Day in Denmark is relatively new—since the 1990s only—but very innovative. Friends and sweethearts exchange pressed white snowdrop flowers and gaekkebrev (a “joke” letter) consisting of a humorous, rhyming poem written on paper with intricate cutout designs and signed only with dots signifying the number of letters in the sender’s name.  Put your logic and deductive reasoning skills to work to determine whom it’s from. Guess correctly and the sender gives you an Easter egg in the spring.

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