Across the United States and around the world, February 14 marks a day of celebration of St. Valentine.
The legend of St. Valentine is shrouded in mystery. The Catholic Church recognizes at least three saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. One legend says Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided single men made better soldiers than those with families, he outlawed marriage. Valentine continued to perform marriages in secret, causing Claudius to order he be put to death. Other stories suggest Valentine was killed for attempting to help Christians escape Roman prisons.
It is also told that Valentine sent the first Valentine’s Day greeting. Yet another legend says Valentine fell in love while imprisoned, perhaps with the jailor’s daughter who visited him. Before his death, he is said to have written her a letter and signed it “From your Valentine.”
Regardless of its origins, Valentine’s Day is celebrated around the world. While February 14 marks a day of candy, flowers, greeting cards, and romantic dinners around the United States, other parts of the world have their own unique ways to celebrate St. Valentine.
The celebration of Valentine’s Day is alive and well in the United Kingdom. In a tradition dating back to the Victorian era, anonymous valentines are sent to romantic interests. Victorians believed signing their name to the card was considered bad luck. The United Kingdom also started the tradition of giving roses on Valentine’s Day. The flower is traditionally seen as the favorite of Venus, the Roman goddess of love.
Rather than celebrate love on February 14, residents of Wales celebrate St. Dwynwen’s Day on January 25. St. Dwynwen is the Welsh patron saint of lovers and men traditionally gift women with hand-carved wooden spoons. The tradition is based on the notion that Welsh sailors carved designs into wooden spoons while at sea to bring back to their lovers at home.
In Japan, women make the first move on Valentine’s Day. They give men gifts instead of the other way around, a popular gift being honmei-choco, a homemade chocolate. Men return the gesture on March 14. Known as White Day, men give women white chocolate and other white gifts as a sign of their affection.
As in Japan, women in South Korea give gifts to men on Valentine’s Day while men celebrate White Day. South Korea has a third holiday, however, known as Black Day. Celebrated on April 14, single friends gather to eat noodles and celebrate being single. The name comes from the noodle dish, which includes white noodles in a black sauce.
In Slovenia, February 14 is considered a prime day for working in the fields as St. Valentine is one of the patron saints of spring. Slovenians typically celebrate romance a month later, on St. Gregory’s Day, which falls on March 12.
Finland and Estonia
Finland and Estonia celebrate Friend’s Day on February 14, a day for honoring both friends and significant others. Cards and gifts are still given out, and can be for anyone from a best friend to a neighbor. February 14 is also a popular day to get engaged in both countries. Additionally, Estonia has an interesting tradition for single people—they can take a ride on the Love Bus in hopes of meeting someone special.