In Finland Valentine’s Day is less about romance and more about friendship. February 14th is actually called Ystävänpäivä which in Finnish means “Friend’s day”. Rather than focusing only on a “significant other”, most people spend time with their friends and exchange cards and gifts with each other.
In Japan, Valentine’s Day is all about the men! It’s tradition for women to give gifts and chocolate to the man in their life, or their male friends. The good news for women however, is that they also get a day that is all about them! On March 14th, a holiday known as “White Day” is when men return the favour to the women who gave them gifts a month earlier.
In Germany, big, heart-shaped cookies are a popular Valentine’s Day gift. They are often decorated with loving words and phrases written in frosting, and then given to loved ones.
The French are no strangers to love. Known as one of the most romantic countries in the world, France is also home to Paris, “the city of love”. However, a lesser-known fact is that France is also home to a little village called St. Valentin, also known as the “Village of Love”. In the 1980’s, the village decided to play up its name and created a Lovers Garden (Jardin des Amoureux) and started an annual festival around St. Valentine’s Day. Three full days are now dedicated to the festival every year (February 12th to 14th) when the small village of 285 fills up with visitors and tourists.
One of the most famous love stories of all time, Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet was set in Verona, Italy. Interestingly, around February 14th, thousands of Valentine’s Day cards addressed to “Juliet” arrive in Verona.
An interesting fact about Russia is that the country is relatively new to celebrating Valentine’s Day. The holiday only started becoming widely celebrated in Russia after the collapse of USSR in the early 1990’s!
Similarly to Finland, in Mexico (as well as in some other Latin American countries) Valentine’s Day is known as “Día del Amor y la Amistad” (Day of Love and Friendship). There is a good mix of people spending time with significant others, as well as performing acts of appreciation for their friends.
The Chinese version of Valentine’s Day does not come in February as it does for most of the world, rather, it comes on the 7th day of the 7th month of the Chinese calendar, which in 2015 will fall on August 20th. The Qixi Festival, also known as the “Double Seventh Festival”, and “Chinese Valentine’s Day”, is a Chinese festival that celebrates the legendary annual meeting of the cowherd and weaver girl in Chinese mythology. The legend dates back more than 2600 years–which means it’s even older than the ancient Han Dynasty!
The festival originated from the romantic legend of two lovers (the weaver maid and the cowherd) whose love was not allowed. They were banished to opposite sides of the Silver River (symbolizing the Milky Way Galaxy) which they are unable to cross. Once a year, on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month, a flock of magpies gather to form a bridge which allows the lovers to reunite for just one day, after which they are forced to be separated again until the same day next year.