Valentine’s Day has come a long way from its modest origins as a Roman holiday, called “Lupercalia,” that involved “gently slapping” women with a goat hide to promote fertility. It’s now a global celebration of love, for which Americans alone spend over $20 billion and can choose from 1,400 different Hallmark cards dedicated to the occasion.
Around the world, Valentine’s Day — at least, as we conceive of it in the United States — has taken on different forms, and merged with other traditions that celebrate love and friendship.
Here are a few of our favorites.
1. Day of Love and Friendship
In Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela and other Latin American countries Valentine’s Day is called Dia del Amor y la Amistad, which translates to “Day of Love and Friendship.”
Colombia celebrates the “Day of Love and Friendship” in September, Fortune reports, because the country was looking to spur the economy during a month that previously had no holidays to celebrate.
But that doesn’t mean Colombians aren’t busy around the 14th of February. That’s because Colombia, notably, produces the lion’s share of the flowers bought and sold in the US. “65 percent of all cut flowers imported into the U.S. were from Colombia,” according to Slate.
2. "Hug Day," "Wine Day," "Movie Day," and more
South Korea took the idea of Valentine’s Day and really ran with it. Koreans celebrate the 14th of each month with a different love- or friendship-themed holiday. Beginning with January’s “Candle Day” and ending with December's “Hug Day,” Koreans also celebrate “Wine Day,” “Movie Day,” and “Green Day,” the last of which would surely be a hit among teenage pop-punk fans.
3. "Obligation chocolate" vs "true feeling chocolate"
In Japan, traditional gender roles are subverted, with women giving men chocolates on Valentine’s Day to show their affections. But perhaps the real twist is not who is giving the chocolates, but what the chocolates symbolize.
Women give “obligation chocolate” (giri choko) to men they feel ambivalent about and “true feeling chocolate” (honmei choko) to their true loved ones.
4. International Friendship Day
You can thank the sparsely populated South American country of Paraguay for International Friendship Day, which the UN officially designated a holiday in 2011. The holiday was promoted and popularized through the activism of the “World Friendship Crusade,” an organization founded in 1958 by Dr. Ramón Artemio.
International Friendship Day takes place on July 30, and is celebrated by not being a jerk to people.
Denmark’s take on the Valentine’s Day tradition of sending one another love notes is brilliant. Instead of writing a classic love letter, the Danes write witty poems called “gaekkebrev” (which translates to “joking letter”) that poke fun at the archaic practice.
e.g. “Denmark, I’ve taken a viking to you.”
6. Baci Perugina
Italians, one might imagine, might take well to Valentine’s Day, seeing as they speak the original “Romance language.” On Valentine’s Day, however, they are known for sending multilingual love notes. In Italy, a gift of Baci Perugina — chocolate covered in Hazelnut — is commonly accompanied by a love letter translated into four different languages.
7. Day of Sant Jordi
The northeastern region of Spain (Catalunya) is known for its distinct culture relative to the rest of the country. It’s fitting then that in Catalunya, Valentine’s Day has its own unique flavor. In Catalunya, the day of Sant Jordi (as it’s called) coincides with World Book Day on April 23 with a gift exchange between men and women. Men give women roses in exchange for books.
Of course, in 2017, maybe this holiday should be reversed, with women receiving books and men flowers — especially if you consider the many barriers to women and girl’s education that still exist around the world.
8. The Double Seventh Festival
The Double Seventh Festival (Qixi Festival), China’s own version of Valentine’s Day, falls on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month. For 2017, that’s Aug. 28.
Although traditional customs are disappearing, one can still find women observing the most intense of practices in rural areas. Under only moonlight, women speedily thread a needle to demonstrate dexterity in hopes of finding a good husband a promising future. These days, sweethearts exchange flowers and chocolates.
9. Celebration of St. Dwynwen
St. Dwynwen is Wales’ very own patron saint of love, and the day is celebrated a few weeks before Valentine’s Day on Jan. 25. Folklore says that the saint’s convent was home to a sacred fish who could predict the success of a couple’s relationship. Magical fish aside, it is tradition for the Welsh to give each other love spoons on this special day. The largest ever love spoon was carved in 2007 and measured a whopping 44 feet.
Young girls in South Africa celebrate the occasion following the age-old Roman tradition called Lupercalia. According to custom, these young girls pin their lovers names on their sleeves for the world to see. Talk about taking the initiative. In some places, men follow suit.
11. Galentine's Day
Galentine’s Day is a relatively new tradition, celebrated in certain millennial circles, in which women enjoy brunch among friends. It was invented by Leslie Knope, the protagonist of the NBC sitcom, “Parks and Rec.”
As Knope described it: "Oh it's only the best day of the year. Every February 13th, my lady friends and I leave our husbands and our boyfriends at home, and we just come and kick it, breakfast-style. Ladies celebrating ladies. It's like Lilith Fair, minus the angst. Plus frittatas."