Cultural Interpretations of Valentine’s Day


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Valentine's roses. Image by Partha Sarthi Sahana

Valentine’s roses: Part of the holiday in the United States. Image by Partha Sarthi Sahana

While not a universal holiday, Valentine’s Day, or a similar holiday, is celebrated in many nations throughout the world.  The individual twists each holiday takes sheds light on how and what that culture values, and how it interprets certain items or activities.

Valentine’s Day Around the World – Psst… Your Traditions are Showing

On Valentine’s Day in the United States, the focus is on the gifts, often flowers and chocolate, that men give to women.  While women may reciprocate, they often don’t spend as much. In Japan and Korea, the reverse is true.  (Although men are supposed to woo women later in March in Korea.)

According to Dr. Gwen Sharp, the concept of women giving chocolate to men in Japan illustrates the link between celebrations and food in different cultures. She says, “In the U.S., chocolate is highly feminized–we think of it as a food that women particularly like.”

In Denmark, exchanging cards is popular, as is giving pressed white flowers, but the holiday has only been celebrated officially since the 1990s.

The Welsh go in for exchanging “love spoons” in January on a day associated with another saint, St. Dwenwyn.  These spoons are also exchanged as wedding gifts as part of a national tradition that goes back hundreds of years.

The English, Italians, and Filipinos celebrate on Valentine’s Day with sweets. But Brazilians, busy with Carnival, wait to celebrate love in June with flowers and dinners that may include friends and relatives as well as the beloved.  This broader celebration of relations and friends demonstrates a broader notion of those one loves.

Commercialization of Love

More than anything, in the U.S.A., Valentine’s Day is another excuse to go shopping.  The Grumpy Sociologist blog posted pictures of a 2011 shopping trip filled with heart shaped boxes of candy, red balloons, pink sweatshirts, and stuffed teddy bears.  Cynically, the blogger states, “I mean, one shows love through the dollar on certain days (Valentine’s, anniversaries, etc.), not through other behavioral actions, right?”

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