Japanese women are usually said to be reserved and shy when it comes to expressing their affections. However, on this day, the women are in the forefront presenting the men (and even female friends) gifts (mostly chocolates), to express either their love, courtesy or social obligation. This custom of gifting chocolate in Japan on February 14, was first introduced in 1936 by a Kobe-based confectioner. The different types of chocolates signified different relationships — a woman may gift ‘giri-choko’ that literally translates to ‘obligation chocolate’, to men without any romantic interest. ‘Chō-giri choko’ is referred to as ‘ultra-obligatory’ chocolate. Then there’s ‘honmei-choko’ meaning ‘favourite or true-feeling chocolate’, that is specially gifted to boyfriends, lovers or husbands. Another tradition called ‘White Day’ is also widely celebrated in Japan. Initially called ‘Ai ni Kotaeru White Day’ meaning ‘Answer Love on White Day’, March 14 has since become the customary day for men to reciprocate their feelings to those who gave them chocolates on Valentine’s Day.
In the 1700s, on the eve of Valentine’s Day single women in England used to place/pin five bay leaves, one at each corner of their pillows and one in the center, with the belief that it would bring them dreams of their future husbands. Another variation of this tradition was to sprinkle bay leaves with rosewater and lay them across their pillows saying ‘Good Valentine, be kind to me, In dreams let me my true love see’.
The Welsh celebrate ‘St Dwynwen’s Day’ (the patron saint of lovers) on January 25, which is their equivalent of Valentine’s Day. Legend goes that Dwynwen, daughter of King Brychan Brycheinog lived in Anglesey, fell in love with a young man named Maelon. Tragedy struck when the two were unable to be together. She fled into the woods where she encountered an angel who gave her a potion to cool her love for Maelon. The potion however, did more than just that, Maelon was turned into a solid block of ice. Dwynwen prayed and God granted her three wishes. She wished for Maelon’s release from his icy tomb, secondly, that God watches over all true lovers, and lastly, that she never marries.
All her wishes were granted. On this Welsh Valentine’s Day, it is customary to gift love-spoons, an age old tradition that got started when Welsh men (possibly originating among sailors), would carve intricately decorated spoons of wood and would present them to a lady that they were interested in courting or marrying. The designs they carved on the spoon handles were symbolic too. For example: Keys would signify a man’s heart, wheels his hard work and beads, his preferred number of offspring and so on. This tradition is carried on even today, as men gift their ladies spoons.
Women spoil their men with chocolates on V-Day. They receive gifts on ‘White Day’ from men. However, it doesn’t end there. They have introduced what they call ‘Black Day’. On the April 14, a month after White Day singles, who didn’t receive any gifts on Valentine’s Day or White Day, have started an informal tradition of meeting up at restaurants to eat ‘jajangmyeon’, a dish made up of white Korean noodles with a black bean sauce, referred to as black noodles.
In Taiwan, the Japanese/South Korean tradition of Valentine’s Day and White Day is reversed. Here men gift women chocolates and gifts on Valentine’s Day, whereas they receive gifts on White Day.
Denmark & Norway
‘Valentinsdag’ or Valentine’s Day was not very widely celebrated here. However, they have managed to come up with a quirky little tradition. ‘Gaekkebrev’ are funny little poems or rhyming love notes that men send women anonymously on Valentine’s Day, giving them only a clue as to the number of letters in the sender’s name, represented by a dot for each letter. The recipient must then guess who sent her the card. If she guesses correctly she wins an Easter Egg on Easter, but if she’s stumped, she owes him an egg instead which is collected on Easter.
Finland & Estonia
Here Valentine’s Day is more a celebration of friendship rather than a romantic love fest. February 14 is called ‘Ystävän Päivä’ in Finnish and Sõbrapäev in Estonian, which literally translates to ‘Friend’s Day’. People exchange cards and gifts among friends. It is also a popular date to get engaged or married.