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Top 10 Valentine's Day Traditions

St Valentine's Day is an annual festival to celebrate romantic love, friendship and admiration. Every year on 14 February people celebrate this day by sending messages of love and affection to partners, family and friends. Couples send Valentine's Day cards, flowers and gifts to show their appreciation for one another.

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Valentine's Day, also called Saint Valentine's Day, is an annual celebrated globally on February 14. The day became associated with romantic love and it has gradually became an occasion in which lovers expressed their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering confectionery, and sending greeting cards. These are commonly known as "valentines".

The history of Valentine’s Day and the story of its patron saint is shrouded in mystery. February has long been celebrated as a month of romance but why? Saint Valentine may have been more than one man. There is so much confusion around St Valentine that the Church stopped veneration of him in 1969 – though he is still listed as an official saint. In Europe, Saint Valentine's Keys are given to lovers "as a romantic symbol and an invitation to unlock the giver’s heart." Valentine's Day symbols that are used today include the heart-shaped outline, doves, and the figure of the winged Cupid. While the European traditions connected with Saint Valentine and St. Valentine's Day have become marginalised by the modern American customs connecting the day with romantic love. While the custom of sending cards, flowers, chocolates and other gifts originated in the UK, Valentine's Day still remains connected with various regional customs in England. In the US, shelves brimming with teddy bears and boxes of chocolate are typical Valentine’s Day fare, but not every country turns to greeting cards and heart-shaped candies to declare love. Some exchange wooden spoons and pressed flowers, while others hold a special holiday for the loveless to mourn their single lives over black noodles.

1. England

On the eve on Valentine’s Day, women in England used to place five bay leaves on their pillows — one at each corner and one in the centre — to bring dreams of their future husbands. Alternatively, they would wet bay leaves with rosewater and place them across their pillows. In Norfolk, Jack Valentine acts as a Santa of sorts for Valentine’s Day. Children anxiously wait to hear Jack Valentine knock at their doors, and although they don’t catch a glimpse of Old Father Valentine, children enjoy the candies and small gifts left on their porches.

2. France

With a reputation as one of the most romantic destinations in the world, it is little wonder France has long celebrated Valentine’s Day as a day for lovers. It’s been said that the first Valentine’s Day card originated in France when Charles, Duke of Orleans, sent love letters to his wife while imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1415. Today, Valentine’s Day cards remain a popular tradition in France and around the world. Another traditional Valentine’s Day event in France was the loterie d’amour, or “drawing for love.” Men and women would fill houses that faced one another, and then take turns calling out to one another and pairing off. Men who weren’t satisfied with their match could simply leave a woman for another, and the women left unmatched gathered afterward for a bonfire. During the bonfire, women burned pictures of the men who wronged them and hurled swears and insults at the opposite sex. The event became so uncontrollable that the French government eventually banned the tradition all together.

3. Italy

Originally, Italians celebrated Valentine’s Day as the Spring Festival. The young and amorous gathered outside in gardens and such to enjoy poetry readings and music before taking a stroll with their beloved. Another Italian Valentine’s Day tradition was for young, unmarried girls to wake up before dawn to spot their future husbands. The belief was that the first man a woman saw on Valentine’s Day was the man she would marry within a year. Or he’d at least strongly resemble the man she would marry. Today, Italians celebrate Valentine’s Day with gift exchanges between lovers and romantic dinners. One of the most popular Valentine’s Day gifts in Italy is Baci Perugina, which are small, chocolate-covered hazelnuts wrapped with a romantic quote printed in four languages.

4. Denmark and Norway

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Valentine’s Day here was not widely celebrated until recently, now the countries have embraced February 14th with a twist. Rather than roses, friends and sweethearts exchange pressed white flowers called snowdrops. Another popular Valentine’s Day tradition is the exchange of “lover’s cards.” While lover’s cards were originally transparent cards which showed a picture of the card giver presenting a gift to his sweetheart, the term is now synonymous with any card exchanged on Valentine’s Day. On February 14th, men also give women gaekkebrev, a “joking letter” consisting of a funny poem or rhyme written on intricately cut paper and signed only with anonymous dots.

5. Wales

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You won’t find the Welsh celebrating Saint Valentine — instead, people in Wales celebrate Saint Dwynwen, the Welsh patron saint of lovers, on January 25th. One traditional romantic Welsh gift is a love spoon. As early as the 17th century, Welsh men carved intricate wooden spoons as a token of affection for the women they loved. Patterns and symbols were carved into these love spoons, each signifying a different meaning. A few examples include horseshoes, which stand for good luck; wheels, which symbolize support; and keys, which symbolize the keys to a man’s heart. Today, love spoons are also exchanged for celebrations such as weddings, anniversaries and births.

6. Japan

In this part of the world, it’s all about spoiling your man on Valentine’s Day and not the other way around like most Western cultures. Japanese woman are usually said to be reserved and shy when it comes to expressing their affections with gestures. However, on February 14th, the women are presenting the men in their lives gifts such as chocolate, to express their love.

7. China

The equivalent to Valentine’s Day in China is Qixi, or the Seventh Night Festival, which falls on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month each year. According to Chinese lore, Zhinu, a heavenly king’s daughter, and Niulang, a poor cowherd, fell in love, married and had twins. When Zhinu’s father learned of their marriage, he sent his queen to bring Zhinu back to the stars. Upon hearing the cries of Niulang and the children, the king allowed Zhinu and Niulang to meet once a year on Qixi. During Qixi, young women prepare offerings of melon and other fruits to Zhinu in hopes of finding a good husband. Couples also head to temples to pray for happiness and prosperity. At night, people look to the heavens to watch as stars Vega and Altair come close during the star-crossed pair’s annual reunion.

8. Phillippines

While Valentine’s Day celebrations in the Philippines are similar to celebrations in Western countries, one tradition has swept the country and led to thousands of couples sharing a wedding day on February 14th. Mass wedding ceremonies have gained popularity in the Philippines in recent years, leading hundreds of couples to gather at malls or other public areas around the country to get married or renew their vows en masse.

9. Brazil

With Carnival held sometime in February or March each year, Brazilians skip the February 14th celebration and instead celebrate Dia dos Namorados, or “Lovers’ Day,” on June 12th. In addition to the usual exchanges of chocolates, flowers and cards, music festivals and performances are held throughout the country. Gift giving isn’t limited to couples, either. In Brazil, people celebrate this day of love by exchanging gifts and sharing dinner with friends and relatives, too. The following day is Saint Anthony’s Day, which honours the patron saint of marriage. On this day, single women perform rituals called simpatias in hopes that St. Anthony will bring them a husband.

10. South Africa

Like many parts of the world, South Africa celebrates Valentine’s Day with festivals, flowers and other tokens of love. It’s also customary for women in South Africa to wear their hearts on their sleeves on February 14th; women pin the names of their love interest on their shirtsleeves, an ancient Roman tradition known as Lupercalia. In some cases, this is how South African men learn of their secret admirers.

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