Valentine’s Day Special: Customs from around the world

Celebrating the day of lovers is a straightforward affair in Singapore, with most people taking their loved one out on a date on Feb 14.

While it is generally Singaporean men who worry about where to take their valentine for a special day out or what kind of present to give, this is not the case elsewhere in the world.

From the long-standing Western practices of giving cards and flowers, to girls’ gifts of chocolates in places like Japan and South Korea, Valentine’s Day has evolved as it spread all over the world.

The following are some unique customs from overseas. Would you try them out?

Japan

While men usually shower their loved ones with gifts like flowers and chocolates on Valentine’s Day, this is a busy occasion for the women instead in Japan. Chocolate is used by Japanese women as a confession of love, and the term “obligatory chocolate” was even coined to refer to gifts for male colleagues, friends, or family members. Some women hand make their chocolate gifts, and others buy them from stores.

March 14, also known as White Day, is when the men are expected to reciprocate. Similarly, they may give gifts out of love, courtesy, or obligation.

South Korea

Similar to Japan, Valentine’s Day in South Korea involves women giving their significant others chocolates. Non-romantic gifts like candy are also exchanged among friends, co-workers, and family members. White Day is celebrated on March 14 as well, for Korean men to return the gift.

Those who did not receive their share of love sometimes get together to eat a bowl of black bean noodles (Jjajangmyeon) a month later, on April 14.

Taiwan

Although the practice of celebrating the occasion on Feb 14 has caught on now, the original Valentine’s Day in Taiwan is on July 7 of the Lunar Calendar.

The roles of men and women are reversed on Valentine’s Day and White Day as well, compared to Japan and South Korea. Men give women presents first, and women reciprocate a month after.

France

It is said that a long time ago, the French took part in a practice known as “drawing for love”, where single people would gather in houses facing each other and call out to each other from windows until they paired up.

If the man did not like his valentine, he would leave her. Some point later, women would burn images of the men who rejected them in a fire while verbally abusing them.

This custom was eventually banned, and today, Valentine's Day is celebrated with gifts and cards, not unlike other Western countries.

Denmark

The Danish sometimes take the day off work for Valentine’s Day, where men would write funny, anonymous cards (Gaekkebrev) for their valentines. If these recipients correctly guess who gave them the card, they would receive an Easter egg later in the year. These cards also came with white spring flowers called snowdrops.

byseow@sph.com.sg