February 11, 2015

A Cultural Take on Valentine’s Day

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A Cultural Take on Valentine’s Day

Though international assignees often have to leave behind familiar traditions and customs and adjust to new ones, they are sometimes pleasantly surprised to find their treasured holidays celebrated in another country—even if the traditions are a little bit different. Valentine’s Day is one of those holidays!

Valentine’s Day in History

The holiday’s legends may have originated in the third century in Rome. Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than married ones, so he outlawed marriage for young men. A priest named Valentine saw this as an injustice. He defied the law in favor of love and continued to perform secret marriages for young couples.

It is also possible that the holiday’s date came from nature. In the Middle Ages in France and England, the beginning of birds’ mating seasons was believed to be February 14th, imparting romantic notions to the day.

The oldest-known Valentine that is said to still exist today was written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned. It is also believed that King Henry V hired a writer, John Lydgate, to compose a valentine to Catherine of Valois years later. The first greeting cards, however—comparable to the ones we recognize today—likely came to be in the 16th century.

Valentine’s Day in Different Cultures

Brazil celebrates “Dia dos Namorados,” or “Lover’s Day,” on June 12 to correlate with St. Antonio’s Day, the saint of marriage. Many women perform rituals called “simpatias” or light candles to St. Antonio in order to find husbands and boyfriends.

In China, Valentine’s Day is called the “Qixi Festival,” or Lover’s Festival (simplified Chinese: 情人节; traditional Chinese: 情人節; pinyin: qíng rén jié). The legend says that the Cowherd star and the Weaver Maid star are normally separated by the Milky Way, but for one day each year, they are allowed to meet, giving that time its romantic significance.

The United Kingdom and the United States celebrate Valentine’s Day on February 14th with a number of gifts such as greeting cards, flowers, hearts, and candies.

With February 14th just around the corner, who will be your Valentine?

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