In the United States, Valentine’s Day has evolved over time. Originally, Valentine’s Day was exclusively celebrated by lovers, but in subsequent years it has become normal to exchange Valentine’s greetings and gifts with friends, family, co-workers, and even acquaintances. Typical Valentine’s traditions in the United States include exchanging gifts (chocolate, flowers, jewelry, cards), romantic dinners, and extending Valentine’s greetings to those around you. It also tends to be a popular occasion for marriage proposals.

Valentine’s Day’s roots are in the Roman festival of Lupercalia, a fertility celebration that took place on February 15. In the year 496, Pope Gelasius I adopted the holiday as a Christian feast day, moved it to February 14, and renamed it St. Valentine’s Day. It wasn’t until the 14thcentury when St. Valentine’s Day became associated with lovers. In 1381, Chaucer wrote a poem commemorating the engagement between Richard II and Anne of Bohemia called “The Parliament of Fowls.” The common belief at the time was that birds chose their mates on February 14, and Chaucer’s poem linked the mating season of birds with the royal engagement and St. Valentine’s Day:

“For this was on St. Valentine’s Day,
When every fowl cometh there to choose his mate.”

Since the days of Chaucer, the practices and traditions surrounding the holiday have evolved and been introduced to other parts of the world. Many places celebrate Valentine’s Day the way people in the United States do, but many other places have their own traditions attached to the holiday. Here are some interesting ways that Valentine’s Day is celebrated around the world:

In Japan, Valentine’s Day is a day where women spoil the men in their lives with gifts of chocolate. There are four different types of chocolate, each holding specific meanings, that are bestowed on Valentine’s Day. The first is called “giri-choco,” which literally translates to “obligation chocolate.” Giri-choco is given to men with whom they hold no romantic feelings for, such as brothers, fathers, bosses, co-workers, classmates, and close friends. The next type of chocolate is called “cho-giri-choco,” otherwise known as “ultra-obligatory chocolate.” Cho-giri-choco is a cheaper chocolate that is given to men whom the woman is not even particularly fond of, but feels an obligation to give something to so that the man does not feel left out. The next is “tomo-choco,” which literally translates to “friend chocolate.” Tomo-choco is chocolate that the women gift to their female friends on Valentine’s Day. Finally, there is “honmei-choco” meaning “favorite or true feeling chocolate.” Honmei-choco is the chocolate that is reserved for boyfriends, lovers, and husbands, and is usually of higher quality or is home-made. While Valentine’s Day in Japan is a man-centric holiday, the women get their due as well. The next month on March 14, the men reciprocate the gifts with their own, on what is referred to as “White Day.”

The Norwegians celebrate Valentine’s Day in a very similar way to Americans, but with a fun little twist. In Norway, the men anonymously send rhyming love poems called “gækkebrev” to women, with only a clue as to who sent it. They sign the poem with a dot for each letter of their name. If a woman figures out who sent the poem, then that man owes her an Easter Egg on Easter. If the woman doesn’t figure out who sent poem, he reveals himself, and she owes him and Easter Egg.

In Slovenia, St. Valentine is one of their patron saints of spring, and Valentine’s Day marks the day that they return to working the fields. While Valentine’s Day is important in Slovenia to the agricultural community, it’s not celebrated as a holiday of love. That is reserved for March 12, on St. Gregory’s Day. 

The French used to partake in a tradition referred to as “une loterie d’amour,” or the “lover’s lottery.” Single men and women of all ages would gather in adjacent houses and call out the windows to each other until they paired up. The women who were not called upon by suiters then gathered at a ceremonial bonfire on which they threw pictures and objects of the men who rejected them. They would also curse at passing men on the streets. Eventually, the bonfires were seen to have gotten out of hand, and the practice was banned, but while it existed, it was definitely one of the most interesting of the holiday traditions from around the world.

The Catskills
In the Catskills, there is a yearly tradition of gathering at The Sullivan Event Center’s in-house eatery, Bernie’s Holiday Restaurant, on the weekend of Valentine’s Day for a romantic dinner. Reservations are filling up fast this year, so to ensure that you don’t miss out, make your reservation today by calling (845) 796-3333.