Ahhh Valentine’s Day, a tradition that is often categorized as a commercial holiday, existing for the sole purpose of selling cards, flowers, jewelry and candy, but if you dig a little deeper, you’ll discover that this particular day has roots that date back centuries. Although some of those origins are of a particularly gruesome nature, somehow this holiday has stood the test of time and has morphed into a celebration of love and admiration. Today, every February 14th, gifts are exchanged between loved ones, and while the notion of expressing one’s feelings is basically the same in all locales, different countries around the world have their own unique traditions. Find out more about the history of this age-old holiday, and how a few ancient rituals have turned into modern-day customs.
For a country so synonymous with passion, it’s not surprising that in the Catalonia region of Spain there are two separate days dedicated to lovers. If you’re in the process of planning a trip over the second week in February, chances are you’ll probably celebrate Valentine’s Day how you normally would at home: by treating your sweetie to a nice dinner and whispering sweet nothings in their ear. If your trip falls during La Dia de Sant Jordi (St. George’s Day), Catalonia’s national holiday that is celebrated on April 23rd, you’ll likely be showcasing your love in a more unique way: by buying your sweetheart a book! Yes, it’s true, brave gentlemen throughout Spain honor Saint George’s obnoxiously romantic gesture of saving a princess from the clutches of a dragon by giving their significant other a book—a tradition that in reality probably derived from the fact that William Shakespeare died on this day in 1616.
Once celebrated as a spring festival, Valentine’s Day has a lengthy history in Italy. Couples would spend the day taking in the beauty of their surroundings, strolling through gardens, listening to music and reading poetry to one another. Young women who found themselves without a beau on this particular day would wake up extra early to sit by their window to look for men as they walked by. It was believed that the first man an unmarried woman would see on Valentine’s Day would be the man (or look like the man) she would end up marrying within a year. Giving candy is still a popular Valentine’s tradition in Italy, and although they don’t typically come in a heart-shaped box, the candies are still quite delicious. Chocolate-covered hazelnuts are typically the good of choice, which are often accompanied by a series of romantic poems written in four different languages. For a truly romantic Valentine’s Day voyage, you will be hard pressed to find a more amorous Italian city than Verona. Famous for being the backdrop for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, there’s a lot more on offer here than just that balcony.
The country that is now considered to be one of the most romantic places on Earth, once took part in Valentine’s Day traditions that were anything but heart-warming. Years ago, a local custom called “drawing for” or “lottery of love” would bring about all the single people in one neighborhood into the streets and have them call out the name of their hopeful partner. Women whose calls went unanswered would gather around huge bonfires to burn images of their wannabe Valentines. These bonfires were known to take a turn for the worse, with women yelling, cursing and hurling objects into the flames, and the French government eventually banned this practice altogether. Today, Valentine’s Day in France is celebrated like many other countries by exchanging gifts, fresh flowers and words of affection.
In Finland, Valentine’s Day is actually called “Ystävänpäivä”, which means “Friend’s Day”, and contrary to countries that place heavy emphasis on romance, in Finland, February 14th is a day when close friends send cards and gifts to each other as a token of their appreciation and comradery . Finn’s aren’t completely immune to the love bug on this holiday, however, as it is also a popular day for individuals to get engaged and married.
Valentine’s Day has become a very important part of the social calendar in Norway, especially for younger residents, and it has become a quirky tradition for Norwegians to look to the sky for birds. According to legend, and immortalized in a poem by Chaucer, the sight of two birds flying together is recognized as a sure sign of finding love, especially around the 14th of February. In bigger cities like Oslo, Valentine’s Day has become quite commercialized (much like its North American counterparts), and it’s not uncommon to see lavishly decorated candy displays, and store windows ornamented with red paper hearts and fat little cherubs.
Over the years, the people of Denmark have embraced traditional Valentine’s Day customs, so much so that some people even take the entire day off work in order to pay homage to the ever-celebrated icon of love, Saint Valentine. One of the most popular practices throughout the country is the sending of white flowers called “snowdrops”. Snowdrops were at one time pressed flowers, but it is now customary for them to be sent as bouquets. Danish couples also swap funny poems and love notes, known as “gaekkebrev”, with the sender of the note signing their name in dots, not letters. If the recipient of the gaekkebrev guesses the sender’s name correctly, she (naturally) receives an Easter egg!
In an interesting turn of events, the Valentine’s Day tradition in South Korea is typically centered around women giving men chocolates on February 14th , and their significant other will then give them a non-chocolate candy in return on the 14th of March. For the individuals who find themselves without a chocolate-sending companion, don’t fret! You’ve got a holiday all to yourself. April 14th is known as “Black Day” in South Korea, and was created so that people not in a relationship could mourn their single lives—as if Valentine’s Day in general wasn’t a strong enough reminder of their solidarity.
One famous Valentine’s Day superstition that has made its way into our modern-day vocabularies originated in Scotland. In cities around the country, young men and women would draw names from a bowl to see who their Valentines would be. Once a name was chosen, each person would then wear these names on their sleeves for one week, stemming the popular term, “to wear your heart on your sleeve”. This phrase is now interpreted to mean that it is easy for other people to know exactly how you are feeling.
The Welsh equivalent of Valentine’s Day is celebrated each year on January 25th. Dwynwen’s Day commemorates the Welsh Saint, whose tragic love story has inspired the people of Wales for generations. Traditionally, expressing one’s deepest feelings is done by exchanging lovespoons. This age-old practice dates back to the 17th century, when young men would painstakingly carve a spoon from a single piece of wood, decorate the handle with romantic symbols and give the finished product to the lady who had won their hearts. If you happen to be traveling in Cardiff, drop by the Welsh Folk Museum to see one of the oldest surviving lovespoon examples, which is an artifact that has been around since 1667.
As if the English weren’t romantic enough, it’s a Valentine’s tradition in cities throughout England for couples to get together to write starry-eyed verses, song lyrics and even entire sonnets as a tribute to the patron saint of love. Younger Brits are also encouraged to take part in the V-Day festivities, and are rewarded with candies, toys and truffles after they have belted out their favorite ballads for their friends and families. During the 19th century, giving hand-made paper Valentines was so popular in England that the custom eventually transformed into the mass-production of the greeting cards we still see today!
Individual customs and traditions may vary by country, but the overarching theme behind Valentine’s Day remains the same. Meant to be a celebration of passion, admiration and ever-lasting romance, February 14th is the perfect time to celebrate the relationships we hold dear. Nothing says “I love you” quite like the gift of travel. So surprise your loved one this Valentine’s Day with the trip of a lifetime. With nearly six decades of experience, Auto Europe is able to help you arrange virtually every aspect of your vacation, from car rentals to airfare and everything in between. Reservations for services can easily be made online using our secure, three-step booking engine, or if you’d like to speak with one of our travel experts directly, dial us toll-free at 1-888-223-5555.