St. Valentines Day—named, some say, for the fourth century Roman bishop who secretly married young soldiers and their brides in spite of a royal ban against it—is celebrated here each February 14 with mountains of chocolates, bowers of flowers, and hundreds of thousands of Valentine’s greeting cards ranging from the silly to the sublime.
But these sweet traditions are hardly an American exclusive. Millions of lovers around the world join us each year in professing their affection—many in ways most of us have never thought about.
So if you want to do something a little different this year to make your Valentine greeting stand out, peruse this list of five time-honored traditions favored by lovers around the world:
• Love spoons – In Wales, where the day honors St. Dwynen, the Welsh counterpart of St. Valentine, there is a centuries-old tradition of presenting hand-carved wooden love spoons to one’s beloved. The elaborate spoons, featuring Celtic knots and flower stems entwined to signify eternal love, are still available today from wood-carving stores in Wales. You can see them online at sites like http://www.welsh-lovespoons.co.uk/
• Turning the tables – In Japan, the Valentine custom is for women to give chocolates to all their male friends and co-workers—with an additional small gift, such as a tie or shirt, presented to their significant other. Then on March 14, in a tradition known as White Day, the men return the favor, giving their ladies white sweets like marshmallow—along with jewelry and other expensive gifts.
• Rhyming poems – In Denmark, there is the tradition of the gaekkebrev – a funny, rhyming poem written by a man to his love. He doesn’t sign the poem with his name, but with dots representing the letters in his name. If the woman can guess who sent the poem, she receives an assortment of cookies and chocolate for Easter.
• Serenades – In Mexico, along with red roses and Valentine chocolates, would-be suitors profess their love by bringing a mariachi band, or a trio of singers to serenade their beloved while standing beneath her window. Then, assuming the woman agrees, they go out for a romantic dinner.
• Love and marriage – In Israel, February 14 carries its share of flowers and candy. But a second “lover’s day,” celebrated on the holiday of Tu B’Av in August, is a commonplace time for proposing marriage to one’s beloved.