Friday, February 3, 2012

Valentine's Day Around the World

For student's learning a new language, it is also important to learn the cultural traditions that go along with the new language. With Valentine's Day around the corner, giving some insight into how and why it is celebrated and historical context will help.

Valentine's Day, short for Saint Valentine's Day, originally was a celebration to honor a Catholic Saint that was buried in Rome on February 14th. Not much is known about him, but the most well known legend has it that he was persecuted by the Roman Emperor Claudius II sometime between the years 269 - 273. During this time, not only was Christianity ilegal, the Emperor had established a law prohibiting young men from marriage in order to build up the Roman army. Despite this, Valentine continued Christian marriage rituals, and was ultimately arrested and sentenced to death for this.

With the commercialization of the holiday, a new rumor has emerged that the night before his execution, St. Valentine wrote a love letter to a young girl with whom he was in love. However, there is no historical evidence to support this. Regardless, the Valentine's day card was born, and now courters and couples alike exchange love notes and cards on this day around the globe.

In the United States everyone knows that we exchange cards, flowers, candy, and plan romantic dates, but this is not the case everywhere. In much of Spanish speaking Latin America, "Día del Amor y la Amistad" or "Día del Cariño" is celebrated, representing both love and friendship. Children play a game called "Angelito" or "Amigo Secreto" depending on location, where they rip paper into small pieces, write down the name of another person, and then exchange the pieces of paper with others (similar to Secret Santa in the U.S.). They then give a gift to whoever is on the paper they receive.

In Brazil, February 14th is not celebrated at all, as this usually is during or close to Carnival. That said, Brazil has a completely different day altogether that celebrates love, called "Dias dos Namorados", which takes place on June 12th. This happens the day before June 13th, or St. Anthony's Day, who is Brazil's patron saint of marriage.

European traditions are similar to most western traditions, with a few items of interest. In contradiction with the above legenD, France claims to be the birth place of the Valentine's Day card. In 1415 the Duke of Orleans, Charles, was said to have written a poetic "Valentine" while imprisoned in the Tower of London after having been captured in the Battle of Agincourt. France once had another interesting custom called "drawing for" every 14th of February. Unmarried people would call to each other from their windows and pair off. Commonly the man would come to the conclusion he had made a bad choice and abandon the lady. That evening, the bitter women would gather together and light a bonfire, tossing in anything that reminded them of the cold men that had abandoned them earlier.

In Italy, it was once believed that the first man an unmarried woman would see on Valentine's Day would ask her for her hand in marriage within a year. Thus it was quite common that they would arise before the sun and wait by the window for the man of their dreams to come walking down the street.

In Asia, the February 14th date was never celebrated until the 20th century, and is really a product of globalization. In Japan, the equivalent day of Romance was always celebrated on December 24th. However, the new tradition emerging on February 14th is that women give men chõ-giri choko, meaning ultra-obligatory chocolate. A month later, March 14th is a the day the men reply, known as White Day, when they return white chocolates to their loved ones. Interestingly, men are expected to return a gift of at least three times the value of the one they received. Returning a gift of equal value means they are breaking off the relationship, and no gift at all indicates they are superior to their counter part.

China has a few versions. One equivalent is the Qixi Festival, or "The Night of Sevens. This is celebrated on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month of the Chinese calendar, when the Cowherd and Weaver Stars cross each other in the Milky Way. Women make offerings to the Chinese God Niulang and Goddess Zhinü in order to ensure their beauty and ultimately that they have or maintain healthy relationships. Another day of romance is Lantern Day, falling on the 15th day of the Lunar New Year. Traditionally on this day unmarried girls were allowed to go into public unaccompanied, where they would be able to look for and meet bachelors seeking to court the single women of the town.

As you can see, every country has their own traditions, and these are just a few examples of how a day like Valentine's Day can differ, or not exist at all. As our cultures continue to mix and match, we will inevitably incorporate new traditions into our own, as ours have spread to others. As always, it is important to try to learn the customs that accompany the new culture you are learning, and always be respectful. More than likely, you will grow to enjoy them and start participating yourself!

In honor of this years Valentine's Day, Bolder Languages has created a special romantic offer for couples to learn a Romance Language and how to dance Salsa. See the details here:

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