Valentine’s Day originated in Rome, Italy and has become a multi-billion industry in many nations.  Today, it is a globalized holiday celebrated all over the world with many different customs and on different days in some cultures. Here are some unique cultural traditions centered around ‘LOVE’ to consider if you are looking forward to romancing a valentine with a different heritage.

Japan: Valentine’s Day, White Day

In Japan, Valentine’s Day has one important twist, it is a great day to be a male. Only women gift chocolates to men, and sometimes girlfriends, not just the ones they adore but all men, even those they may not fancy. It can become quite spendy.  

The idea of a Japanese woman expressing her sentiments to a male was considered radical, except on Valentine’s Day, which has become a Japanese chocolatier’s dream.

There are several kinds of chocolate presents women purchase on Valentine’s Day:

  1. “Honmei-choco” or “true love chocolate,” just for your sweetheart
  2. “Tomo-choco” or “friendship chocolate,” for your best friend
  3. “Giri-choco” or “obligation chocolate,” for your bosses, male coworkers, and not-so-close male friends
  4. “Gyaku-choco” or “reverse chocolates,” for men who still want to give their lady friends something nice on Valentine’s Day
  5. “Jibun-choco” or “self-chocolate,” for the lady who wants to treat herself.

Japanese Valentine chocolates can get complicated when it comes to telling Honmei-choco from Giri-choco. Honmei-choco is the richer, more expensive variety, and Giri-choco is more run-of-the-mill fare.

If the holiday sounds gender biased, no worries. The roles reverse on March 14 for “White Day” when men are expected to shower the special women in their lives with three times the love and chocolates.

The official translation of “Valentine’s Day” in Japanese is Barentain dē. (バレンタイン・デー) It is not a phrase most Japanese people use. Culturally, Japanese express their love and affections with actions. If you are the lucky recipient of elaborate chocolates,  a gracious thank you is most appreciated:

  • Arigatou, Thank you. (ありがとう)
  • Doumo arigatou, Thanks a lot. (どうもありがとう)
  • Arigatou gozaimasu, A more polite thank you. (どうもありがとう
  • Doumo arigatou gozaimasu, Thank you very much. (どうもありがとうございます)
  • Doumo, Thanks. (どうも)

Korea’s 13 Love Holidays and One Big Black Day

Korea has thirteen special holidays to celebrate love, and one to lament singleness:

    1. Diary Day, January 14, is all about booking dates with your loved ones for the year. Couples exchange diaries or calendars with important dates they want to reserve for their special someone throughout the year. If you receive a calendar, there is a good bet the 14th of every month, except April, will be penciled in.
    2. Valentine’s Day, February 14, is when Korean women also let the beau of their dreams know they are fancied with elaborate chocolate gifts.
    3. White Day, March 14, the men return the favors threefold similar to Japanese traditions.
    4. April 14, Black Day.  Korean singles have a reason to feel dark with so many love celebrations and traditions. Black Day is the opposite of Valentine’s lovey-dovey intent. On Black Day, exactly one month after White Day, singles get together to soothe each other’s broken hearts in a deep bowl of comfort food. Black Day is just for singles and loners who dress in black from head to toe, often with black nail polish and gather together for black-colored foods like black coffee and noodles in a black bean sauce called jjajang myeon. Black Day can be emotional, with singles lamenting their singleness. It can also be a bit funny.
    5. Rose or Yellow Day, May 14, is a day where lovers give roses to each other and hopeful singles dress in yellow and eat yellow curry.  At least it gives a big signal to singles about who is open to an invitation.
    6. Kiss Day, June 14, is a day for making out and showering your love with kisses.
    7. Silver Day, July 14, is when couples give each other couples rings as a symbol of their commitment and devotion.  Friends also exchange silver for dates.
    8. Green Day, July 14, is when couples get dressed in green and go out to express and celebrate their love for each other.  Singles purchase soju, Korean vodka, in a green bottle to drown their sorrows. Soju is one of the most famous and popular alcohols in the world.
    9. Photo and Music Day, September 14, where couples find a romantic, fun spot and take pictures of themselves to display and enjoy. This is a very popular day for sticky photo booths. Couples also enjoy nightclubs with singing rooms called noraebang, where they might croon a love song.
    10. Wine Day, October 14, is a day to enjoy a nice bottle of wine with your special person.
    11. Movie Day, November 14, is a date for a movie night with your better half.  DVD rooms are a unique experience. They consist of a private showing for your and your special someone which is often videography of a steamy nature.  Watching Netflix together also counts.
    12. Pepero Day and Garaetteok (Korean Rice Cake) Day, November 11. November enjoys two Korean love holidays. Pepero is a cookie stick, dipped in compound chocolate, manufactured by Lotte Confectionery in South Korea since 1983. November 11th is called “Pepero Day,” because 11/11 is symbolic to four Pepero sticks. Pepero day rivals Valentine’s day for retail purchases. Other Koreans prefer to give and eat Garaetteok which is a long, thin, white, rice cake.
    13. Hug and Sock Day, November 14, is a day to give and receive hugs. If you are endeared to a person you can spend some money on your honey and gift a pair of socks to endear them more.

Now you understand why single Korean friends need some love on Black Day and get together to enjoy singleness in a fun, dark way.

A casual thank you in Korean is gomawo, pronounced, “ghoh-mah-wa.” For a more formal appreciation add “yo” to the end.

Mexico: Love and friendship

The Mexican version of Valentine’s Day is “El Dia del Amor y la Amistad,” or “The Day of Love and Friendship,” on February 14. Mexico embraces Europe’s love tradition.

Significant others gift flowers, chocolates, gifts and dinners out as signs of their affection. Like the United States, Mexico also expresses deep appreciation to friends and classmates with valentine cards, candies, balloons and small gifts.

A unique tradition that goes back generations is El Paseo. Townspeople assemble in the local square as young citizens form two circles, one for girls and one for boys. The young people dance past each other in the circles. If a young man passes a woman he has feelings for, he casually passes her a small flower. If she is still carrying the flower when they pass each other again, it is a signal she is open to his affections.

Mexican lovers have been hiring three-person mariachi bands to serenade their sweethearts since colonial times.

There are a few ways to say “Happy Valentine’s Day” in Spanish. The literal translation is “Feliz Dia de San Valentin.” You’ll more likely hear “Feliz Dia del Amor y la Amistad.” To tell your sweetheart you care about them, say “Te amo” or “te adoro.” To tell your friend you appreciate them, say “Gracias para ser mi amigo/a.”

China: A bridge between two lovers

In China, the traditional day to celebrate love is mid-summer, around August 28, during the Qixi (pronounced Chee-Shee) festival. Qixi falls on the seventh day of the seventh Chinese lunar month. The word “qi” means “seven.”  (Although some Chinese enjoy celebrating traditional Valentine’s Day on February 14 also.)

The Qixi Festival originates with an ancient story about two lovers, Niuliang (Nyooh Lee-ahng) the oxherd and Zhinu (Jer-noo) the fairy. When Zhinu’s mother, a goddess, returned her to heaven, Niuliang pursued her. The goddess separated the two lovers with a deep river of stars, also known as the Milky Way. Once a year, the lovers can cross the abyss using a bridge made of magpies and be together for a short while.

Qixi is the most romantic holiday on the Chinese calendar. In the past, people in China completed a number of traditions commemorating the original story, like adorning ox horns with wildflowers and creating intricate crafts and carvings. Nowadays, it’s more common for lovers to present one another with gifts and quality time.

Qixi is also a bit more serious than a Western Valentine’s Day because a lot of young people use the festival as an opportunity to register for marriage. Last year, in Shanghai’s Yangpu District, 200 couples planned to tie the knot on Qixi.

Many anniversaries are celebrated during Qizi.  Many couples renew their love and express their feelings for one another. Last year, about 77 older couples celebrated their weddings in Beijing’s Chaoyang District by sharing their love stories, showing their marriage certificates and treasured items representing their love.

If you want to wish someone a happy February 14, wish them “情人节快乐,” or “qing ren jie kuai le.” (Pronounced “ching ren jee-eh kwy luh”). If you want to wish them a happy Qixi, say “七夕節快乐,” or “Qixi jie kuai le.” (Pronounced “chee shee jee-eh kwy luh”).

Italy: Home of St. Valentine

Valentine’s Day as we know it has ancient Roman origins. From February 13-15, Romans used to celebrate a festival called Lupercalia. On this special occasion, men sacrificed goats and dogs. Women would line up to be hit with the hides of the animals to become fertile. Men could couple up by drawing the name of a woman from a jar.

The execution of two men named Valentinus, both on February 14 of different years, sets the dark history of the holiday. Saint Valentine was canonized on February 14, 496 AD by Pope Gelasius. St. Valentine was a priest who opposed Claudius’ rule, some stories portray that he was known to wed lovers who were forbidden to marry during wartime and would minister to Christians. He would not renounce his faith in prison. In one tail, Valentinus healed the daughter of his jailer, Asterius, and penned a letter to her signing, Your Valentine, as a farewell before he was executed. St. Valentine’s was a memorial day.

Geoffrey Chaucer, the Father of English literature and famous poet penned a love poem and lovers started to express their affections to each other during the 14th century with valentines. In Europe, Saint Valentine’s Keys are given to lovers “as a romantic symbol and an invitation to unlock the giver’s heart.” In Italy, young lovers express their love by locking padlocks to bridges and throwing away the key, all year long. Italians are known as some of the world’s greatest lovers.

Valentine’s Day in Italy is called “La Festa Degli Innamorati,” or “Lover’s Day.” Despite dark Roman origins, it follows the American tradition. Renowned Italian chocolate maker Perugia creates a special edition of their Baci chocolate candies. These are wrapped in foil wrappers with romantic love notes.

Verona, the fabled setting of “Romeo and Juliet,” embraces its romantic reputation with a four-day Valentine’s Day celebration every year. A giant red heart is painted on the Piazza dei Signori, and heart-shaped lanterns are hung all over the city center. There’s also a contest for the best love letter addressed to Juliet. Special offers are presented by restaurants and hotels.

Lovers in Verona can take a guided tour to see the famous Lamberti Tower illuminated with red lights, participate in the annual Romeo and Juliet half marathon, or take in live music and themed dinners.

Happy Valentine’s Day in Italian is “Buon San Valentino.” I love you is “ti amo.”

India: Love and controversy

In India, you’ll see a lot of the familiar signs of Valentine’s Day in storefronts like heart-shaped balloons and flowers. There is also harsh backlash of moral policing and hate with regard to public displays of affections outside of marriage by the Hindu Mahasabha, an extreme group, who threatens romantic couples and vandalizes property. The Hindu Mahasabha goes as far as to demand couples who express love for one another must get married. Their criticism is that Western values are not aligned with their Hindu faith and values.

Valentine’s Day is relatively new in India, with a list of travails piling up:

  • In 2009, Hindu hardliners reportedly attacked a group of women in a pub in Mangalore.
  • In 2010, Pune city police issued a warning that public displays of affection on Valentine’s Day will be deemed “obscenity.”
  • In 2012, Hindu hardliner Asaram Bapu proposed that the country turns Valentine’s Day into “Worship Your Parents Day.”
  • In 2014, 200 tourists engaged in a protest at a Valentine’s Day beach party. And, a hardline Hindu group threw rotten tomatoes at couples on the banks of the Sabarmati River.

Even so, Valentine’s Day is becoming increasingly popular in India, especially among young people who enjoy expressing their love for each other with gifts, cards, and flowers.

In Hindi, “Happy Valentine’s Day” translates to “Valentine Diwas.” However, given the heated climate about the day itself, you might want to think twice before expressing it.

Valentine’s Day safety tips

If you’re traveling with your valentine, make sure to take good care of yourself and each other as you explore the world together. Here are a few travel safety tips for couples.

  • Safe sex: Have a conversation with your partner about safe sex, including birth control and sexually transmitted infection (STI) prevention. Get tested for STI and share the results before engaging in intercourse. You can have an STI and not know it.  In one humorous “wrap it up” sexual health campaign, Alaska and Saskatchewan are breaking barriers with health education and creative condom wrappers, ““Saskatoon, wanna spoon?” and “Climax, please come again.”
  • Respect the culture: Public displays of affection are illegal in some places. Don’t be caught kissing. If you are a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex (LGBTI) couple you may be imprisoned or sentenced to death for being you in some countries. You can find out more on the country specific pages provided by the U.S. Department of State. It’s always wise to prepare for the best and expect the worse.  Travel with evacuation and medical insurance and register your trip with step.state.gov so they can keep you informed. They can’t help if they don’t know where you are.
  • To drink alcohol, or not: A lot of people enjoy libations on romantic evenings. Make this easy on yourself and your partner by drinking moderate amounts of alcohol. Some travel insurance is voided if you become inebriated. Alcohol is completely banned in many Muslim countries. Alcohol is illegal in at least fourteen countries.
  • Book early: Valentine’s Day is a popular getaway date. Make sure to book transportation, lodging, entertainment and dinner plans as soon as possible.
  • If you’re single, love yourself: Valentine’s Day can be a depressing holiday if you’re alone. If you find yourself mentally vulnerable and far from home, contact loved ones in the states or ask your local embassy or consulate to locate a mental health professional in your area. The best way to find love is to share it.  Try volunteering to make a difference that really matters.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once penned, “all the world loves a lover.” The phrase means that the world enjoys love.  As you celebrate love in 2017, Please be our valentine, tell someone you love and care about to download the free travel safety checklist so they can Depart Smart and enjoy safe and rewarding journeys. Follow us on social media to advance travel and tourism consumer safety.