How Do Different Cultures Celebrate Valentine’s Day?

If you’re living in the United States, you probably can’t ignore the fact that Valentine’s Day is tomorrow. The origin of Valentine’s Day, as we know it in the states today, comes from both Christian (St. Valentine) and ancient Roman tradition (a bloody pagan festival called Lupercalia). However, the way we celebrate Valentine’s Day now has a lot less to do with Christianity or animal sacrifice. Today, Americans celebrate this holiday of love by sending special cards, giving gifts of candies or flowers, and arranging romantic meals with a specially chosen person, their ‘valentine’. But love is universal, no? Despite its commercial emergence in the U.S., Valentine’s Day is not exclusively celebrated with roses and chocolate. So, what exactly do other places in the world do to celebrate the joy of love? Read on to learn how five different cultures celebrate Valentine’s Day.


In Denmark, it is customary for admirers to send funny notes or poems known as gaekkebrev (loosely translated to “joke letters”) to their sweethearts on Valentine’s Day. The point of the gaekkebrev (besides getting a funny note) is the signature –  a series of dots, one for each letter of the sender’s name. If the recipient guesses who sent them a gaekkebrev, they receive an Easter egg on Easter Sunday. If they don’t guess the sender, the recipient owes them an Easter egg. It is also customary to include a white flower called a Snowdrop with the notes.


As a holiday imported from America, Italians celebrate Valentine’s Day, known in Italian as La Festa Degli Innamorati, with gift exchanges and romantic dinners. However, one of the most popular Valentine’s Day gifts in Italy, Baci Perugina, is thanks to renowned Italian chocolatier Perugina. These coveted sweets are hazelnuts dipped in fine chocolate and wrapped in paper filled with short messages of love or romantic quotes.


Valentine’s Day celebrations in Japan are a little different than in the West. It is customary for women to give chocolates (and other gifts too, but chocolates are usually most popular) to their loved ones on February 14th but it does not end there. Then, on White Day (March 14th), men reciprocate the gift-giving. Notably, the chocolates that women gift are not all the same, as her recipients are not only the man for whom she has romantic feelings but also male family members and even coworkers. The Japanese have different words to describe the three types of chocolates given on Valentine’s Day:

  • “Giri Choco” ( 義理チョコ) are known as ‘obligation chocolates’ given to coworkers, family members, and acquaintances.
  • “Honmei Choco” (本命チョコ) are meant to be given to a romantic partner or love interest.
  • “Tomo Choco” (友チョコ) are the chocolates reserved for female friends for those who are single on Valentine’s Day.
South Africa

Besides going on romantic dates on Valentine’s Day, South Africa follows another tradition that ties back to the Lupercalia festival. It is customary for women literally wearing their hearts on their sleeves. South African women pin the name of their love interest to their shirtsleeves. In some places, men also participate in this tradition.

So tomorrow, whether you sit down for a romantic dinner with your sweetheart or go out with other single friends, you’ll have information to share about how five different cultures celebrate Valentine’s Day. Do you celebrate another version of the holiday not mentioned? Let us know!

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Diplomatic Language Services shares how to celebrate Valentine’s Day in five cultures