A Day for Lovers
Monday 14th February, 2011
by Not on the Wires
A day for lovers?
Love it or hate it, February 14th and its many commerical associations are recognised the world over.
Valentines started out as a religious day to honour saints of the past, but for some it has become another event to overindulge, neatly sandwiched between Christmas and Easter.
In honour of the occasion we asked some of our contributors from across the world to tell us how they celebrate love in their country - in their own words.
Click through the slides to find out why in Japan it's the girls buying the presents and why some Malaysians feel the day is an assault on morality.
Wales' ancient Valentine tale
Much of Wales will mark today with romantic gifts and dates, but many have already celebrated on January 25th for what's known as Santes Dwynwen day. Llinos Jones explains the history behind the legend of St Dwynwen.
Once upon a time, there was a king and saint, called Brychan Brycheiniog. He had twenty four daughters, the youngest and prettiest was Dwynwen. My spellchecker, however, insists upon me calling her Dwayne.
She fell in love with a young man named Maelon. Again the spellchecker disagrees and wants to call him Melon. So Dwayne wanted to marry Melon but her father had refused to allow her to do so.
Her father had promised her to another man, and he would not break the engagement. So Dwynwen prayed to God for her to forget her love for him. God sent down an angel bearing a potion for Maelon to drink. After drinking this, he turned to ice. Dwynwen was heartbroken and prayed again.
"Nowadays it is a great excuse to text and tweet sweet nothings, sprinkle some laver bread upon your beloved’s eggs and bacon at breakfast, and to later demolish an entire Monmouth Pudding between you over a nice bottle of Cariad Wine and spread some welsh lurve and bonhomie."
Dwynwen was so good and selfless, he promised her three blessings of her choice. Her first wish was to have Maelon released from the ice. Her second was for God to look after the hopes and dreams of all true lovers. And finally, she asked that she remain unmarried. She became a nun, devoting her life to God, and after her death became the saint of Welsh lovers.
Needless to say, it beats St Valentine’s Day any day – who was not even a saint in the real sense of the word anyway. Go figure.
Japan, where men come first
Some find one day too much each year, but in Japan February 14th marks the first of two separate days. Not on the Wires' Alex Wood gives us his take on the Japanese experience.
Valentine’s Day may seem like a highpoint in the romantic calendar, but for the Japanese it’s about to happen all over again. Instead of celebrating romance in one day, in they split it over two, Valentine’s and White day.
On the 14th of February it’s the ladies turn to treat the men. They're expected to give chocolate, not only to their lover but also to their co-workers. For many men, the amount of chocolate they receive is an indicator of how popular they are in the office. A month later the favour is returned, on what’s called “White Day”.
In 1978 the first ever White Day was started by the National Confectionary Industry Association, as a response to Valentine’s Day in February. They thought there should be a day for men to pay back all the women who bought chocolate for them on Valentine’s Day.
A year earlier, a small confectioner in West Japan started marketing white marshmallows to men, and called the day ‘Marshmallow Day’. From this it grew and developed into a day devoted to everything white. Now people give anything from white chocolate to white lingerie. Importantly, men should give presents back to all of the women that gave them chocolate on Valentine’s Day.
The tradition has a number of puzzling implications. You must buy a present in return, known as an ‘obligation gift’. Buy chocolate that’s too cheap, you risk offending, and if it's too expensive you risk giving people the wrong impression.
According to a survey by a Tokyo department store, the White Day gift that made women happiest was flowers accompanied by a greeting card - regardless of whether the chocolates given a month earlier were for their true sweethearts, or to fulfil their obligation to their co-workers.
Brazil's Dia dos Namorados
Claudia Junqueira explains in her own words how Latin America's most populous country celebrates love.
Today, many across the world mark Valentine's Day. In some Latin American countries Valentine's Day is known as "Día del Amor y la Amistad" (Day of Love and Friendship).
In Brazil St. Valentine's Day is not celebrated at all, which simply means that nothing happens. This is for both cultural and commercial reasons as it falls too little before or after Carnival, a major holiday for Brazilians that can fall anywhere from early February to early March.
"Dia dos Namorados" (lit. "Boyfriends'/Girlfriends' Day") is observed on June 12th, when couples exchange gifts, chocolates, cards and flower bouquets.
But Dia dos Namorados is not a big deal either. Some people decorate the streets and the gift stores and a few people send flowers.
Single people also buy gifts for one another. But in Brazil, any occasion is a good excuse for a party, so they make "single night parties," - so that singles can find their own Valentine.
Malaysia's Moral Assault
Zarina Holmes gives her take on the day for both Muslims and non-Muslims in modern Malaysia
Valentine's Day is a popular celebration due to marketing hype and the saccharine heart-and-cherub elements that appeal to the young. The local bakeries display icing cakes in red and pink, and retail shops explode into decorating frenzies. Malaysians - the Malays, Chinese and Indians etc - are hard-core romantics. They can't get enough of love songs and romantic soap operas on TV, imported from USA, South Korea, Hong Kong and India, in addition to their own.
The 14th of February is eagerly awaited by both Muslim and non-Muslim students at school. Greeting cards, red roses, cupcakes and apples are circulated around, then followed by a date at the local food court or the cinema. It's all very Jane Austen - sweet, virginal and harmless.
Malay society, however, is obsessed with morality and being perceived to be doing the right thing. Sex before marriage is frowned upon and considered as a 'Western' type of moral decay. Perhaps this is why the Islamic authorities decided to campaign against it, labelling it 'Christian' and encouraging vice activities.
In my opinion it's a typical east Asian heavy-handed attitude to foreign culture they disapprove of. My heart goes out to those young sweethearts.