Al Capone

For those of us from Chicago, Valentine’s Day undoubtedly stirs up images of the events that took place on North Clark Street that cold, snowy February 14th in 1929. Despite almost a century removed, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre will forever link Chicago to the holiday best known for love, flowers, and chocolate. For now, let’s leave Al Capone’s signature event to the history books and crime buffs, and take a more uplifting look at how Valentine’s Day is celebrated around the world.

GERMANY | Emily Labedz

Valentine’s Day in Germany is very much a new holiday and appears to have taken many cues from America. Only in the last few decades has celebrating the holiday become popular and most of the traditions are the same as in the US: trading heartfelt cards, sweets, flowers, going out to dinner etc.… Markets sell special romantic-themed items, many containing illustrations of pigs. In German culture, this is supposed to represent luck and lust. Another popular item sold are the traditional Lebkuchen (or gingerbread) hearts one would normally see at a Christmas market. Instead of the usual holiday greetings, romantic expressions are written on them such as “Ich hab dich sooo Lieb” meaning “I love you so much.”

Unlike the US however, Valentine’s Day is strictly for adults. There are no cutesy cards and candy to exchange in school, but perhaps that will change!

BRAZIL | Letícia Barroso

Despite being for the most part a Catholic country, Brazil does not celebrate the patron of courtly love as does the US. Possibly harmed by the celebration date he champions, Saint Valentine was kicked to the corner (to use a soccer metaphor) of the love festivity by Carnaval, the largest popular celebration in the country, that usually falls around February 14th. To make up for the missing celebration, Brazilians elected June 12th as their official “Couple’s Day” (Dia dos Namorados).

To help set the romantic mood, the “chillier” winter nights (remember, Brazil is in the Southern Hemisphere) favor the cozy atmosphere couples require for their date nights. It’s a day when restaurants fill up with heart shaped décor, and patrons enjoy their favorite glasses of wine during candle-lit romantic dinners, with fruit dipped in chocolate fudge for dessert.

CHINA | Lei Meng

Valentine’s Day is not a traditional Chinese holiday, but starting 20 years ago, it has become more and more popular, especially for young people. What’s different from the US is that children do not celebrate this holiday. In China, it is geared more toward a “Lovers’ Day”, not love in the universal sense of the word. On February 14th, it’s the day for couples to demonstrate their love for one another. It’s also the time to boost sales! A lot of promotions and discounts are on the market for Valentine’s Day.

Interesting enough, in Chinese culture, there does exist a Chinese version of “Valentine’s Day”, called the Qixi Festival. Its origin comes from the sad story of the cowherd and weaver girl (a fairy) in mythology. People eat special foods to celebrate during this festival, and just like the Western World’s February 14th holiday, people will demonstrate love and use it as another excuse to go shopping.

If you are interested in learning about the Qixi Festival, please visit

ITALY | Adriana Romano-Pompei

As with many Italian traditions, Valentine’s Day has its origins in Roman holidays.

Back in Roman times, the “festival of lovers” was known as “lupercalia”. This was a holiday dedicated to the god of fertility – Luperco – and took place on February 15th. As with all Roman ‘festivals’, things always went wild during the celebrations. So, rather than lovers exchanging sweet messages and chocolate, on that day, woman of all ages and from all social strata would walk down the streets, begging young men dressed in revealing outfits (devoted to the god) to whip them to their heart’s content. This ritual was believed to enhance fertility.

Like many other wild Roman things, this “practice” was curbed by the Christian popes. The background of this celebration was changed to something more ethereal. February 14th became a recurrence to the memory of San Valentino, a saint who, according to legend, had celebrated a forbidden marriage between a Christian lady and a young Roman, and was martyred as a result. The married couple died following the ritual, as pure as only true love can be.

Nowadays in Italy, people seem to have combined a bit of both traditions. On Valentine’s Day, young couples exchange “Bacio Perugina”, a tasty hazelnut chocolate candy bearing a love message within (a must-have for your sweetheart) and, occasionally, will wear Roman style lingerie after sharing their first “Bacio”.

FRANCE | Ralph Strozza

You would think that a country so linked with romance – is there a more romantic city than Paris, or a language more associated with love than French – would celebrate Valentine’s Day with unimaginable passion. Yet, this holiday is viewed by the French as excessively commercial, and when celebrated, is almost exclusively an adult affair, unlike what is seen in the US, Canada, and Japan, where young children exchange Valentine cards, candy, and small gifts.

There is, however, one town in France that has made an industry out of February 14th. Saint Valentin is located about 158 miles south of Paris in the heart of France (sorry), and touts itself as Le village des amoureux, the lovers’ village. Each year the town hosts a three-to-four-day festival ending on February 14th, designed to attract lovers who wish to propose marriage, renew their wedding vows, or to actually get married. Those attending have a variety of activities to choose from, from watching chocolate being made, to buying wedding dresses, jewelry, and other love-related mementos. The mayor hands out certificats aux amoureux (lovers’ certificates), and hosts a festive lunch followed by an evening ball. The residents of Saint Valentin also get in on the fun by decorating their homes with flowers weeks before the 14th.

It’s all great fun, and even if you can’t make it there for the festival, the town is open all year round to visitors. Joyeuse St-Valentin!

UKRAINE | Anastasiya Shatrov

Unlike America, Ukraine doesn’t have an official St Valentine’s Day celebration. The holiday became popular in Ukraine due to its globalized popularity. The Ukrainian version of Valentine’s Day might sound similar to many others around the world. Ukrainian lovers have many ways of professing their love with meaningful gifts, cards, letters, stuffed animals, flowers, and chocolates. Some like to be more adventurous by having a romantic dinner or traveling to a romantic destination.

Even though Ukraine celebrates St Valentine’s Day much the same as everyone else, there’s another holiday celebrated from February 12th to 18th called Maslenitsa or Butter Week. During the week, everyone makes delicious foods such as crêpes, which are given to their loved ones. It is a celebration of love and of the impending spring! There is a lot of dancing, singing, eating, and marrying. It is customary to get married during this week, therefore, a lot of marriage proposals commonly occur!

Did you know?

In the Middle Ages, young men and women drew names from a bowl to see who would be their Valentine. They would wear this name pinned onto their sleeves for one week for everyone to see. This was the origin of the expression “to wear your heart on your sleeve”.

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