Anonymous Love Notes And Carnivals: Valentine's Day Around The World
The Debrief: It's not all shit teddy bears and heart-shaped chocolates y'know...
Probably the worst Valentine’s Day of my entire life was spent, aged six, in a sour mashed-potato smelling classroom beside the dinner hall of my primary school. Not only did I not get a card (I didn’t get a Valentine’s Day card from anyone other than my mother until I had officially left home), but for about six minutes I watched in silent horror as the school hamster, thrown into a flight of cannibalistic terror at Tommy Byrne’s tapping on her cage, systematically ate every single one of her children.
Luckily, this didn’t become a tradition. But the world is full of plenty of other strange and unlikely Valentine’s Day celebrations; things that make our Paperchase panic and Zizzi dinner-for-two traditions pale into insignificance. So whether you’re spending VD with a lover, a brother, a mother or another, take inspiration from some of the other residents of this big watery rock we call home.
In Brazil, 14th February tends to be reserved for the Rio Carnival. That’s right – instead of scouring the shelves of Costcutter for something red that isn’t a tube of Deep Heat (not a good present, believe me) you could be on the streets of Rio covered in feathers screaming at a man in a nothing but a pair of silver pants and sweat. Meanwhile, Valentine’s Day in Scandinavia is sort of a mix of hangman and Blind Date; men send the women of their clandestine affection little poems, notes or rhymes called ‘gaekkebrev,’ which they sign off, not with a simple question mark, but with a dot for each letter in their name. So, if your ‘valentinesdag’ crush was Alexander Skarsgard (and let’s be honest – it could be) then the card would be signed off . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Like a sexy Morse Code, if you will.
Over in Japan, women make chocolates to give to the men in their life, as Tomomi Law, a 32 year-old Japanese craft artist from Osaka explains. 'The Valentine's Day custom is that women give chocolate to men. I read somewhere that this is because chocolate marketers in the 1950s thought it would be easier to persuade women to buy chocolate than men, as women did the shopping. Since the late 1970s, men have returned gifts to women on 14th March, which is known as White Day (because the marketing campaigns pushed first marshmallows and, later, white chocolate). There's an unwritten rule that the man's gift should be 2-3 times more expensive than the woman's!
'Valentine's Day in Japan is quite complex because there are several categories of gift: honmei-choko (literally ‘favourite chocolate’) for a boyfriend, husband or boy you fancy; giri-choko (‘courtesy chocolate’) for male colleagues as a social obligation; and tomo-choko (‘friend chocolate’) for female friends.
'Honmei-choko should cost around ¥2,500 or, better still, be homemade as a sign of sincerity. Giri-choko, meanwhile, can be ¥1,000 or less.
'Valentine's Day is a tough day for women who have to do all the giving, but it's arguably more of a pain in the arse for men. It becomes very obvious very quickly which boy in class or which man in the office is popular, making it pretty embarrassing - sometimes even humiliating - for guys who receive nothing and have to go home empty-handed.'
Meanwhile, n Wales – a country so romantic it produced both Tom Jones’ old nose and Richard Burton’s booming voice, love is sealed with a spoon. On St. Dwynwen’s Day, which is actually celebrated on 25th January, it was traditional for men to present the woman of their welsh weathered dreams with a hand-carved love spoon. Which means that 14th February is left free for actual spooning.
Valentine’s Day has only very recently – and somewhat unsuccessfully – made a dent in Indian life. And when I say somewhat unsuccessfully what I mean is that the right-wing majority Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), staged rallies protesting against Valentine’s Day back in 2012. Which is sort of understandable in a country with literally hundreds of other holy days to celebrate every year, many of which involve ghee. And, as we all know, clarified butter beats chocolate every time. This year, Hindi extremist group Hindu Mahasabha are threatening to forcibly marry anyone who uses the L word with impunity on Facebook on 14th Feb.
Far more chilled out is Denmark Valentine’s Day, which is more wheat feast than sugary love-in. Which, for anyone with my roaring love of carbohydrates, is good news indeed. Instead of presenting your paramour with a heart-shaped tablet of sugared predictability, Danish women make gifts of heart-moulded floury fun like cake, bread or, yes, pasta. I would genuinely love a Valentine’s Day lasagne.
And for those of you still reliving your worst ever V-Day? At least you've never run the risk of poisioning your entire school class, which was Tomoni's formative Feb 14th experience. 'When I was 15 years old, I decided to make chocolate mousse for my friends. After giving out the little cups of mousse to my friends at school that day, I came home to discover that the unfinished ingredients I'd used had been dumped in the bin. That was when I noticed the ingredients were all past their use-by date, some by more than a year. I spent the whole night assuming I'd given everyone food poisioning - fortunately everyone escaped unscathed.
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Picture: Kevin Tadge
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