Commercialism of love is a worldwide phenomenon
By Patrick Vaillancourt, News Editor
Valentine’s Day is fast approaching and couples the world over are planning gifts and events for their partners on a day that has become the symbolic holiday for the commercialization of love.
While it has become almost obligatory for those in romantic relationships to plan for this most mainstream of days devoted to couples, Valentine’s Day is not uniform for everyone across the globe. Although we’re familiar with the traditions and customs of Valentine’s Day in North America, some countries have tweaked it based on cultural preferences and to incorporate this day with their already established portfolio of couples’ days. Let’s have a look at how some countries do things differently.
Although the romantic day in February is a North American construction, those in China and South Korea outspend any other country in terms of Valentine’s Day gifts.
Northeast Asian countries such as Japan and South Korea have specific customs surrounding Valentine’s Day that women here in the West probably wouldn’t approve of. In Korea, Japan, and certain parts of China, Valentine’s Day is an occasion in which women give their men the gift of chocolate. The one-sidedness of February 14 in these countries likely originated in the early 1960s in Japan, when an error in the translated explanation of the custom led to the widespread belief that Valentine’s Day was designed for women to treat men.
Japanese candy manufacturers explored ways of making more money from similar commercial events—having recognized the one-sided shows of affection by women on Valentine’s Day. In the ‘80s, they created a day of reply whereby men shower female loved ones with candy and gifts. Celebrated on March 14, “White Day” has become mainstream in Japan and South Korea.
Restaurants in South Korea employed a similar commercial strategy, targeting single folks. Korean singles who have not taken part in either Valentine’s Day or White Day are encouraged to lunch on black noodles on “Black Day.” April 14 is the day that Korean singles can mourn their loneliness. Ironically, “Black Day” has been wildly successful in recent years in bringing singles together and fostering new romantic relationships.
South Koreans have since taken to celebrating less prominent couples’ days on the 14th day of each month, including Diary or Candle Day in January, Kiss Day in June and Movie Day in November.
In China, Valentine’s Day as we know it is not widely celebrated due to its proximity to the Lunar New Year, but the Chinese have festivals for lovers which are deeply rooted in history and tradition.
Latin American countries also celebrate Valentine’s Day, but in countries such as the Dominican Republic, Colombia, and Mexico, patrons expand the focus of this day and express gratitude and appreciation for one’s prominent friendships.
Guatemala, on the other hand, celebrates what they call “Affection Day” which has similar customs to what is established in North America.
Brazil does not celebrate Valentine’s Day, opting for a “Lovers Day” celebrated in mid-June. Brazilians are usually coming off the high of the Brazilian Carnival, which takes place in February or March.
In the Muslim world
While the concept of Valentine’s Day has been made known the world over, not all countries participate in it, and in certain Muslim countries, activities and customs surrounding Valentine’s Day are criminalized.
In Iran, for example, the government passed a law in 2011 which effectively banned Valentine’s Day. In Malaysia, Muslims are banned from participating in Valentine’s Day. Many of these laws—such as prohibiting the sale of any item promoting the holiday—are implemented for religious reasons. The opposition to this day in the countries lies in the notion that Valentine’s Day has its origins in Christianity. In 2012, more than 140 people were arrested in Saudi Arabia for celebrating on Valentine’s Day.