February 14 is fast approaching and for many this day is celebrated as Valentine’s Day with chocolates and flowers. Historically, however, celebrating Valentine’s Day in Asia is done on alternate dates and with some unique differences.
Here in our wonderous city, some celebrate Valentine’s Day on 14 February but following tradition and history, many celebrate on the 15th day following the Lunar New Year. This year that falls on 26 February and coincides with the Lantern Festival, marking the end of the Chinese New Year holiday. On this special night, families gather together to light lanterns, gaze at the moon, watch lion dances, and eat rice balls (汤圆 tāngyuán). This night was considered the true Chinese Valentine’s Day in ancient times.
A popular activity during this time is to stroll through a park full of lanterns and guess the lantern riddles.
In China, it’s the Qixi Festival which is considered “Chinese Valentine’s Day.” It is celebrated on the 7th day of the 7th month of the Chinese calendar and is therefore referred to as the Double Seventh Festival. The origins of this festival are over 2,000 years old. Legend has it that a cowherder and weaver maid who were in love were separated. They managed to finally reunite in the heavens but for only one day a year. Chocolates, flowers and gifts are given for this occasion. These days, the Western Valentine’s Day celebrated on 14 February is gaining popularity, particularly among young people. Typical gifts include chocolates, flowers and nice dinners.
Valentine’s Day in Japan is certainly unique in that is it is customary for women to be the (first) gift-givers. It is celebrated on 14 February with chocolate being the gift of choice. Whatever the value of what the women give must be given back several times over a month later on 14 March when it’s the men’s turn on White Day. Men typically give gifts other than chocolate.
For Valentine’s Day, there are different types of chocolate given depending on the relationship. Some chocolate is given as a courtesy (no romantic association) to teachers, male co-workers, and even bosses. What is known as “favorite chocolate” is gifted to those with romantic feelings. There’s also “friendship chocolate” which is commonly given by school children to their friends.
Charmingly, in South Korea, the 14th day of every month is celebrated as a love day. Valentine’s Day is one of the most popular of these love days and is celebrated on 14 February. It’s customary for women to give chocolate to men they like. Like Japan, the following month is the men’s turn. On “White Day”, 14 March, men return gifts roughly three times the value of the gift they received. Singles also have a day for themselves which is 14 April and is known as “Black Day”.
Celebrating Valentine’s Day in Asia? Still looking for unique Valentine’s Day date ideas? Check out our round-up here.