Valentine’s Day in western countries is celebrated by everyone from young school children to senior couples who have been married for decades. It’s usually a pretty standard affair – a card, a romantic dinner, chocolates, a gift, and – for the truly dedicated – engagements or weddings.
But in Asia – where western traditions often have to be modified to fit around long-established cultural norms – Valentine’s Day takes on interesting new dimensions.
For instance, in China, there are several important rules one must observe if they want to impress someone. Do not, under any circumstances, give an umbrella or a fan. This is because the Chinese word for both sounds similar to the Chinese word for “to leave” or “to separate,” which is definitely not what Valentine’s Day is about. Similarly, avoid shoe shopping, since shoes represent someone who is ready to walk away.
In Thailand, where PDA’s (public displays of affection) are frowned upon, police can often be seen strolling around areas popular with young people, who just love to sneak away to a secluded area for some smooching time. A loud “Ahem!” from a police officer usually kills the mood. Stunt weddings are also popular here, such as getting married underwater while wearing scuba gear, or while rappelling down a cliff face. And in 2006, one bug-loving couple got married – her with live scorpions on her dress, and him with a live centipede in his mouth!
Japan makes sure that both guys and girls benefit around Valentine’s Day. On the main holiday, women are expected to give gifts and chocolate to men, especially co-workers. In big offices, this can get quite expensive! But no worry – on March 14 the Japanese celebrate White Day, where men are expected to give a gift to every girl who gave them a gift. And don’t forget – it should be bigger or nicer than the one they got!
Korea has similar customs to Japan – Valentine’s Day followed by White Day – but they take it one step further. On April 14, those without sweethearts will gather in groups and eat jajangmyeon – noodles with black bean sauce – to celebrate their proud and dignified single status!
And lest we forget about the Philippines, the island country has become known in recent years for its mass weddings, especially popular on Valentine’s Day. Dozens or even hundreds of couples at a time gather to get married at the same time by an official who blesses them all and declares their union valid by law. It sure must cut down on the cost of a wedding!
Is there anything we missed? What other Valentine’s Day traditions are observed in Asia?