Love it or loathe it, Valentine’s Day has become an international affair and most countries around the globe celebrate it in one form or another.
While a lot of people roll their eyes at the over-commercialised nature of it all, did you know that across Europe there are different days and celebrations dedicated to love and romance? Many of which predate Valentine’s Day – in some cases by centuries!
So before you run off to tell that special someone “I love you!”, let’s take a romantic little romp around the continent and find out about what different corners of Europe are doing today and how they celebrate other festivals of love. Who knows? Maybe you’ll even find a new tradition you’d like to try out for future years!
WALES – Dydd Santes Dwynwen – January 25th
The story of Dwynwen, the Welsh saint of lovers, has been passed down since at least the 5th century and several versions of the tale exist. Running away into the wilderness after her father forbids her from marrying her lover Maelon, Dwynwen prays and is granted 3 wishes by God – one of which being that He would help and guide other lovers in her name. Dydd Santes Dwynwen has become steadily more popular in Wales in recent years with people giving cards and small gifts, including the world-famous carved Welsh love spoons.
FINLAND – Ystävänpäivä – February 14th
In Finland, Valentine’s Day isn’t just for romantic love and couples – it’s for everyone who means something to you! Ystävänpäivä roughly translates as ‘Friend’s Day’ and originally started in the 1980s as a chance for schoolchildren to make hand-made gifts for their friends. The tradition quickly spread to adults and now it’s celebrated all over Finland with people exchanging tokens of affection and spending time with their friends and loved ones. A similar celebration takes place across the gulf in Estonia, where it is known as Sõbrapäev.
NORTH MACEDONIA – Dan Sveti Trifun – February 14th
The Patron Saint of wine, vineyards and wine makers in many areas of the Balkans, Saint Trifun’s Day is one of North Macedonia’s most significant religious observances and while it falls on the same day as Valentine’s Day, it has nothing to do with love and romance. Instead, it is traditional on this day for priests in the country’s wine-producing regions to bless vines with Holy Water (or even wine!) in hopes of ensuring a bountiful growth in the coming summer months. After some ceremonial pruning of the plants, there are celebrations including processions, feasts and music – and of course, plenty of wine!
ROMANIA – Dragobete – February 24th
Dragobete has been celebrated since at least the Middle Ages in Romania and there are several different stories about its origins. Often coinciding with the thaw of winter and the coming spring, young girls gather spring flowers while the waters of melting snow are said to have magical properties. It was also customary for young lovers to kiss publicly in front of the entire village – which was taken as a promise of engagement between the pair! Dragobete is also a day of love for animals, as it is said that birds will choose their life-long mates on this day and built their nests together.
SPAIN – La Diada de Sant Jordi – April 23rd
As well as being the Patron Saint of England, Saint George is also the Patron Saint of Catalonia in Spain. Known locally as Sant Jordi, it’s a custom on his feast day to give women roses and for men to receive books. While the tradition of giving roses goes back hundred of years, the act of giving book is a far more recent a trend but one that has caught on big time – so much so that nearly half of all yearly book sales in Catalonia take place around this day! Perhaps that’s why UNESCO declared April 23rd World Book Day in 1995!
CZECH REPUBLIC – Svátek Práce – May 1st
As well as being Labour Day or International Worker’s Day, in the Czech Republic the first of May is a day to celebrate love. Tradition states that on this day lovers should kiss under a cherry tree to ensure happiness and good health – with some going as far to say that if a woman isn’t kissed on May 1st, she’ll die within a year! Another custom is for couples in Prague to go up Petřín Park and kiss in front of the statue of Karel Hynek Mácha, a Romantic poet whose poem Máj is considered to be one of the finest works of Czech literature.
Author: James Scanlan
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