The season of love is filling the air once again. Cut-out red hearts on window fronts, crowded flower shops, and aisles of chocolate truffles is the current neighborhood scenery. What’s not to love about... love? Although we associate Valentine’s Day with romance and grand gestures, we have extended the holiday to be more than that. In fact, the USA is known to celebrate the love of family, friends, neighbors, and not exclusively to just romantic relationships. But did you ever wonder how other countries celebrate Valentines Day’s? Believe or not, there are all sorts of different ways this holiday is observed worldwide. Let’s take a look!
Denmark’s Way With Words
You may think Valentine’s Day has been around for centuries - but Denmark is an exception. It was until the 1990’s, that the holiday was even recognized! The history tells a tale of flower vendors who had hopes of making this day conventional. With no such luck, a popular supermarket chain called Netto decided to promote items with a “romantic” theme. The products were marketed during Valentine’s Day season and many people soon contributed to what made it mainstream. Today, some of the traditions include exchanging white flowers called “snow drops.” As well as exchanging cards with their loved one’s picture, and it so vital that this tradition is named the “lover’s card.”
France Is For the Lovers
It would be silly to not mention how this country celebrates Valentine’s Day. After all, their most popular city is known as “the city of love.” France typically acknowledges this holiday to romantic couples only. It is actually seen as a bit odd, or even frowned upon, to send Valentine’s gift to friends or family. Those in relationships will typically send each other flowers or go out for dinner. However, card giving is actually rare! This does not only happen for this particular day, but other holidays as well. France also creates special themed chocolates and pastries, but only at chocolateries and pâtisseries.
China’s Most Popular Day of Marriage
In China, most of traditions stem from Western Culture. Like the U.S., they too exchange flowers, chocolates, any small gifts. Specifically, men are encouraged to send only red roses, jewelry, or even a dress. Women will typically purchase manly items such as a watch or a tie. This day also follows a romantic dinner date, with a special menu. Movie theaters are an even bigger date spots for Valentine’s Day. In addition, there is one special tradition that is specific to Chinese culture. Those who are looking to wed or recently engaged often plan their wedding registry on Valentine’s Day. How romantic!
Italy’s Ode To Romeo & Juliet
Similarly to France, Italy has declared Valentine’s Day exclusively for the lovers and sweethearts. In fact, the day is also called “La Festa Degli Innamorati”, which translates to “The Day of Those Who Are In Love”. Much like American culture, they follow the tradition of exchanging chocolates and flowers. Some of the more Italian traditions includes incorporating certain themes that could relate to Valentine’s Day. The infamous region of Perugina, for instance, makes a special edition of their “Baci” chocolate candy. The chocolate is usually hazelnut centered but is replaced with a cherry filling for the occasion. It is also wrapped in a festive red wrapper, with a romantic phrase inside. Verona, located in Rome, designates a four-day Valentine’s Day festival to honor the birthplace and romance of Romeo and Juliet. The festival includes free concerts and a contest for the “best letter written to Juliet.”
South Korea Breaks A Romance Norm
Valentine’s Day is the perfect opportunity for the single women of South Korea. Unlike most traditional festivities, it is a day for a woman to make the first move. Women in Korea are expected to give chocolates to the man they are interested in or have feelings for. Men are actually not supposed to exchange a gift in return until March 14th, a holiday called White Day. This day is dedicated for the men who received chocolates on Valentine’s Day are supposed to give the women either white chocolate or lingerie. Some men even follow the “Rule of 3”, where he is supposed spend 3x more than what the woman spent. On the other hand, Valentine’s Day is still considered a big day for chocolate companies regardless. The most popular are Ferrero Rocher, Twix, and Chupa Chups.
What are other interesting traditions to know about?
There are other counties that have their own unique Valentine’s Day customs:
In Germany, Valentinstag (Valentine’s Day in German) is considered an adult holiday. The most notable tradition is the lebkuchen – a ginger heart with a special message addressed to the person’s valentine, most likely Ïch liebe dich”(I love you)
Valentine’s Day in Russia did not become popular until just 30 years ago, in 1991, after the collapse of the USSR. Russians in general exchange customary gifts. However, giving flowers is the utmost romantic gesture a woman can receive.
In Mexico, this day is to celebrate the love for your family and friends.That is why this day is known as El Día del Amor y la Amistad (The Day of Love and Friendship).
Japan has adistinctive way of celebrating Valentine’s Day. This includes giving 3 different kinds of chocolates to their loved ones depending on the type of relationships they have with them: ”Giri Choco” - 義理チョコ – known as the obligation chocolates are meant for co-workers and family members. ”Honmei Choco” - 本命チョコ is for romantic relationships or a romantic interest. ”Tomo Choco” - 友チョコ is for single women to give to their closest female friends.
In Brazil, Valentine’s Day is not on February 14th, instead they have Dia dos Namorados (translated as “Lovers’ Day”) which falls on June 12th. The main reasons are to prevent any interference with the Carnival which usually happens around February 14th, and instead is on the eve of a very romantic Day – Saint Anthony’s Day. Saint Anthony is known as the patron of marriage of young couples.
In India, Valentine’s Day is a recent tradition imported from the Western. On one hand, this is widely accepted by the younger more liberal generations. On the other hand, the older more traditional generations are having a hard time accepting a modern holiday – which creates protests and demonstrations over religious values in the country.
As you can see, love is celebrated in all different ways across the world. It’s fascinating to see how countries all interpret Valentine’s day in their own unique way. The holiday reveals how, above all, love is a universal language we all partake in. Whether you enjoy an evening with your special someone or a spend the day with a friend, Happy Valentine’s Day!
Xīn Nián Kuài Lè! Happy New Year! It’s once again that special time of year for the Asian community. About 2 billion worldwide, one fourth of the total global population, celebrates Chinese New Year. There are 3.8. million Chinese Americans who celebrate in the United States alone. The numbers are even closely compared to those who celebrate Christmas globally (also 2 billion!) So, what is it exactly that makes this holiday so special? On the surface it seems that this day is mostly about Chinese culture and festivities. However, there is a whole timeline of history and traditions that most of us are not even aware about.
What Exactly is Chinese New Year?
The celebration of Chinese New Year is actually divided into three significant days; Little Year, Chinese New Year (a.k.a the Spring Festival), and the Lantern Festival. The holiday begins with Little Year, which lands on February 4th. This where all preparations begin for the New Year and last until New Year’s Eve. This will include traditions such as cleaning the hose to “sweep out” the bad luck of the past year. Other activities will include prayer ceremonies, which will vary depending to an individual’s religion. Earlier traditions included prayer to the “Kitchen/Stove God”, who is supposed to watch over members of the household.
The most important and well-known day of the holiday is Chinese New Year, which is February 12th. The day is also referenced as the “Lunar New Year” and/or “Spring Festival”. The majority of common festivities occur, such as the display of fireworks, exchanging red envelops, and ancestry memorials. The Spring Festival refers to 16 days of celebration and festivals that occur leading up to the Lantern Festival. This takes place on February 26th. It is especially known for the display of numerous lanterns that hover all around the celebrated cities/town.
A Rich History of Folklore and Tradition
The holiday dates back from as early as 1046 B.C, during the Shang Dynasty - the earliest ruling dynasty of China to be established in recorded history. Its origin is described when people held ceremonies to honor their ancestors and the gods that they worshipped. This tradition occurred at the beginning or end of each year, where it followed the shifts of new dynasties. But why is this holiday also named the Lunar New Year? The rise and fall of emperors would follow what is still known today as the Chinese or Lunar calendar. Lunar phases and solar solstices would determine when it the new year would ring. This concept, under the rule of Han Dynasty - the second imperial dynasty of China - is still continued to determine the date till this day. That is why Chinese New Year starts with the first new moon of the year, which usually occurs between January 21 and February 21.
The origins of the Lantern Festival, however, is not so clear. In fact, there are a couple of folkloric legends that have both religion and historical elements to it. One legend ties back under the rule of Emperor Ming - the second emperor of China's Eastern Han dynasty. Emperor Ming heard of news that Buddhism was spreading throughout China. One of their traditions included praying and lighting lanterns to Buddhist figures on the 15th day of the first lunar month. The emperor liked the custom and began to have lanterns throughout his palace and other temples. Another tale links it to Taoism, which states that the 15th day of the lunar month honors the birthday of Tianguan, god of the sky. The legend says that Tianguan loved festivities, and the people who worshiped him lit lanterns to celebrate.
Customs and Food That Are Celebrated for Good Luck
There are tons of cultural festivities that go along in celebrating Chinese New Year. As mentioned earlier, the preparation for the new year stems begins with a deep clean of the household to ward off any bad luck. However, it is also a time to do major shopping. Similarly to Christmas shopping, there is a ton of shopping that involves buying tons of food, new clothes, and decorations. The decorations are then hung on the eve of the new year, which consists of red lanterns and couplets. It is also said that the decorations are to bring blessings, health, and peace into the New Year. Another key aspect to the holiday is showing respect to ancestors. On New Year’s Eve, families will prepare an offering of different kinds of food. They will display the food in front of pictures and/or shrines as an offering and a way to let their ancestors “eat” first.
What is considered the most important component of the holiday customs is the “reunion family dinner”. This also takes place on New Year’s Eve, where many different family members of all generations gather to have a large dinner. It is the reason why the season is known to be responsible for big travel congestion throughout the country. With dinner, foods are ritually made in a way that will bring good luck into the new year. There are seven foods that are considered “lucky” which include fish, dumplings, spring rolls, tangyuan (sweet rice balls), fruit, noodles, and niangao (glutinous rice cake). All these foods are supposed to promise wealth, happiness, and prosperity.
The Chinese Zodiac and Year of the Ox
According to the Lunar Calendar, 2021 will be the year of the Ox. What does that mean? For starters, we need to understand that there are twelve animals that make up the Chinese Zodiac: the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, ram, monkey, chicken, dog, and pig. Each animal is supposed to represent a year in a 12-year cycle. It also is associated with different meaning for each person who is born under the year of the said animal. Western culture has been made to believe that if your sign is the same as the one for the New Year it is a sign of good luck. Unfortunately, it is considered the opposite in the Chinese culture. Even today this still rings true to those who celebrate! If the New Year happens to be the person’s Chinese Zodiac sign, they will be told to wear red underwear for the rest of the year to counter bad omen.
This zodiac ideology is also traced back to folklores. It is believed that this links back to the Qin dynasty, which is heavily associated with animal worship. The Jade Emperor who was ruling at the time had ordered all twelve animals to his palace to determine the zodiac. Throughout history and even in today’s modern era, the Chinese Zodiac is more than just pseudoscience. Just like Western astrology, each of the twelve animals have a determined personality, with its own strengths and weaknesses. However, this is used to foretell an individual’s marriage life, career, and even fertility for many in the Asian community. The year of the Ox is supposed to predict success through hard work and discipline for 2021. However, each Zodiac animal has their own prediction. Be sure to check yours out!
There are many components as to what makes this day so remarkable. Aside from extravagant celebration and festivities, there is a unique history behind it. We might have not even realized that there are traditions that carried through centuries (even to this present day!) If you are curious to learn about the holiday, check out your local neighborhood to participate in this joyful occasion. New York City is especially known for one of the grandiose events. Who knows, you might bring more good luck to yourself into 2021!
There is a reason why Little Italy exists in NYC and why it has remained. Although it is not like it was before, much of the culture and influence has stayed in various neighborhoods throughout the city. Generations of Italians, that may even link back to great great grandparents still surround much of New York’s five boroughs. Iconic Italian names like Robert De Niro and Marisa Tomei is proof that the culture is still associated in New York. Italian is indeed a great language to know here in the Big Apple. So here are a few reasons why you should learn Italian as a native or newcomer New Yorker.
1) Getting Around Italian Speaking Neighborhoods
You’re going to immerse yourself in the Italian experience by learning the language. How so? If you learn Italian, you will get to discover other Italian neighborhoods as if you were a local. There are smaller neighborhoods in areas of Brooklyn and Queens that are still considered to be iconically Italian. One neighborhood in particular in Brooklyn, Bensonhurst, is known as “Brooklyn’s Little Italy.” Not only are there still plenty of restaurants and bakeries that are authentically Italian, but so are the owners. By learning Italian, you’ll be able to connect and understand the older generations that still inhabit this neighborhood. Italians genuinely are impressed when New Yorkers such as yourself take it upon themselves to appreciate the language. You’ll pick up on common pastimes specifically ranging from espresso runs to watching the weekly soccer game. Their friendly nature will extend to being invited everywhere! Including the local cafe, church community, and coveted food markets.
2) Appreciating Italian Opera Even More
Italian food is a big part of NYC culture. However, there are other aspects of Italian culture that is relevant here in New York. A big part of Italian culture is music, especially opera. If you learn Italian, you will get to experience Manhattan’s Metropolitan Opera in a whole new light. Italy is known for their iconic contribution to opera performances. By understanding the language, you will have a deeper appreciation and love for the storyline and music. Notable opera performances such as La Boheme and Madama Butterfly are even more appreciated by understanding the Italian lyricism.
3) Rediscovering Italian Art in a New Light
Not into opera? Learning Italian is a great opportunity to discover art. There is a reason why Italians are credited for their contributions to art history. You might believe that Italian art is only known for their Renaissance period. However, there are other Italian artists that are not as well-known who have contributed to modern art. By learning Italian you will get to familiarize yourself with modern artists such as Tina Modotti, Giorgio Morandi, and Piero Manzoni. Museums here in NYC such as the Center for Italian Modern Art, display drawings, photography, and sculptures of many Italian artists.
4) Conversing with Italian Tourists
Did you know New York is a popular vacation spot for Italians? Believe it or not, many Italians love the idea of visiting NYC (including my own relatives). If you learn Italian, you will have a chance to put your skills to the test with tourists who come over summer break. You might have to go to populated tourist spots, but you can be almost guaranteed to run into Italians stumbling through the big city. It will also be an opportunity to meet native Italians and try carrying a conversation. If you are looking for a summer job, Italians are the most likely to participate in city tours and destinations. Not only will it land you a job as a tour guide, but an occasion to form conversations with Italians. You never know if you could meet a new friend or potential visit to Italy!
5) Discovering Authentic Italian Food
When we think of New York we automatically picture Manhattan. To be more specific, we also connect Italian Americans living in New York to Little Italy. The area still has plenty of Italian restaurants and cuisine, but there are other Italian neighborhoods that are often ignored. By learning Italian, you can frequent yourself with locals who know authentic and lesser-known Italian cuisine. There are plenty of hidden Italian bakeries and restaurants in areas outside of Manhattan. L & B, Garguilo’s, and Joe on Avenue U are just a few hidden gems located in Brooklyn alone. As you enter these restaurants, you will be able to read the menu and converse with the original owners. Some of these restaurants will include specific Italian delicacies from regions such as Sicilian, Neapolitan, and Milanese. Now that you learn the language, you will be able to identify only the most authentic Italian food there is.
Bonus Note: Eataly, a staple for Manhattan-bound Italians
On the surface, once you walk in the door, it will probably look like an ordinary Italian supermarket. On the front display, you would see generic Italian brands that you would find in most NYC Italian neighborhoods. But, once you walk down the aisle, you will find snacks that only an Italian native would know about. Snacks that they would have dig out from their grandmother’s cabinet. Or that yummy afternoon treat that you would indulge in after school. From gourmet tomato sauce to artisan brick-oven bread and authentic Christmas Panettone, you could find the best Italian imported products there … unless you travel to Italy yourself!
Alessandra Lanno considers herself both an avid reader and writer. Born and raised in