February 14th: Not so heart-shaped a day.
Most people are under the impression that Valentine’s Day is celebrated all over the world on the same date.
Interestingly enough, the heart-shaped holiday is not always celebrated on February 14th and in some cases, not at all.
Firstly, why is it celebrated at all? The history of Saint Valentine’s Day is mysterious and not all sources claim the same origin. We do know that February has long been celebrated as a month of romance, and that Saint Valentine’s Day, as we know it today, comes from both Christian and ancient Roman tradition.
The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. One legend alleges that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.
According to another legend, an imprisoned Valentine actually sent the first “valentine” greeting himself after he fell in love with a girl. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine.”
Why February 14th? If we stay within it’s Roman roots, the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia, a fertility celebration commemorated annually on February 15th, had the Pope Gelascius I unhappy for various reasons and he declared February 14 to be Saint Valentine's Day (to which Saint we do not know) and did away with Lupercalia.
As much as the origins are numerous and vague, the overriding idea of declaring or manifesting your love for someone has stuck and we see millions of Valentine’s Day cards sent across the world on February 14th.
However, many countries, especially in Latin America, have alternative dates assigned to this day of love and some have banished it altogether.
In Brazil, Cupid strikes on June 12th. Since the Carnival takes up most of the months of February and March, the Brazilians celebrate Dia dos Namarados (Lover’s Day) the day before Saint Anthony’s Day (the day of marriage).
Bolivia enjoys Día del Amor on September 21st, a day that also applauds "Student, youth, spring and love," and Día del amor y la amistad is celebrated on July 23rd.
Colombia celebrates it on the third Saturday of September, and a game called Amigo Secreto is played.
Argentinians practice "Sweetness Week" and "Friendship Day" between July 13-20 in which candies and kisses are exchanged.
Unfortunately, in some countries where freedom of speech is limited or western values are deemed immoral or inappropriate, the reality is different. No differing dates, no cultural eccentricities making it their own, only restrictions, violence and prohibition. Quite the opposite to what todays Saint Valentine's Day has come to mean.
In Malaysia, Muslims (two thirds of the population) are prohibited from celebrating Saint Valentine's Day. Going to a restaurant, dancing or any activity seen to be promoting the day is illegal. In 2012, couples that were thought to be in too ‘close proximity’ were arrested. This is a crime for which they could be imprisoned. Not all Malaysians have to boycott the holiday but anti-Valentine’s Day campaigns make it a difficult holiday to enjoy.
In 2011, Iranian government officials called off the holiday stating "symbols of hearts, half-hearts, red roses, and any activities promoting this day are banned." Demonstrations of affection could lead to heavy fines, prison sentences or worse. According to a number of sources, this did not deter lovers celebrating the holiday and shops simply used lookouts to tell them if inspectors were coming on a patrol.
In 2014, Pakistan was home to a number of protests in which students were injured and police riot vans called in. Allegedly some students had been celebrating and a group of students at Peshawar University thought it un-Islamic. Nothing has been made illegal but it sparks conflict that could lead to stricter legislation being put in place.
In Saudi Arabia, the kingdom’s religious police banned Valentine’s Day. Women and men sit separately in restaurants and public displays of affection are taboo. However, some shops continue to sell red roses and other traditional Valentine's presents. The banning of the holiday has led to the creation of a black market for the products and cards.
In India, political parties have taken a negative stance on the portrayal of Valentine’s Day. Although nothing has been banned, they blame the Western world for the creation of this holiday and deem its founding principles immoral. Other groups have said that celebrating romance would encourage teenage pregnancy and pushed for Indians to replace Valentine's Day with a celebration of the love between parents and children, a 'Parent's Worship Day'.
It is interesting to see how this holiday, now so consumer driven in the Western world, actually carries so much baggage in respect to its origins and values in the countries mentioned above. Unlike religious holidays towards which you could expect controversy and differing of opinions, Valentine's Day holds no link to religion. It is, however, the blatant demonstration of attraction, flirting and enticement that enrages or shames certain people, bodies or associations. What for one country could be light-hearted, fun and risqué is immoral, shameful and punishable for another.