Valentine’s Day, now seen as the celebration of love, is observed all over the world. Yet, it’s not all the same paper hearts and Hallmark cards that the United States has come to expect. Each country and region celebrate a little differently, as we’ve shown on the map below.
View Valentine’s Day Celebrations Around the World in a full screen map
It is often more useful to see data (based on this Wikipedia page) plotted on a map. You can make your own map with open data here. Then explore each country, or read on for more on how the world sees love on February 14.
A U.S. celebration of Valentine’s Day wouldn’t be complete without exchanging cards with loved ones — or potential loved ones. In fact, roughly 190 million Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year in the United States. This 190 million does not include the cards that are exchanged by children in schools — that number would be overwhelming. Valentine’s Day in the U.S. has become increasingly commercialized as the holiday encourages consumers to spend money on loved ones. In 2010, Americans spent $108 per person on Valentine’s Day and that number rose to a whopping $131 just three years later in 2013.
Valentine’s Day is referred to by a variety of different names throughout Latin America. From “Dia del Carino” (Affection Day) in Guatemala to “El Dia del Amor y la Amistad” (Day of Love and Friendship) in Mexico, Costa Rica, and Puerto Rico, these Latin American countries may celebrate Valentine’s Day a bit differently than those in the U.S., but their celebrations are no less special. Not only do some of these Latin American countries recognize this holiday as one for significant others, but in Mexico, Costa Rica, and Puerto Rico, people also celebrate and perform acts of appreciation for their friends on Valentine’s Day.
Some Latin American countries don’t celebrate their version of Valentine’s Day in February. In Brazil, “Dia dos Namorados” ("Lovers’/“Boyfriends’/Girlfriends’ Day”) is actually celebrated over the summer, in June. This is because February 14th falls very close to the Brazilian Carnival. Due to this absence of Valentine’s Day celebrations in February, Brazil is a very popular tourist spot during February for single folks from the U.S. who wish to avoid all things Valentine’s Day-related.
Colombians and other Latin American countries also partake in “Amigo Secreto” (Secret Friend) during Valentine’s Day. Similar to “Secret Santa” at Christmastime, during Amigo Secreto, participants are randomly assigned a person to whom they must give a gift.
American Valentine’s Day culture has largely impacted how European countries celebrate Valentine’s Day. The countries most influenced by the U.S. cultural interpretation of Valentine’s Day are Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. The Swedish name for Valentine’s Day can be translated into “All Hearts’ Day," which was launched in the 1960s by the flower industry in an effort to increase spending and also due to American influence. Flower sales for All Hearts Day in Sweden are only exceeded by flower sales for one other holiday: Mother’s Day. In Norway and Denmark, much like in the United States, people take the time to eat a romantic dinner with a loved one or send cards or roses on Valentine’s Day.
The United Kingdom celebrates Valentine’s Day much like the United States with just under half of the population spending money on their Valentines. 25 million cards are sent each year. In Ireland, those who seek love make a pilgrimage to the Shrine of St. Valentine in Dublin and pray in hope of finding love on Valentine’s Day.
Similar to many Latin American countries, some European countries also view Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to celebrate friendship rather than romantic love. In both Finland and Estonia, Valentine’s Day is a day to remember friends, and is called ystävänpäivä in Finland which translates to “Friend’s Day.” Estonia’s word for Valentine’s Day also translates to “Friend’s Day.”
Romania has also started to celebrate Valentine’s Day. This has drawn backlash from several groups, institutions and nationalist organizations who condemn Valentine’s Day for being superficial and an import from Western countries.
In some countries throughout Asia, Valentine’s Day is banned for religious reasons. When Valentine’s Day was first introduced to Pakistan in the 1990s, the Jamaat-e-Islami political party banned the celebration of the holiday. Since then, the local Peshawar government, other cities, and Islamabad High Court have all denounced the holiday. Despite this, there are still those who celebrate the holiday.
Recently in Iran, Islamic teachers have criticized Valentine’s Day because the holiday contradicts Islamic culture. In 2011, the Iranian printing works owners’ union issued a directive banning the printing and distribution of any goods promoting the holiday, including cards, gifts, and teddy bears.
Religious police banned the sale of all Valentine’s Day items in Saudi Arabia in 2002 and 2008, telling shop workers to remove any red items because the day is considered a Christian holiday. This ban has actually created a black market for roses and wrapping paper. In 2012, religious police arrested more than 140 Muslims for celebrating the holiday and confiscated all red roses from flower shops. Muslims are not allowed to celebrate the holiday, and non-Muslims can only celebrate behind closed doors.
Valentine’s Day was first introduced in Japan in 1936 by a cake company that decided to run an advertisement. The Japanese custom that only women give chocolates to men may have originated from the translation error of the cake company executive during the initial campaigns. In the 1980s, the Japanese National Confectionery Industry Association launched a campaign to make March 14 a “reply day,” where men are expected to return the favor to those who gave them chocolates on Valentine’s Day. Men are expected to return gifts that are at least two or three times more valuable than the gifts they received on Valentine’s Day.
In South Korea, women give chocolate to men on February 14, and men give non-chocolate candy to women on March 14 (White Day). On April 14 (Black Day), those who did not receive anything on February 14 or March go to a Chinese-Korean restaurant to eat black noodles and lament their ‘single life.’
The map above provides a glimpse into how various countries around the world celebrate Valentine’s Day. No matter how, or even when or if you celebrate the holiday, take some time to remember your friends and loved ones. And if you’re still heartbroken about the results of Super Bowl LII, cheer up by checking out your favorite team’s records in Super Bowl Winners and Losers.