Signed, your Valentine

Before the month of February even began, the commercial industry was already gearing up for one of the most popular days celebrated around the world. Valentine’s Day. The publicly recognized day for declarations of undying love, surprise marriage proposals, over the top attempts to win affections or in some relationships dramatic romantic displays to secure forgiveness or pacify emotions.

Valentine’s day is an economic gold mine for chocolatiers, greeting card companies, florists, and likely every merchant of red heart shaped purposeless trinket you can imagine. In 2016, statistics showed that the top three gifts people give on Valentine’s Day are cards, candy and flowers. The average spending on Valentine’s Day each year was over 13 billion USD, with the average individual consumer spending about 116 hundred USD. Over 198 million roses are produced annually for this one day.

There are endless variations on the origins of Valentine’s Day. One of the most popular ones is that St. Valentine was a priest who lived in the Roman Empire in the 3rd century under emperor Claudius Gothicus. The myth goes that the emperor decided that single men made the best soldiers because they weren’t concerned about their wives and children. So he began enlisting only single men to fight wars. Valentine continued to marry Christian couples in secret, both as part of his faith and to also help keep men from having to go to war. Claudius was a famous persecutor of Christians and when he discovered what Valentine was doing he gave him the choice of renouncing his faith or being beaten to death by clubs and beheaded. Valentine chose death. Two centuries later, Pope Gelasius chose February 14th as a day to commemorate and celebrate Valentine for his martyrdom. In the Catholic tradition, St. Valentine is the patron saint of engaged couples, happy marriages, young people, lovers, and funny enough also of beekeepers, fainting and epilepsy.

But regardless of the religious and mythological background to Valentine’s Day, there are interesting traditions around the world for how people recognize this day of love. In Italy, one old belief is that the first woman a man sees on Valentine’s Day will be the man she will marry within a year’s time. An early tradition was for young single women to get up early and sit by their windows to gaze at the young men on streets below. A typical gift on such a day could be Baci Perugina, chocolate covered hazelnuts sent with poems written in four different languages.

A more ancient tradition in Great Britain included a nighttime ritual on the eve of Valentine’s Day. Women would secure four bay leaves to each corner of their pillows. Then they would boil eggs, remove the egg yolk and eat the rest with salt. Apparently this would stir up night dreams of the face of the man they were destined to marry.

In France, the supposed most romantic country in the world, there existed a somewhat dark Valentine Day ritual in the past. Each year, people would hold a lottery of love. Single people would all come together in houses that faced one another. Then people would call out the name of their Valentines. If their Valentine refused to accept then later the jilted lover would make a bonfire and burn images of the person who refused them. The French government eventually had to ban this practice.

In South Korea, men don’t have to do anything on Valentine’s Day. The tradition is for women to give chocolates to the men in their lives.

There are no documented practices for Valentine’s Day in Nigeria. Are we a country that celebrates love or not? What would people say are some unofficial Nigerian traditions for Valentine’s Day? And better yet, what are the various other cultural traditions that Nigerians have for recognizing and celebrating love beyond the wedding day?

In this article:
Enuma OkoroValentine
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