Scandinavian Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day, called also “the Lovers’ Day”, is the world’s best known holiday. This day is often accused of being a commercial holiday designed to fill in the gap between Christmas and Easter. Although the majority of people feel deep resentment against the media and traders, which intensely conduct a battue before the holiday, it cannot be denied that almost each person impatiently awaits the romantic atmosphere of Valentine’s Day, and even secretly dreams of a note with a love confession from a mysterious admirer…

History of Valentine’s Day – people write love letters

The origins of Valentine’s Day are not clear. Sometimes it is being associated with the ancient Roman festival, Lupercalia, celebrated on 14th and 15th February, in honor of Juno (the goddess of women and marriage) and Pan (god of nature). One of the customs during the Lupercalia was drawing from a special urn a name of a woman or a man – it ought to be the name of the person one will fall in love with. However, the association of the Valentine’s Day with the Roman Lupercalia is primarily due to the time overlap of the two holidays.

However, legend has it that once there lived a Bishop named Valentine, who secretly gave marriages to soldiers and their beloved, which was not to Emperor Claudius II Gothicus’ liking. The Emperor thought that having a family will only distract legionnaires and absorb the forces that should be allocated to their military service. In order to legally regulate the marital status of his legionaries, he issued a formal prohibition of marriage to the military. When it came to light that Bishop Valentine does not comply with the imperial regulation, he was thrown into prison. While being there, the Bishop met a blind daughter of the guardian Asterius, and fell deeply in love with her. Shortly afterwards the girl regained her sight, which is attributed to the healing power of true love.

Unfortunately, the message about love between Valentine and the guardian’s daughter soon reached the ears of the Emperor. The news enraged Claudius II Gothicus, so he sentenced the Bishop to death. The execution was carried out on February 14, 269 year. St. Valentine before his death wrote a love letter to his beloved, which he signed “from your Valentine”. It is precisely because of courage of St. Valentine who gave clandestine marriages to soldiers in love, that he has been hailed as “the saint patron of lovers”. Traditionally, Valentine’s Day sweetheart love letters were sent in the memory of the last Bishop’s letter.

Valentine’s Day is celebrated only since the Middle Ages. The tradition began on February 14 in the west and south of Europe, and then wandered east and north of the continent. With time the tradition was also carried over to other parts of the world. Moreover, people began to add to the letters small gifts, such as flowers.

It is often emphasized that special roles in making the St. Valentine’s Day famous were played by Geoffrey Chaucer, along with Otto de Grandson, John Gower, and knight Pardo of Valencia, who wrote sublime love poems, adding the Valentine’s Day thread to them.

Although the roots of the day are common for all, each culture has adapted it to their needs.

How is the Valentine’s Day celebrated in Scandinavia?

Denmark and Norway, for example, call the Valentine’s Day “the Day of All Hearts”. They started to celebrate it quite recently, to be precise: in the twentieth century, and only thanks to (because of?) the flower industry that really promoted this holiday. Despite the best florists’ efforts, Danes and Norwegians celebrate this day with some reserve, which does not mean that they lack Imagination!

On Valentine’s Day Danes give each other colorful cards. In the old days, cards were transparent and just holding it close to eyes and in good light provided the opportunity to see on it the image of a lover giving a gift to his beloved. Today the Danes give each other snowdrops. Men send their girls cards called gaekkebrev, with funny nursery rhymes and signed only by dots corresponding to the number of letters in their name. If the addressee will guess the name of the sender, she gets extra chocolate egg at Easter.

Norwegians are preparing for Valentine’s Day for many months prior to February 14. Unlike many nations they do not celebrate this holiday in a boisterous way. They appreciate the romantic intimacy more than being in the spotlight. The standard Valentine’s Day gift in this country is a date in a restaurant, preceded by handing personally made cards with love confession plus, usually, a single red rose.

In Sweden, sales of cosmetics and flowers on Valentine’s Day is greater than on Mother’s Day. Valentine’s Day is celebrated with great pomp, and not just with a partner, but also with friends and family. Some restaurants offer special Valentine’s Day “packages” for lovers. Swedes like to celebrate this holiday with good food as well.

However, in Finland Valentine’s Day is called “the Day of Friends”. Therefore, one not only gifts loved ones, but also close friends. The 14th February is a popular date of marriage and engagement proposals. Interestingly, the Finnish Valentine’s Day is also an opportunity to conduct educational campaigns, pro – health or voluntary.

Icelanders appreciate flowers, especially roses. Gifts ought to be in good taste and style, so residents of Iceland are usually not satisfied with standard floral compositions. They visit flower shops to make special orders for bouquets, including shape, types of flowers and grows – the beloved one needs to feel special. It is worth noting that Icelanders do not show their feelings in public. Any confessions are usually made in an intimate atmosphere.

A few words at the end

This post is, unfortunately, not supported by my experiences. Too bad, because it would be more detailed and realistic, and I could add to it something more than just a generalization. However, if any of you live in one of these countries, I would be pleased to read what are your experiences. Feel free to leave a comment!


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