10 Valentine’s Day Facts From Around the World

Our Valentine's Day kiss-and-tell exposes some fascinating facts about the annual love fest and how Feb. 14 is observed around the world.

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Medieval romantic couple
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The murky origins of Valentine’s Day

Although Valentine’s Day is thought to be named after a Christian saint, there’s nothing remotely religious about this day set aside for love and lovers. There are references linking Valentine’s Day to courtship in the Middle Ages, but it wasn’t until the late 18th century that the British began sending paper Valentine cards to one another. Americans adopted the custom and ran with it, turning February 14th into a mass-marketer’s dream day of chocolate, cards, flowers, and, lest we forget, love. Today Valentine’s Day is popping up in lots of places. Admittedly, in countries where it’s a recent import, it’s mainly celebrated by younger people.

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Saudi Arabia skyline at night
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Not everyone’s a fan

Plenty of people loathe February 14th, among them single, divorced or just plain depressed folks who suffer from what’s been termed “the Valentine’s Day Blues.” Others are put off by the over-hyped marketing. Elsewhere, it’s been criticized as too western, too Christian or too immoral. In 2008, Saudi Arabia banned the sale of red roses and other Valentine’s Day items, because it’s a western holiday named after a Christian saint. Malaysian religious authorities arrested more than 100 Muslim couples for celebrating Valentine’s Day in 2011, and Iran banned the printing of Valentine’s Day related materials.

Read this inspiring story of how a teacher spreads kindness on Valentine’s Day.

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Cupid statue
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How did Cupid come to be?

How did a chunky, naked baby with wings, a bow and an arrow come to symbolize romance? Meet Cupid, off-spring of the Roman god Venus. Named after the Latin word for “desire” (cupido), legend has it that the chubby cherub can cause a victim to fall in love merely by shooting a golden arrow into his or her heart.

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Rose garden
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Valentine’s Day in France

Paris may be the world’s most romantic city, but the French villages of Saint Valentin and Roquemaure are competing hard. Every year, on the weekend closest to Feb. 14, Saint Valentin offers lovers the chance to marry in a rose-covered garden and pin love notes on the Tree of Vows. Roquemaure’s Lovers’ Festival boasts 19th-century costumes and music.

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Japanese passersby on Tokyo street
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Valentine’s Day in Japan

Because of a supposed error in early Valentine’s Day candy ads in Japan, women thought they were supposed to give men candy—instead of the other way around. Candy makers dubbed March 14th as a “reply day” called “White Day” and urged men to give chocolates to the women. It worked. The custom caught on. These days, Japanese chocolate companies make 50 percent of their annual sales over Valentine’s Day.

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Bangrak district of Bangkok, Thailand
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Valentine’s Day in Thailand

Lovebirds flock to Bangkok’s Bangrak district, Thailand’s “Village of Love” to be married on Valentine’s Day. They believe the aptly named village will ensure them a long lasting marriage, and they begin lining up outside the Bangrak district office in the wee hours of the morning.

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Romeo and Juliet balcony
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Valentine’s Day in Italy

Each year, the city of Verona receives about 1,000 letters addressed to Juliet on Valentine’s Day. Verona is where Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet lived.

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Sydney, Australia
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Valentine’s Day in Australia

An Australian family planning organization celebrates National Condom Day on February 14, encouraging lovers to “say it with flowers, do it with condoms.”

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Man giving woman Valentine's Day gift
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Valentine’s Day in the United States

One 2015 study claims 53 percent of women in America would dump their boyfriend if they did not get them anything for Valentine’s Day. Another US study found that three percent of men have considered ending a relationship rather than face the task of choosing a “really good” gift for their partner. Pets on the other hand, make out like bandits: each year, Americans spend more than half a billion dollars on Valentine’s Day presents for their fur babies.

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The blue city of Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India
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Valentine’s Day in India

In 2009, members of a Hindu fundamentalist group named The Sri Ram Sene attacked women in a pub in Mangalore, and their leader Pramod Muthalik announced he’d deal harshly with anybody celebrating Valentine’s Day. A group of young women decided to fight back by asking women all over the country to mail the organization pink panties. It got thousands in the mail; more than 3,000 women participated in the campaign. It seems to have worked. Celebrations for the past several years have been less dangerous.

Next, check out these easy two-ingredient Valentine’s Day desserts.

Originally Published in Readers Digest International Edition

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