There are varying opinions as to the origin of Valentine’s Day. Some experts state that it originated from St. Valentine, a Roman who was martyred for refusing to give up Christianity. He died on February 14, 269 A.D., the same day that had been devoted to love lotteries. Legend also says that St. Valentine left a farewell note for the jailer’s daughter, who had become his friend, and signed it “From Your Valentine”. Other aspects of the story say that St. Valentine served as a priest at the temple during the reign of Emperor Claudius. Claudius then had Valentine jailed for defying him. In 496 A.D. Pope Gelasius set aside February 14 to honor St. Valentine.
Gradually, February 14 became the date for exchanging love messages and St. Valentine became the patron saint of lovers. To mark the date, simple gifts such as candy and flowers were sent.
Valentine’s Day and its equivalents in other cultures
Thanks to a concentrated marketing effort, Valentine’s Day has emerged in Japan and Korea as a day on which women, and less commonly men, give candy, chocolate or flowers to people they like. This has become an obligation for many women. Those who work in offices end up giving chocolates to all their male co-workers, sometimes at significant personal expense. This chocolate is known as giri-choko (義理チョコ), in Japan, from the words giri (“obligation”) and choko, a common short version of chokorēto (チョコレート), meaning “chocolate”. This contrasts with honmei-choko, which is given to a person someone loves or has a strong relationship with. Friends, especially girls, exchange chocolate that is referred to as tomo-choko (友チョコ); tomo means “friend” in Japanese.
By a further marketing effort, a reciprocal day called White Day has emerged. On March 14, men are expected to return the favour to those who gave them chocolates on Valentine’s Day. Many men, however, give only to their girlfriends. Originally, the return gift was supposed to be white chocolate or marshmallows; hence “White Day”. However, men have taken the name to a different meaning and lingerie has become a common gift.
In Korea, there is an additional Black Day on April 14, when males who did not receive anything for Valentine’s Day gather together to eat Jajangmyun (Chinese-style noodles in black sauce). In South Korea, there is also Pepero Day, celebrated on November 11, during which young couples give each other romantic gifts.
In Chinese Culture, there is a similar counterpart of the Valentine’s Day. It is called “The Night of Sevens”, on the 7th day of the 7th month of the lunar calendar; the last one being August 30, 2006. A slightly different version of this day is celebrated in Japan as Tanabata, on July 7th on the solar calendar.