Valentine's Day traditions in Switzerland and around the world

Valentine's Day traditions in Switzerland and around the world

Love it or loathe it, Valentine's Day is here, and that means people all around the world will be exchanging cards, flowers, chocolates and other gifts with their partners and loved ones, or approaching secret crushes and finally making their feelings known.

Many people know Valentine's Day as a tradition that flew over from the US, but its origins aren't exactly that simple. Let's take a look at where the holiday came from, and how many countries around the world, including Switzerland, have made it their own by adding little personal touches and following existing traditions from their own cultures. 

Where does Valentine's Day come from?

Like so many modern European holidays and traditions, Valentine's Day is a blending of both Christian and pagan traditions - in this case, the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia, and the Christian feast day of Saint Valentine. 


Lupercalia was a Roman festival that was held annually in mid-April to increase health and fertility, mark the coming of spring, and honour the god of Agriculture, Faunus. It involved sacrifices and rituals to boost fertility and, according to legend, a kind of “lottery” that would see the single women paired up with eligible men, with the matches often ending in marriage

At the end of the fifth century, Lupercalia was deemed “unchristian” by Pope Gelasius I and outlawed. As so often was the case with once popular pagan customs, it seems that it was superseded by a Christian feast day in an effort to “Christianise” the mid-February celebrations. The feast day in question was the feast of Saint Valentine. 

Why is February 14 a special day?

In the eighth century, the Feast of Saint Valentine was fixed on February 14. It’s not exactly clear who the day was named for, since there are several saints in the Catholic Church named Valentine connected to February 14, and a whole host of overlapping stories surrounding them. The association of Valentine with love pops up in several of these stories. 

One, for instance, tells of a priest who was martyred by the Emperor Claudius II Gothicus in 270. While imprisoned, he is said to have fallen in love with the jailor’s daughter and wrote her a letter signed “Your Valentine”. In another story, he performed marriages for soldiers who were forbidden to wed. 

Where does love come in?

The association of the day with love became cemented in the 14th and 15th centuries with the rise of the notions of courtly love and chivalry, and the common belief that February 14 was the beginning of the birds’ mating season. Around this time, written Valentine’s greetings began to appear, the oldest of which is a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans. 

Over time, these handwritten notes gave way to mass-produced greetings cards, boxes of chocolates, bouquets of flowers and other gifts. The first commercial greetings cards were printed in the US in the mid-19th century.

Is Valentine’s Day a holiday?

Saint Valentine’s Day is not marked as a public holiday in Switzerland - or anywhere in the world, for that matter. It is marked as an official feast day by some churches.  

What countries celebrate Valentine’s Day?

After originating in early modern England and spreading throughout the English-speaking world, Valentine’s Day has gone on to be celebrated in many other countries in South and Latin America, and East Asia, including Costa Rica, Mexico, Bangladesh, India, China, Iran, Japan, the Philippines, Singapore and South Korea.

How to celebrate Valentine’s Day in Switzerland and around the world

Here’s how Valentine’s Day is celebrated in Switzerland and in other countries. 

Valentine's traditions in Switzerland

In contrast to some countries around the world, Switzerland doesn't exactly make a big deal out of Valentine's Day, with couples generally preferring to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. As traditions go, it is a relatively recent one, having only really been marked - or pushed by retailers and florists! - since the 1950s. 

This halfhearted embracing of the holiday means that Switzerland hasn't really developed its own traditions for the romantic day. Couples who do celebrate it tend to stick to the staples of cards, flowers, chocolates and meals out - although one survey found that 10 percent of people in French-speaking Switzerland prefer to give their partners underwear as a gift. Saucy! 

Valentine’s Day traditions in the Netherlands

These days, the Netherlands roughly copies the American example of Valentine’s Day, and it is not a very popular occasion. In attempts to make the date gain popularity around the 70s, it was promoted with a somewhat different identity.

Driven by the need to push flower sales, companies promoted Valentine’s Day as more of a day of friendship. Special appreciation was given to road workers, public transport chauffeurs and politicians, rather than to partners. People were urged to use the day to thank friends and colleagues for their care.

Over the past few years, however, the holiday has seen its popularity grow and it has become a day that is celebrated (in both big and small ways) by couples across the country.

Valentine’s in Japan

In Japan, Valentine’s Day is a beloved tradition with its own interpretation. On February 14, women give chocolates to the men - not the other way around.

Although love is a strong theme in this giving ceremony, and crushes are definitely approached, male acquaintances such as co-workers or teammates will often be given chocolates as well. These are called giri-choco, or obligation chocolates.

Chocolates given with romantic intent, or honmei-choco, are often more elaborate than the giri-choco, and they can even be hand-made. One month later, on March 14, men can return the favour by giving the girls presents as a thank you for the chocolates. This day is called White Day. White Day is celebrated in various Asian countries, but it originates from Japan, and was started by a confectionery company in the hopes to elevate their (white) marshmallow sales.


Korea generally has similar traditions to Japan’s Valentine’s Day, with one interesting addition: one month after White Day, on April 14, is Black Day. On this date, singles who haven’t received any favours in the previous two months get a celebration all to themselves. They go out and eat black bean paste noodles, or just go drinking with their friends.

Valentine’s traditions in Taiwan

In Taiwan, it’s mainly the men who do the gift-giving. What's unique about it is the tradition of presenting one’s loved one with roses, with the colour and number of the flowers having special significance:

  • A red rose represents love
  • One red rose means "My only love"
  • 11 roses mean "You’re my favourite"
  • 99 roses mean "Forever"
  • 108 roses mean "Marry me"

Taiwan also celebrates a separate festival of love on July 7, along with China, and they celebrate White Day as well.

South Africa

Some young South Africans follow an old Roman tradition called Lupercalia, in which they pin the name of the one they fancy on their sleeve, as a declaration of love.


Valentine’s Day is not very popular in Germany, but they have some unique ways of showing their affection on this day. For instance, the giving of pig depictions (a symbol of luck) or heart-shaped ginger cookies are recurring themes.


Some theories say that Valentine’s Day originated from France. This is because the first “Valentine” was sent by a French Duke, Charles, Duke of Orleans. The story goes that he was imprisoned in the Tower of London and sent love letters to his wife. 

There used to be a French Valentine’s Day tradition called a love lottery, in which singles were paired up with partners. If the men didn’t like their match they would leave and the jilted women would burn their pictures at a bonfire. This became such a raucous ritual that it is no longer practised


In the Philippines, city councils often organise mass civil weddings to help disadvantaged couples who may not have the money for a regular ceremony. A popular date for these mass weddings is right before Valentine’s Day. Sometimes, several hundreds of couples can be married at the same time.


In Denmark, lovers celebrate Valentine’s Day by exchanging white flowers that they call "snowdrops." There is a rather creative side to their traditions as well, as there are two kinds of cards a person can give to a loved one.

The first is the Lover’s Card, which is rather like the traditional Valentine’s Day card. The other is the Gaekkebrev, a humorous anonymous love poem that challenges the receiver to guess who sent it. The Gaekkebrev is usually gifted by the men. If the identity of the giver is guessed correctly, the receiver is awarded an Easter egg later that year.


One of the most popular Valentine’s Day gifts in Italy is chocolate-covered hazelnuts wrapped in a romantic quote. These are called Baci Perugina.

An old belief in certain regions of Italy said that the first man a woman saw on Valentine’s Day would be, or resemble, the man she was to marry. This led to the now-abandoned tradition of young Italian girls waking up before dawn so that they could spot their prospective husbands early.

Valentine’s Day alternative: National Lover’s Day

If Valentine’s Day is a bit kitsch for you, or in your mind has become too much of a commercialised holiday, have you heard of National Lover’s Day? Celebrated on April 23 each year, National Lover’s Day is another opportunity to celebrate your significant other and show them how much they mean to you! 

Are you from one of the countries described, and do you have something to add? Or does your home country have an interesting Valentine’s Day tradition of its own? Let us know in the comments below!

Sections of this article originally appeared on IamExpat in the Netherlands.

Alexandra van Kampen


Alexandra van Kampen

English and Japanese theatre and culture are my forte. My mother was raised in England, and my grandmother in Japan. I studied Japanese Language and Culture, and Film and Photographic...

Read more



Leave a comment