By Austin Langdon
Valentine’s Day isn’t just a western holiday, it’s celebrated all around the world. Valentine’s day means a lot of different things to different people.
In some countries, it is simply a day of expressing love as it was intended, in others, it has become deeply politicized.
Valentine’s day was most likely invented by the French and it is unsurprising to see that in France, Valentine’s Day has stayed true to its purpose. It was common knowledge in France that the middle of February was the time of the year that birds and other animals “paired off and mated.” Thus, Valentine’s Day is right in the middle of February, on the 14th.
In the west, those without significant others sometimes dread Valentine’s Day. For those people, Estonia might be the place for them. In Estonia Valentine’s Day emphasizes friendship where it is known as “Friends Day.” In Estonia “there is an emphasis on non-romantic love with friends and family members exchanging presents on the holiday,” according to the International Business Times.
Valentine’s Day however had been deeply politicized as much else has in other places of the world. Valentine’s Day is a semi-official holiday in Lebanon, but, in Lebanon “Valentine’s Day belongs to another kind of saint,” according to Time Magazine. Just On Valentine’s Day in 2005, Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri was assassinated.
At this time, Lebanon was being occupied by Syria who had almost absolute control over Lebanese politics and many in Lebanon suspected their Syrian occupiers to be behind the assassination.
Valentine’s Day in Lebanon is a day put aside to remember the assassination of Rafiq Hariri with memorials erected in Beirut. On Valentine’s Day in recent years the Lebanese have filled the day with hopes of revenge. Many Lebanese see the uprising against Bashar al-Assad in Syria which began in 2011 as justice being done to the Syrian President.
Valentine’s Day in Saudi Arabia however… is illegal in Saudi Arabia. It promotes “obscenity” officials say. The moral police patrol shops to prevent the selling of roses and other “obscene” products. Still, shopkeepers find ways to circumvent the religious police. “I’ve hidden everything red in the shop, so when a religious police patrol comes along, they find nothing to complain about,” a florist named Hussein told a journalist. Roses are typically sold in back rooms of shops and chocolates are sold under the counter.
You may get away with selling red roses in the commercial capital of Jeddah, but this is not the case for all of the Kingdom. “Five Saudi men have been sentenced to 32 years in prison and 4,500 lashes by a criminal court in Saudi Arabia – for holding a Valentine’s Day party” the Daily Mail reported. Gulf News reported that “Security authorities said they found red roses, candles and heart-shaped items during the raid.” All such Valentine’s Day accessories and practices are contraband in the Saudi Kingdom.
Similar to Saudi Arabi, although nowhere near as severe, Valentine’s Day was banned in Pakistan in 2015. “Some people celebrate it, but the religious parties go out to make sure nobody does” Maaz Khan, a Pakistani American told me. The western holiday is seen as a threat to Pakistani values.
In Kosovo, Valentine’s Day is a lot more enthusiastically celebrated. Roses, chocolates, and other gifts are in high demand in Kosovo. Sometimes these are simply given away for free, as Balkan Insight writes. “For the lucky ones, there are also free gifts – all in the name of love. ‘We came out here to give a rose to everyone as a sign of love,’Betim Bajrami, a teenager working for the flower company Agrocoop says, while handing fresh roses to some passers-by in central Pristina.”
This isn’t uncommon for Muslim countries. “In Egypt people were kinda into it. Cairo seemed very modern and westernized” said Isra Aweis, a Somali who has spent much time in Egypt and Yemen. “Little girls at school got all diddly and dandy about it.” The holiday was “virtually non existent and unheard of in Yemen” she said. Which is unsurprising given that it is the poorest state in the Middle-East.
Valentine’s Day is celebrated all around the world, but in many different fashions. The holiday shows the diversity of the world.