How was your Valentine’s Day?

About Eritrea - Art & Sport

Thursday was Valentine’s Day and I learned according to a newly self proclaimed expert (whose name I can’t reveal for obvious reasons) on all things visible spectral compositions, aka colors; the color we wear on Valentine’s day say a lot about our relationship status.

We all had heard the story of Saint Valentine, a bishop during the rule of Emperor Claudius II. The bishop used to perform secret marriage ceremonies against the rules of the Emperor, who supposedly prohibited marriage because he thought marriages made men weak and issued an edict forbidding marriage to assure quality soldiers, only to find a certain man named Saint Valentine was marrying couples in a secret place. The Emperor had him imprisoned and killed and that is how 14 of February became known as “Valentine’s day” and reserved for lovers.

Now I am not here to write about Saint Valentine and bore you half to death with what you can basically find in the infinite web but rather put emphasis on the importance of the occasion in Eritrea. One can blame globalization or the ever-growing influence of western culture but I do believe love has no boundaries and doesn’t differentiate between cultures and same goes here and the meaning of celebrating Valentine’s Day.

It was just a matter of time before its importance grew in Eritrea. And about four o five years ago its wave of seduction started affecting public service givers such as pubs, boutiques, flower shops and restaurant all over Asmara; who started advertising the supposed holiday. For the shopkeepers, it is just another day of cashing in from the day. Just like a herdsman waiting for New Year and Christmas to sell a couple of Sheep for a ridiculous amount of money.

Valentine’s Day is one of the most ‘adaptable’ occasions; it has been accepted and celebrated in variety of ways all over the globe since it became popular. That has resulted in the celebration having taken a different flavor with differences in places, regions and cultures across the world.

Basically, for anybody in a relationship these days, Valentine’s Day MATTERS. And just like it had been celebrated for hundreds of years in European countries, in Eritrea also Valentine’s Day has become the ideal occasion to show your partner or spouse just what they mean to you, whether you’re a sentimental traditionalist who wants to give the ever-dependable flowers and chocolates or someone with more individual ideas with a personal twist.

Come Valentine`s Day, what do red-blooded Asmarino men buy for their women-and, increasingly, women for their men? A box of chocolates and flowers! It is a trend that has become popular with the day itself.

Picture this: a couple sitting down to a candlelight dinner, looking longingly into each other`s eyes, while sampling an elegantly prepared meal. He presents her with flowers and perhaps a sophisticated piece of jewelry. She gives him the most romantic and thoughtful gift she found while shopping for hours. And they spend the rest of the evening discussing love and romance. That is what happens in Asmara on Valentine’s Day.

Red is the color of the day of course. Famous pubs and restaurants around Asmara are all decorated with Red Ribbons, Balloons, fresh set of flowers everywhere and candle lights on the tables signifying the day.

Couples are guests of the day. Men wearing immaculate Suits and Women looking stunning in their perfectly fitting dresses.

It is said in the 1950’s that the expression of true love and real romance became visible in Eritrean life. Boys and girls fell in love and got married. They expressed their passion more or less openly through letters or discreetly in public and challenged their families as to the correctness of their behavior.

This reminds me of a piece a certain Mebrahtu Asfha who once wrote “Although in our Eritrean tradition Valentine is an alien notion, every day is a little Valentine for Eritrean lovers Indeed , an outward expression of passion and romantic love may culturally be unknown, but the love of the heart with its rightful meaning of the human condition is manifested daily among Eritrean lovers. Interestingly, Eritrean lovers are empowered not only by the event of Valentine to walk together as lovers, wherever they may be in the world, but by the great sense of tradition, that is, the consciousness out of which we live as people.” I couldn’t have said it any better.

You can resist the pressure to conform to Valentine Day’s ritual and expectation if you want, like I do, especially if your relationship is secure without it. And feel free to resist it even if you’re just starting to date someone; after all, Valentine’s Day is a great chance to find out how much social pressure and expectation means to him or her.

On the other side of the pond and across the Mediterranean Valentine’s Day has been overtaken by cooperations who want to cash in big on the day. This has created a big hype which is somewhat facile and insincere, becoming unbearable to couples. The week leading up to it; is seen as laborious, along with all the usual hype and hullabaloo, the day which is filled with plenty of cynicism-a consequence of the hype-for me it is somewhat humorous. Because, some call it the “Make it or Break it day of romance” implying to the non-sensible beliefs that relationships are made or destroyed on Valentine’s Day. My personal favorite is “Valentine’s Day is a put up or shut up day”. No need for clarifications there.

These bogus ideas about Valentine’s Day have created cynicism about love and romance. However with that being said, the day is still celebrated across the globe with value and romance.

For instance, in Argentina One day is nowhere near enough for the passionate Argentinians – they also devote an additional entire week in July to the festival of love, calling it ‘Sweetness week’. Between the 13th and 20th, lovers exchange kisses for candy, and finish up the week of celebrations with a friendship day as well.

The Chinnese have their version of Valentine’s Day. The Qixi festival originates from a folklore tale of two star-crossed lovers. In it, a cow-herd and a King’s daughter are forced apart and only allowed to reunite on one day a year: the seventh day of the seventh month in the Chinese lunar calendar. During the festival, couples go to temples and pray for prosperity, and at night they look to the heavens as the stars Vega and Altair (representing the cowherd and the daughter) pass close by each other on their annual reunion.

Finland and Estonia slow things right down on Valentine’s Day, opting for a friendlier celebration called Ystävän Päivä in Finnish and Sõbrapäev in Estonian instead. Here, February 14 is all about celebrating friendship, and people exchange presents and cards with the greeting ‘Happy Friends Day’. Probably not what you’ve been waiting to hear from your crush all this time!

Finding love can be a lottery, and no one knows this better than the French! Une loterie d’amour – a surprisingly unromantic custom from the country of love – saw hopeful singles line up in houses facing each other and call through the windows until they eventually paired up. Those women left partner-less then built a large bonfire, ceremoniously burning images of the men who rejected them whilst hurling insults into the sky.

Sadly, after things started getting a little unruly, the French government decided to ban the practice altogether.

In Japan, it’s the ladies who spoil the object of their affections with chocolates on the 14th of February – and it’s the type of chocolate given that counts.

For husbands, boyfriends, or prospective boyfriends, high quality honmei-choco (‘true feeling’) chocolates are hand delivered, while colleagues or acquaintances receive giri-choco, the cheaper ‘obligation chocolate’. If you’re unlucky (or unlikeable?), you might even end up with a box of cho-giri choco: ultra-obligation chocolate reserved for the most unpopular of male colleagues.

When White Day comes around on March 14, those who received honmei-choco are expected to return the favour, by giving their loved ones presents (often jewellery or lingerie) worth two to three times the chocolates they received.

If you’ve ever dreamed of getting married alongside your best friends, acquaintances, neighbours, colleagues, and the waiter from your favourite restaurant – Valentine’s Day in the Philippines may just be your celebration.

Every year on February 14, hundreds (sometimes thousands) of couples come together in public places to be married en masse. Often, the celebrations are sponsored by the government as a public service, allowing underprivileged couples the opportunity to tie the knot.

In Slovenia, where St Valentine is one of the patron saints of spring, February 14 marks the first day of working in the fields for the New Year. It’s widely believed that this is the day that plants start to regenerate, and there’s even a proverb that says “St Valentine brings the keys of roots”.

There’s also a belief that birds ‘propose’ to each other on this day (marking the start of the mating season), and to bear witness to the occasion, you must walk barefoot through fields that are often still frozen. It’s Saint Gregory’s Day on March 12 when people generally celebrate their love for each other (in a hopefully warmer way!).

Many South Africans celebrate the day of love with chocolates, flowers, and candlelit dinners in romantic locations with their Valentine on the 14th. But, for the times when a subtle anonymously signed card doesn’t do the trick, South Africans don’t mind wearing their heart on their sleeve – literally.

Following an old-age Roman festival called ‘Lupercalia’ (thought to be the predecessor to Valentine’s Day), young girls pin the name of their love on their sleeve for the day. Luckily, this is a much tamer version of the original festival, at which goats were sacrificed and men would run through the streets wearing the skins, whipping women to bless them with fertility.