Sunday, February 14, 2016

What price love? Valentine’s Day around the world

Today is Valentine’s Day, also called Saint Valentine’s Day or the Feast of Saint Valentine, as you prefer. Apparently, more than 60% of Americans will celebrate by the purchase of cards, flowers, chocolates and candlelit dinners for two, to the tune of over $13,000,000,000.

Mind-boggling, isn’t it?

To stay on the US statistical bandwagon for a moment, a little over 70% of the well-nigh 200 million roses produced for the day are bought by men, but 85% of the 180 million cards purchasers are women. Around 11,000 children will be conceived today. Nearly 15% of women will send themselves flowers. Over $230 million will be spent by owners on their pets.

We Brits spend over £900 million, which breaks down to about the global average per head, allegedly. The 25-34 age group are the most generous, with people living in the southeast and Wales the least likely to celebrate. The Germans spend the least on Valentine’s Day, with a third of them admitting they’ve forgotten it altogether.

In Japan February 14th is when women give men chocolate, but Japanese women have to wait until March 14th for men to give them romantic gifts. In Wales, St Dwynwen’s Day on January 25th is when lovers exchange intricately carved wooden spoons, in a tradition dating back to the 16th century.

In Brazil, June 12th is Dia dos Namorados, the day of lovers. The 13th is St Anthony’s Day – the patron saint of marriage – when women perform simpatias in the hope of being the next to wed.

In China the festival of Qixi takes place on the seventh day of the seventh month of the Chinese calendar. Originating from a tale of two separated lovers, who were only allowed to meet once a year. Singletons hope for a partner and couples hope for good fortune.

In Romania they celebrate Dragobete on February 24th, ‘the day the birds are betrothed’, which is a mix of Valentine’s Day and a celebration of Spring. Picking flowers in the woods and washing your face in snow is supposed to bring health and happiness.

In South Korea, the 14th of every month is a time to celebrate love, including Kiss Day in June and Hug Day in December. April 14th is Black Day, when singletons eat black noodles to console themselves on their unmarried status.

It’s thought one of the origins of Valentine’s Day is the ancient festival of Lupercalia, observed on February 13-15th to purge evil spirits and release health and fertility. The name comes from the Latin for wolf lupus after the she-wolf who nurtured Romulus and Remus, founders of Rome. It involved sacrificing two goats and a dog, wearing the goatskins and running about striking any women who hoped to become pregnant. It is thought the church chose this date in order to Christianise an existing holiday.

As for the actual Valentine, there we hit a slight snag, as there were quite a few of them. In fact, the one whose day we celebrate on February 14th is officially known as St Valentine of Rome, just to make it clear. One account from the 13thC is of a temple priest who was martyred by Emperor Claudius II for helping Christian couples to marry. Altogether there are a dozen St Valentines on the official list of recognised saints, so you can take your pick of dates to celebrate, including July 25th, which is the date honouring the only female St Valentine – or Valentina – a virgin martyred in Palestine in AD 308.

Not only is St Valentine the patron saint of lovers, engaged couples and happy marriages, he is also responsible for watching over epileptics, beekeepers, fainting, travellers and the plague.

It is thought that the poet Geoffrey Chaucer popularised the idea of St Valentine’s Day being linked to romance in his poem ‘Parliament of Foules’ in the latter half of the 14thC, when he wrote of it as the day birds and humans try to find a mate.

So, what does all this talk of romance have to do with us crime writers? Well, when I originally started to write the Charlie Fox series, I thought I was telling Charlie’s story, and hers alone. As the series has progressed, however, I’ve found that readers are as intrigued by the relationship between Charlie and Sean Meyer as they are about the crime or thriller elements of the plot.

Relationships are generally filled with conflicts. Conflict is what makes characters discover much about themselves and it’s one of the things we as authors ask at the beginning stage of any story: What does this character want and what is preventing them from achieving their aim?

What about you? Where do you stand on the importance of relationships and romance in a straight crime thriller, or should that be the purview of the specialist romantic suspense genre?

And how will you be spending Valentine’s Day?

This week’s Word of the Week is chimerical, meaning fantastical, improbable or visionary, someone who is given to fantastic schemes, from chimera, from Greek mythology, a fire-breathing female monster with a lion’s head, a goat’s body and a serpent’s tail, a thing which is hoped for but which is impossible to achieve. 


  1. All that's fine and dandy, but what I really want to know is what day of the year do ex-lawyers speak nicely their adoring fans? I want to make sure I don't sleep through it...

  2. My guess would be February 29th, except in leap years.

    1. You're a cruel man, Michael ...
      ... I like that about you.

  3. Zoe, I was once in Tokyo on business on Valentine's Day. The women in my client's office were positively giddy with their plans. And they had an array of cards with Japanese writing and senseless sayings in English. The only one that I remember at all is most sensible one: I want you blue like the heaven. I am you fine. Be mine Valentine is today. It had a picture of the New York skyline.

    1. I love the Japanese translations, but on the other hand, they must laugh themselves silly at the nonsensical kanji tattoos people have ...

  4. My Valentine's day will be spent writing!

  5. I spent my Valentine's Day fully focused on making Barbara happy. I felt I owed it to her one day a year as she spends everyday doing that for me (SUCK UP ALERT). I was so distracted that I forgot to send you and EVKA flowers, but not so distracted as to bite at your subtle effort to get me to relate tales of my one-time relationship with a chimera. Happy Valentine's Day, my love!