by Mari-An Santos
Valentine’s day is a big, commercial holiday in the Philippines. It is the day that causes traffic jams all over the metro. Sweets, flowers, hearts and pink and red abound in true commercialized style. It is an “imported” holiday, mostly propagated by the West. Here in Romania, it is slowly inching its way into the consciousness of locals, but there is a movement, if you will, that would rather propagate the celebration of Dragobete, a similar holiday held on the 24th of February (more on that later).
I learned from a few Erasmus friends that in Belgium, for example, majority of Belgians perceive Valentine’s Day as a commercial and marketing ploy; and that not all couples celebrate it. Those who do often go out to a restaurant and exchange gifts. Men often give women jewelry and red roses. It is also celebrated in Slovakia, where my friend reassures, the men are educated and you can find interesting conversation, as well as charming and fun—and with a wink, generally like Asian women.
In Pakistan, having a girlfriend or a boyfriend is not so common, so those who are in relationships usually have to covertly buy gifts and hide them from family members before giving them to their love interest. In the university, a single guy will hold out a rose to a girl that he likes.
A few days before the holiday, since some Erasmus students were already finished with their exams and were looking for something to do, our Facebook group page was abuzz with ideas on how to celebrate the occasion—mostly just an excuse to hold a party, but this time, with a specific theme. Ideas from the usual food and drinks to couples paired up to dance were thrown around. The international relations department got wind of the plans and before we knew it, we had a venue at the university canteen and the rector and vice-rector were set to attend the occasion! So from an informal gathering to hang out, we had to get at least a little dressed up, though thankfully, not necessarily in red and pink.
Each student pitched in some money for a few decorations and snacks. More than 50 of us were in attendance, with some Romanian students who were our friends as guests. We had a “paper roses” presentation, where each girl had a number and each guy picked a number from a bowl—and whoever picked the girl’s number would give her a paper rose. The guys thought of different styles, from getting down on one knee, to delivering a romantic soliloquy to one even playing the “My Heart Will Go On” on his harmonica.
There was also the apple-eating game where four couples raced to finish off an apple suspended on a string. Another, was a simplified dating game, where one girl chose from three guys and won…a rose and presented the guy a bar of chocolate. Some of the guys sang for the head of the international department and presented her with flowers. Then, we enjoyed some cakes from the international department and spent a few minutes dancing before heading back to the dormitory. The event seemed interesting enough that it was even featured in a local paper and website.
But the more interesting holiday is the local Valentine’s day that also celebrates the beginning of spring—even in these times of climate change. Dating back to the Dacian era (1st century-1st century CE), the practice is being heavily promoted, encouraging couples to resist the foreign, imported holiday in favor of the local one. Traditionally, in the countryside, girls and boys pick flowers and dance and sing together. Also, it is the time when a boy can express his love for a girl. A boy will run after a girl and if he catches up with her and kisses her, it is believed that their love will be strong for a year. I asked about the next year, and apparently, they do the process again. 🙂 Women also supposedly gather some remaining snow and use water from them to make potions. I have yet to find out a recipe. When I do, I’ll let you know. 😉
Meantime, I am told that more interesting celebrations are coming in the next few weeks, like Martisoare on 1 March and Women’s Day on 8 March. I will surely update you on those events.
Mari-An Santos is pursuing her Masters in Advertising and Brand at Universitatea “Lucian Blaga” din Sibiu in Romania under EMMA East.