Valentines Day in the Philippines

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So another February has rolled around and with it comes another special Valentines day. Having lived in the Philippines for the last 18 years I have become all too familiar with their somewhat unique brand of Valentines celebrations, however, this was not always the case. On my first visit to the Philippines in 1991 I was quite literally amazed by the extensive celebrations Valentines Day elicited. Many Valentines Days have come and gone since then and over the years I have come to realize that Filipino culture is very different from the one I grew up in and a major part of that difference is the cultural significance of events such as Valentines day.
To understand what are the popularity of Valentines in the Philippines and why it is such an significant day in Filipino culture it is necessary to briefly examine the history of Valentines day.

The roots of Valentines day can be traced back to Ancient roman days where February 14 was a holiday to honor Juno. Juno was the Queen of the Roman Gods and Goddesses. The Romans also knew her as the Goddess of women and marriage. The following day, February 15th, began the Feast of Lupercalia. At that time young boys and girls would grow up separately however on the eve of Lupercalia the girls would have their names placed in a giant urn and each young man would draw a girl’s name from the jar and the young couple would then be partners throughout the festival. Sometimes the pairing of the children lasted an entire year, and often, they would fall in love and later marry.

Modern day St Valentines day can be traced back to the time of Claudius II or Claudius the cruel. The most generally accepted theory is that Claudius cancelled all marriages and engagements in Rome in an effort to force men to join the Roman army. According to legend at this time Valentine was a Christian priest who defied Claudius and secretly married Christian couples. Valentine was eventually caught and was sentenced to a lengthy jail term culminating in being beaten to death by clubbing and beheading.

Yet another theory suggests that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons where they were often beaten and tortured.

Legend further has it that during his jail term many people would come to visit the popular priest and one of these was his jailers daughter who it is commonly believed Valentine fell in love with and left a farewell note for signing it, “from your Valentine”.

Valentine was killed February 14, 269 A.D. and then in 496 A.D. Pope Gelasius named him a martyr and a Saint setting aside February 14 to honor him. As time marched on many cultures adopted February 14 as the official Valentines day and Saint Valentine became the patron Saint of lovers. The date was marked by sending poems, love messages and simple gifts such as flowers or candy.

In modern day western societies, Valentine’s Day began to be popularly celebrated around the seventeenth century. By the middle of the eighteenth century, it was common for friends and lovers in all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes. By the end of the century, printed cards began to replace written letters due to improvements in printing technology. Ready-made cards were an easy way for people to express their emotions in a time when direct expression of one’s feelings was discouraged. Cheaper postage rates also contributed to an increase in the popularity of sending Valentine’s Day greetings and in the 1840’s, Esther A. Howland began to sell the first mass-produced valentines cards in America.

The standard Valentine Day card depicting red rose’s which symbolize true love.

The Valentines day legend is an intoxicating mix of historical mystery, religious connotations and the most powerful of all human emotions, love. Given these factors it is only natural that this day should be so popular in Philippine culture.

The Filipinas are renowned worldwide for their capacity to love and care for their men folk and they have a reputation as incurable romantics who are very much in touch with their emotions. Given this, is it any wonder that in a country where women supposedly outnumber men 3 to 1, Valentines day is so popular.

Filipinas are also recognized as being demonstrative and indeed the Philippine culture recognizes public displays of emotion as being totally normal as well as recognizing the importance of emotion as an influential factor in determining behavior. Given the Filipino acceptance of displaying emotions, Valentines day with its various products depicting love, and simple demonstrative acts such as holding hands and kissing, is virtually guaranteed to be a significant day in Philippine culture.

The predominant religion which is infused into nearly all aspects of Filipino life is Roman Catholicism. Religion is a key factor and a corner stone of Filipino culture and a major influence on peoples beliefs and behavior, as such, Valentines day with its religious overtones, was by definition, always going to be an important day on the Filipino calendar.

As is clearly demonstrated by their movies and by incidents that occur every day Filipinos have a natural flair for the dramatic. The most popular movies in this country will always have a certain percentage of drama and this drama nearly always takes the form of an emotional outburst. Valentines day primarily deals with love the most powerful emotion of all and as such it will always have a sort of dramatic element to it, very attractive to Filipinos.

Valentines day combines emotional mythology and religious mythology two very influential factors in Philippine culture.
What’s more this combination of religion and love is
expressed publically and in a slightly dramatic way thus
guaranteeing Valentines day a place of preeminence in
modern Philippine society

Last but certainly by no means least there is the commercial factor. Although Valentines day has its roots in Ancient Roman tradition Valentines Day has been appropriated by commercialism and today’s version is among other things, very much a commercial enterprise representing a chance to make money. Every year there are vast amounts of symbolic Valentines day products produced in many countries throughout the world and the Philippines is no exception. Here in the Philippines the whole gamut of Valentines day regalia is represented there are plastic hearts on a stick, heart shaped cushions and red Valentines day balloons with special love messages, through to valentines candy, valentines cake, roses, valentines greeting cards and of course Valentines jewelry.

Heart shaped candies and chocolate the classic Valentines day gift.

All of these products are important both in their symbolic value and also in their commercial value and to be honest Valentines day is traditionally a huge day for retailers across the Philippines directly bolstering the national economy. With the inundation of Valentines day related products, especially here in the Philippines, one could be forgiven for thinking Valentines day is purely an exercise in crass commercialism however if one considers the history and its true meaning together with how it relates to the Philippine culture, Valentines day, takes on a much more profound perspective, which goes way beyond commercialism and the power of the piso.

In short the St. Valentine’s Day story combines elements of religious myth, an emphasis on love and the chance to display ones love both mentally and physically and sometimes even dramatically. Given all these factors which are key to Filipino culture, Valentines day will always be a significant celebration in this country.
Ok, now we have established the importance of Valentines day on a cultural level the question must be asked, what does this day mean to the average Filipino.
During Valentines Filipino couples indulge in a number of quaint and simplistic practices designed to mark the spirit of the day and demonstrate their affection for each other. For example, during Valentines day, you will see many couples walking in the park and sneaking a lingering kiss or taking part in a group kissing competition. In Angeles every Valentines day they have a group kissing competition in Astro Park and in Manila they have a giant kissing competition where they strive to break the world record for the longest kiss.

As in other cultures during Valentines day Filipino lovers will exchange simple gifts designed to demonstrate their affection for each other. Mostly these gifts will be something symbolic and inexpensive like a box of candies or a bunch of flowers or a simple Valentines day card. Most Filipinos are hampered by financial restrictions and it is these restrictions that have to some extent made the Filipinos creative and inventive when it comes to giving gifts on Valentines day. Many Filipinos design their own jewelry utilizing whatever materials are at hand or purchase a Sampaguita flower or a cheap paper heart which they then decorate with romantic symbols and a special Valentines Day message. For those who have a bit more money at their disposal they will celebrate Valentines Day more lavishly. For example you will see them going out to an expensive restaurant or attending a special Valentines Day concert performed by Filipino celebrities.

The single rose which in many cultures symbolizes love but with the Filipinos 3 is the love number. This means a symbol for each word in the sentence, “I love you”.

Basically I think Valentines day relates on two levels in Filipino society. On one level it represents the mythology, religious connotations and a celebration of love, on another level it represents a chance for Filipinos to express their emotions in a fun and creative way and of course a massive bolstering of the Philippine economy. From a simple kiss in the park and the giving of inexpensive gifts through to lavish dinners at expensive restaurants and mammoth kissing competitions Valentines day in the Philippines is something truly special and an event enjoyed by all.

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