By Evan See
While traditionally rooted in England since the 14th century, Valentine’s Day has evolved into an internationally celebrated custom, with Singaporeans being among the largest spenders on Valentine’s gifts. However, you may be interested to know that apart from Valentine’s Day, there are several other customs and celebrations that people around the world take part in to express their undying love for another. Some of them are rather…strange…to say the least.
1. Bali’s Kissing Festival
On the first day of the Balinese New Year, in the village of Banjar Kaja Sesetan in Denpasar, young people gather in the streets as part of the Omed-omedan festival. The festival allows people to express joy on the first day of the new year, and most prominently features unmarried youths engaging in a “mass kissing” ritual, which is believed to bring good luck to the village.
Males and females gather on opposite sides of a street, and at the signal of a Hindu leader, approach and kiss each other while others pour buckets of water over them. Unsurprisingly, many couples in the village meet through the ritual and eventually end up marrying.
2. Dyngus Day
“Śmigus-dyngus” is a celebration held on Easter Monday in Poland, Ukraine, and across the Polish diaspora, especially in the United States, where it is known as “Dyngus Day”. After six solemn weeks of Lent, young Polish boys would traditionally celebrate the festival the following day by chasing after girls they liked and throwing water at them, while playfully hitting them with pussy willow branches. It was common to see boys running around with squirt guns, buckets or water balloons, sometimes even sneaking into girls’ homes early in the morning and drenching them as they slept. Talk about a romantic surprise!
However, in many Polish-American communities, the festival has evolved to feature both boys and girls dousing each other, with girls usually doing so on the following day, Easter Tuesday. In modern Poland, it’s now common to see people of all ages soaking each other by whatever means possible, with even fire trucks taking part in the festivities.
3. White and Black Day
Japan and South Korea celebrate Valentine’s Day on 14th February, where women typically buy men Valentine’s gifts, often chocolates. One month later, on 14th March, men return the favour by giving women white-coloured gifts like white chocolates or candy, in a celebration known as “White Day”.
In South Korea, it gets even better the following month. On April 14th, “Black Day” is celebrated by all the singles who didn’t receive any gifts during the previous two months. Men and women alike express solidarity for each others’ single-ness by dressing in black and eating jajangmyeon, or noodles with black sauce, while complaining about the lack of a partner, and chocolate, in their lives.
4. Wife-Carrying Contests in Finland
What better way for a husband to display his strength and masculinity to his wife by carrying her on his back through a 253.5-metre long obstacle course? The Wife Carrying World Championships are held annually in Sonkajärvi, Finland, but other forms of the contest can be found around the world in Australia, the USA, Hong Kong and Estonia. Carriers have to carry a “wife” through a course filled with several obstacles, including fences, sand and pools of water.
The sport seems to have originated from tales of ancient “wife-stealing” in Scandinavia, where young men would sneak into other mens’ homes and kidnap their wives away on their backs. While it is common for men to compete with their partners, the official rules state that the “wife” carried “may be your own, or the neighbour’s, or you may have found her further afield.”
So if you’re worrying about how to steal a girl’s heart this V-Day, simply sign yourselves up for the Wife Carrying Championships this year, where the prize, as always, is her weight in beer.
5. Blackening in Scotland
This peculiar practice in rural Scotland definitely takes the cake for the strangest, yet also strangely romantic custom. A few days before a couple gets married, the friends and families of the bride and groom “kidnap” them, tie them up, then proceed to cover them with eggs, dead fish, soot, feathers, treacle, or anything that is messy, uncomfortable and most importantly, sticky. The pair are commonly paraded around town in an open-backed truck, followed by a procession of their tormentors banging pots and pans together and making as much noise as possible.
The exact origins of the custom are difficult to pinpoint, but it is commonly believed to signify to the couple that marriage is not meant to be easy, and that if a couple’s love can withstand the trials of blackening, their marriage is set to last.
I’ll leave it up to you to decide if you’d like to incorporate it into your prenuptials or not.