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Sweethearts the world over: Valentine's Day in Morris County's global community

Michele Kriegman
Sources:
1992, 'Sweethearts the world over: Valentine's Day in Morris County's global community', Daily Record, 2/14: endpage.

Valentine’s Day is…

…a dozen red roses.

…a box of chocolates.

…a romantic card and dinner for two.

…nursery school students exchanging Snoopy and Ninja Turtle Valentines.

…hinting for days so your beloved husband remembers to get you something for Valentine’s Day.

…rushing to buy carnations on the way home from work so your beloved wife doesn’t know that you forgot.

 

This is what Valentine’s Day means to most of us. We also know it has something to do with St. Valentine, but few ofus know that the holiday existed long before he ever drew a breath. It was originally celebrated on Feb. 15 in ancient Rome as Lupercalus, a fertility rite, according to Funk & Wagnall’s Dictionary.

Which makes you wonder just how the Romans celebrate Valentine’s Day now.

Sorry, no orgies or dancing girls.

The Italians, said Graziella Bivona, public relations officer for New Jersey’s Italian language newspaper, America Oggi, celebrate it quietly.

Throughout Europe it’s a romantic holiday that doesn’t get the attention and commercialization it does here.

“And in Germany secrecy is much more important,” when sending someone flowers or a Valentine card, said German-born Liana Kranhold of BASF in Parsippany.

Ukrainians and Portuguese do not even celebrate it. Olha Kuzmowycz, a staffer at this region’s Svoboda Ukrainian Daily, said it was “one of the nice surprises about American life” when she came here in 1951 from the Soviet Union.

Antonio Pereira, a Portuguese immigrant who came here in 1963 to be part of the 60s counterculture and is now a writer for North Jersey’s Portuguese Post, said Valentine’s Day just started being celebrated in Portugal two or three years ago, in imitation of America.

The contrast between Europeans and Americans celebrate Valentine’s Day can best be seen in two stores on DeHart Street in Morristown. The French-style chocolatier, Enjou Chocolat, enjoys its best sales on Valentine’s Day, said American owner Wendy Jacobs. Yet right next door, the French couple who run La Bakerie have no memories of ever giving or receiving chocolates (or cards, or flowers) on Valentine’s Day in their native France.

Nicole Gilbert, a French teacher at the Assumption School in Morristown, said the holiday is celebrated much more frugally in France and children do not participate, nor are there specialized cards for nieces, grandparents or sisters as you find on the shelves here. “It’s a holiday only for people who are in love or would like to be.”

Well, that is what has become of this Roman fertility rite in its former domains.

On the other side of the glove (or in this case, on the other side of the Morristown Green), Asians observe Valentine’s Day differently from both Europeans and Americans.

The leader of the Korean congregation of the United Methodist Church on South Park Place, the Rev. Kwon, said that while Koreans don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day in February, they do celebrate a similar holiday in the summer that commemorates the legend of a boy and girl who crossed the Milky Way to be together.

Danny Quijano, the minister of the Philippine Christian Center on Speedwell Avenue, said because he grew up near America’s Clark Air Force base in the Philippines, he took part in every U.S. holiday, including Valentine’s. Filipinos living further from the soldiers’ influence did not.

The Japanese deserve Cupid’s Grand Prize. They may not have invented either the videocassette recorder or Valentine’s Day, but they certainly know how to market them. Not only do they celebrate Valentine’s Day, the candy companies in Japan make sure they celebrate it twice.

Here’s how they do it.

On Feb. 14, women are supposed to give men chocolate. Little girls buy chocolate for their little boy classmates, teachers and coaches. Secretaries buy it for their bosses. Girlfriends buy chocolate for their boyfriends, but the guys don’t have to give any chocolate on Valentine’s Day.

Wait until March 14. Japan’s candy industry has turned that into White Day, the day Japanese men have to get white chocolate for all the women who gave them candy a month before on Valentine’s Day.

What’s even more amazing is the Japanese florists and greeting card companies haven’t caught on; most Japanese consumers still don’t know about the custom of exchanging Valentine cards and flowers.

For their sake, I hope they never find out.

For our sake, may we never get to commercial that Valentine’s Day becomes like the European holiday only for people who are in love.

After all, my daughter likes getting Ninja Turtle Valentines, even from “yucky” boys.

Michele Kriegman is a freelance television producer living in Morristown.

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