It is really difficult to confirm the exact time when Western Valentine’s Day was introduced into China.
However, Western Valentine’s Day is widely celebrated in urban areas, where there are a lot of commercial events, especially in big cities like Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, and Guangzhou. Valentine’s Day is not so popular in small cities, towns and the countryside.
How Chinese People Celebrate Valentine’s Day in China?
Chinese people have adopted Western Valentine’s Day traditions, such as exchanging gifts (like flowers, chocolates, ties and watches), going on a special date, having a romantic dinner, or watching a movie in the evening. Maybe even to arrange a marriage registration if Valentine’s Day falls on a work day!
Hence, supermarkets will be selling more chocolate and, compared with ordinary days, cinemas will be much busier and the price of flowers (especially roses) and restaurants and hotels (especially romantic ones) could be much higher. Many restaurants will have special set menus, notably those in Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai. If you want to have a smooth celebration on Valentine’s Day, remember to make reservations as far in advance as you can.
Chinese people have also made some changes to the Western way of celebrating Valentine’s Day. For some senior couples, the husband might prepare a rich dinner or buy an elegant dress for his wife.
What Gifts Should You Give Your Love in China?
Most of the gifts for Valentine’s Day are the same as in Western countries.
Gifts from gentlemen: flowers (traditionally red roses), chocolate, jewelry, a dress, a fashionable bag, underwear (not suitable for those who have just started dating), a comb, a necklace, etc.
Gifts from ladies: a watch, a tie, a shirt, a shaver, a wallet, a lighter, etc.
As a gentleman, if you choose a bouquet of yellow roses as the gift to your girl, you might have some explaining to do, because presenting yellow roses to someone you love is generally regarded as a declaration of breaking up.
No umbrella or shoes for Valentine’s Day gifts!
These items would be fine for married couples but if you are just going out or are engaged, you might need to pay some attention to the perceived meanings below. It could help you avoid bad omens. Or you may choose to pay no attention to them all, as many young people in China now ignore these beliefs.
An umbrella should not be a gift for your love. This is because the Chinese for “umbrella” is 伞 (san), which sounds the same as 散 (‘breaking up’).
Shoes should not be a gift for your love either. This is because presenting shoes implies “packing off your love”. However, if you have your love refund 1 yuan, the curse will be broken.
Chinese Valentine’s Day
There are two festivals that have had a similar function to Western Valentine’s Day: Lantern Festival and Double Seven Festival. Lantern Festival was more like a Chinese Valentine’s Day in ancient times, while Double Seven Festival was only for ladies in ancient times, but now is recognized as the Chinese Valentine’s Day.
Why Lantern Festival Functioned as Valentine’s Day in Ancient China:
Ladies (especially unmarried girls from respectable or humble families) were forbidden to go out in ancient China. Only during Lantern Festival could they go out to appreciate the colorful lantern exhibitions, and possibly for a date. So, Lantern Festival was like a Chinese Valentine’s Day in ancient China.
Nowadays, people still go out for a date on the evening of Lantern Festival (including appreciating lantern exhibitions and fireworks shows together, and attending other celebration activities).
Double Seven Festival (aka Qixi Festival) is recognized as Chinese Valentine’s Day for its romantic legend about two stars: Altair and Vega. Altair is said to be Niu Lang (a poor but industrious cowboy), Vega is said to be Zhi Nü (the seventh daughter of the lord of heaven), and a romantic love story is told of the two.