Alternative Valentine’s Days
Valentine’s Day is a moment we should all pause our busy lives to celebrate love and the important people in our lives with whom we share special moments – not only lovers but also friends or family.
Obviously a popular holiday on the American continent, followed by Western Europe and in the last years Eastern Europe, the world’s interest towards the popular celebration of love has been rising.
Although Valentine’s Day is internationally celebrated on 14th February, some cultures have their own version of it around the year.
1. Dragobete – Romania
Romanians celebrate Dragobete on the 24th of February, a day that not only celebrates love but also the fact that spring is getting close. In old times it was an occasion for the young girls and boys to get together and play different games, dance and confess their love for each other.
2. Dia dos Namorados – Brazil
Brazilians celebrate Dia dos Namorados on 12th June, which is the day before Saint Anthony’s day (the marriage saint). One of the reasons Brazilians choose to celebrate love on this day is that traditional Valentine’s Day on February 14th would coincide with the Carnival celebration, which takes place in February and some of March. Dia dos Namorados is a day when people exchange little gifts, like sweets and flowers and lovers enjoy a romantic dinner or night out.
3. Qi xi – China
The Chinese version of Valentine’s Day is celebrated on the seventh night of the seventh month (also called Double Seven festival) of the Chinese lunar calendar – that is sometime in August. Qi xi (pronounced chee – she) is nowadays celebrated similarly to other cultures by offering flowers and chocolates to the loved ones as well as couples spending a romantic day together.
4. Valentine’s Day and White Day – Japan
Japanese culture celebrates love on the same day as Valentine’s Day but instead of men offering gifts to women, it’s the other way around. Then one month later, on 14th March on White Day, it’s the men’s turn to reciprocate the gifts. The difference is that Valentine’s Day chocolates are a symbol of a man’s popularity, but the ones on White Day are only for couples or romantically involved people. Black Day (on April 14th) however is a day when the singles, or the people that haven’t received any gifts on any of the holidays, gather to “commiserate”, often wearing black, eating black coloured food and complaining about their love life.
No matter how you choose to celebrate Valentine’s Day – or maybe you don’t celebrate at all – we believe love is a great feeling that we should hold onto every day and show our loved ones how much they mean to us.
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The Year of the Monkey
Happy Chinese New Year!
Today is the first day of the Chinese Lunar New Year. The period before Chinese New Year is one of the biggest annual migrations of people, all going home to their families to celebrate together. This is for the New Years Eve dinner, also known as the reunion dinner, normally done at home rather than in a restaurant. A variety of dishes are served at the reunion dinner, these usually include fish and dumplings, which signify prosperity. It also includes lettuce, shallots, celery, duck and Chicken – each of these represent a different attribute.
The Chinese Zodiac has a different animal representing a year on a 12-year cycle. Meaning that the year of the Monkey hasn’t happened since 2004 and won’t happen again until 2028. The monkey is the 9th animal in the Zodiac and each animal is said to have different attributes. If you were born in the year of the Monkey, you’re thought to be sociable and innovative. Every zodiac sign has lucky numbers, colours, flowers and even directions. Next year the year of the Rooster will be celebrated.
Chinese New Year is celebrated with the colour red, which is seen as a sign of good fortune. Red envelopes/packets with money in, called Ang Pow are given on Chinese New Years and are a sign of future success. It is also seen as favourable to give an even amount of money rather than an odd amount. These are very different to Pak Kum, which are white envelopes given at sad occasions like funerals.
There are many taboos, which surround the New Year, these are things that shouldn’t be done on the first day of the year.
- Washing your hair – this shouldn’t be done, as it’s a sign of washing away good fortune.
- Taking medicine – if you take medicine on the first day this means you will be sick for the whole year.
- Wearing black or white – these are mourning colours.
Do you have or know of any Chinese New Year traditions? Let us know!
Fancy a cuppa? Got time for a brew?
Travel around the UK a bit and you’ll find that tea is not just known as ‘tea’: so ubiquitous is it that there are plenty of regional and affectionate names for our favourite drink. A cuppa, a brew, a cup of char, a Rosy Lee (Cockney rhyming slang), a builder’s will all get you the same thing: a nice cup of steaming hot, milky tea. Lovely!
Tea is so important to us that it’s even filtered into our everyday language and is integral to some of our common idioms. Here are a few examples:
Not for all the tea in China!
You want me to do what?? Not for all the tea in China! Essentially meaning that you wouldn’t do something, no matter how good the reward.
It’s not my cup of tea.
Are you enjoying this programme? Not really- it’s not my cup of tea. Very simply, if something’s not your cup of tea, you don’t like it.
As useful as a chocolate teapot.
Fairly self-explanatory: not useful in the slightest.
Tea and sympathy
If someone’s upset, you might give them tea and sympathy (a nice strong cup of hot tea offering, of course, immeasurable comfort).
Oy! That tea leaf’s ‘alf-inched me wallet! In Cockney rhyming slang, a tea leaf is a thief! (And, in case you’re wondering, to half inch is to pinch.)
Can you think of anymore tea idioms? Lets us know on Twitter or Facebook.
I’m a Morrisons kind of girl.
And when I look longingly into my box of Yorkshire Tea and see nothing but tealeaf dust, I miss it.
I miss a store layout I recognise. I miss being able to identify what things are without imaginative guess work and Google Translate. But most of all, I miss English products.
When you are far from home and craving custard, and the mere pronunciation of the word ‘vanilla’ fills shop assistants with mirth, you too will experience saudade at the thought of your local supermarket. Because supermarkets abroad sell all manner of things that you would not expect to find. And asking for help when you aren’t exactly sure what you’re asking for is everything from embarrassing to adventurous.
It’s tricky out there.
My fellow Brits abroad: on returning home, don’t be surprised if you feel the sudden urge to run into your nearest supermarket and pull the fishmonger into a tight embrace. Just make sure he doesn’t have a fish filleter in his hand when you do.
Still, never let it be said that there aren’t delightful discoveries to be made Out There. Here is a selection of my own that I haven’t yet decided if I am looking back on with fright or fondness.
China might be a bit of an outlier in the joy of supermarket shopping. The ones I went to were the full several-floor ‘we sell everything you can think of and probably some things you have nightmares about’ flavour, with counters offering up an array of unknowns and unidentifiables.
If you are an avid coffee drinker, it might be wise to take a stash of your own. Those crimes-against-coffee all-in-one sachets of coffee, milk powder and sugar are enough to make any coffee aficionado turn and weep.
Something that truly delighted me in Chinese supermarkets (and yes. I am easily amused) was that you can buy milk in pouches. Rather than the cartons we are used to in the UK, milk here – and expect a wide variety of dairy, soya and rice milk – is often sold in these thick, plastic pouches that have a satisfying squishy feeling when you juggle them in your hands. Not that you should really do that. Unless you want an audience.
Hungary is the land of paprika and sour cream. Paprika comes in different strengths of spiciness and there are either ‘regular’ or ‘sweet’ varieties to choose from. Sour cream (tejfol) has all sorts of uses in both sweet and savoury dishes, and you can buy it in all manner of sizes – from the small cartons arranged like pots of fromage frais, to the litres of the stuff in containers the size of those value packs of magnolia paint at B&Q. (It is also apparently a very effective ‘after sun’, but I’m not sure about that.)
Supermarkets in Hungary are generally smaller than you may be used to at home, but they are pretty well stocked. For some reason, apples are on the pricey side, but the fact that you can buy cherries (both normal and sour, which are delicious) and all manner of berries for a fraction of the price you’d pay at home more than compensates. Another surprising thing is that Spar is an actual supermarket, rather than the emergency-chocolate-fix kind of place that I am used to.
Pig legs. Whole pig legs, right down to hoof, are dangled from ceilings and fanned out on counters in enticing displays. This is not a delicacy, but an everyday food product that you will find in many a Spanish kitchen. Ham is so important to Spaniards you could say it is part of the culture. From jamón serrano to jamón york, and a whole spectrum in between, you will never be short of ham if you need it.
For those of you who like to bake, be prepared to make some product replacement choices. Butter and margarine is available here but since most cook and bake with oil instead, and pour oil on their toast in the morning, you might not find exactly what you were looking for.
Alcohol is incredibly cheap here, and very good quality. Good wine is pretty much a given, and when you can buy nice cava for under two euros, or a can of beer for less than 30 cents, you can wonder at how people aren’t walking around constantly merry all day long.
There is a huge range of disposable products in Spanish supermarkets, including napkins, tissues and kitchen roll. And plates, bowls and cups. They even have the ‘balloon’ glasses in plastic form, just in case you decide on a cheeky gin and tonic on an impromptu picnic.
Our last whistle-stop on the supermarket tour is in the beautiful Finland, with large supermarkets of enough content to satisfy even the most dithering of customers (me). There are more varieties of sausage here than I have ever seen in my life, delicious rye breads, and very good cheese and salami.
One thing that threw me a little was an ‘addition’ to the toilet tissue aisle that I hadn’t anticipated. Since Finland is the land of the sauna, and more importantly, the all-naked sauna, there are disposable sauna ‘tissues seats’ for you to sit on that you can purchase in multipacks, ready for your public sauna experience. If you have your own sauna, and what self-respecting Finn doesn’t, you should of course purchase your own special sauna ‘pad’, which comes in a range of covers, colours and thicknesses. It is a whole new world.
These items might seem like an odd collection of things, and in many ways they are. But on a day when all you want is the home comfort of knowing in which aisle to find a tin of beans, good tea bags, and a bakewell tart, the call of the home supermarket is strong. Especially the bakery aisle. Oh, how I miss the bakery aisle…
How well do you know Chinese New Year?
Happy Chinese New Year! Here’s hoping the Year of the Goat (or possibly Sheep) is a good one.
See how much you know about this important Chinese holiday with our quiz. How many did you get right?