Valentine’s Day, celebrated on February 14 each year, started out as a Christian feast day honoring one, or even two, early Christian martyrs by the name of St. Valentine. One was Valentine of Rome, a priest who was martyred in 269; and the other, Valentine of Terni, a bishop who was martyred in 273. In 496, Pope Gelasius established Valentine’s Day in honor of Valentine of Rome — who, as legend has it, restored eyesight to his jailer’s daughter and sent her a letter signed “Your Valentine” before he was executed. He apparently also secretly married Roman soldiers.
The association with romance and love, chocolates, cards, and red roses came much later. It started in the 14th and 15th centuries in England, apparently from folklore associated with the love birds of spring. There are many more legends and tales connected to St. Valentine’s Day and its association with love and romance, including Ancient Rome and the celebration of Lupercalia from February 13–15, promoting health and fertility.
Another early association with love is the Charter of the Court of Love, established by King Charles VI of France in 1400. Here, the ladies of the court were called up to decide on disputes of love.
The custom of sending Valentine’s cards originated in the UK, and in 1797, a book titled The Young Man’s Valentine Writer was even published, with sentimental verses for those who didn’t have much imagination or the gift of poetry themselves. Valentine’s cards were very popular, and they were even embellished with lace and romantic drawings or accompanied with gifts of bunches of red roses.
In 1868, the British chocolate company, Cadbury, devised so-called “Fancy Boxes,” chocolate-filled boxes in the shape of a heart.
Valentine’s Day and the associated cards, gifts, and flowers are a major source of economic activity in many countries of the world, but not in all. Here is an overview of the countries where the celebration of Valentine’s Day is forbidden, and why. The reasons reach from religious to moral to culture clash.
1. Saudi Arabia
The kingdom of Saudi Arabia is located in Southwest Asia and spans the majority of the Arabian Peninsula. It is a Muslim country. Mecca, the holiest city of Islam, is located in the Sirat Mountains of west Saudi Arabia. The capital is Riyadh.
Foreign Christian workers, essential to Saudi Arabia’s blooming economy, are allowed into the country, but not to practice their religion. Any celebration of Valentine’s Day or sale of items related to the festivity, like red roses, are forbidden. Officials of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, better known as the religious police, virtually prowl the streets on Valentine’s Day, going from shop to shop and confiscating anything they deem to relate to Valentine’s Day, arresting and punishing everybody who infringes on the law. That applies to locals and foreigners.
Uzbekistan is a large, landlocked country in Central Asia that gained its independence in 1991 with the fall of the former Soviet Union. The capital is Tashkent. It’s well known for its many museums — among them the state museum of the Timurids — mosques, and the lively Chorsu Bazar. Other highlights of Uzbekistan are the cities of Samarkand and Bukhara and the Aral Sea.
Uzbekistan is a secular country, but the dominant religion is Islam. Known for its diverse culture and long history, especially its connection to the Silk Road, Uzbekistan has for many years been tolerant of the celebration of Valentine’s Day. This, however, has changed since 2012. The government takes a dim view on the influence of foreign culture and entertainment, and the Ministry of Education’s Department of Enlightenment and the Promotion of Values issued an internal decree forbidding the celebration of holidays that are “alien to our culture.”
Instead, they promote the celebration and recitals of their national hero, Babur, a Mughal Emperor and descendent of Genghis Khan whose birthday falls on February 14. The population’s opinion on this subject is divided. Valentine’s Day celebrations are not illegal, but they are definitely discouraged in favor of commemorating Babur.
The Islamic Republic of Iran, as it is officially called, is a vast country in the Middle East, bordered by the Caspian Sea and the Gulf of Persia as well as several countries like Turkey, Pakistan, and Iraq, among others. Iran also features lush plains and the huge Kavir Desert in the east. The capital is Teheran. The climate is as varied as the landscape.
As the official name indicates, Iran is an Islamic country, ruled by clerics.
In 2011, the government banned the production of all goods and gifts related to Valentine’s Day and any promotion of a day that celebrates romantic love, as it sees it as a spread of Western culture. Unmarried couples are forbidden to mingle with each other.
Instead, it has been suggested to replace Valentine’s Day with an ancient festival called Mehrgan that existed in Iran before the introduction of Islam. Mehr can mean friendship, love, or affection.
Indonesia is located between the Indian and the Pacific Ocean, and it’s the world’s largest island country. It is comprised of 17,508 islands, many of them uninhabited. The capital is Jakarta, and the best-known islands are Java, Sumatra, Bali, and Borneo. The population is predominantly Muslim, but it is a secular country.
The relationship of Indonesia with Valentine’s Day is ambiguous. There is no law outright forbidding the celebration of the day, but in some pockets of the country, small-scale bans and intimidation tactics are employed, like in Surabaya, Makassar, and an outright ban in Bando Aceh. This controversy stems from a ruling of the highest Islamic Council in 2012, where it was declared that Valentine’s Day was contradictory to Muslim culture and teaching.
Despite all this, Valentine’s Day remains popular with the younger population and is celebrated openly in Jakarta.
Malaysia is a federal, constitutional monarchy in Southeast Asia, divided by the South China Sea into two regions. The constitution grants freedom of religion, but it is a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural country, the population of which is approximately 60 percent Muslim. The capital is Kuala Lumpur.
Since 2005, the celebration of Valentine’s Day has been banned. The Malaysian Islamic Development Department blames the holiday for everything from abortion to alcohol and takes the stance that it is a link of negative ills that can invite disaster and moral decay among youth. There is even an annual anti-Valentine’s Day campaign to reinforce the view. Anybody going out and celebrating does so at their own risk, including arrests.
Officially named “The Islamic Republic of Pakistan,” it is a country in South Asia, with a long coastline along the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Oman, and the bordering countries of China, India, Iran, and Afghanistan. It is divided into three major geographical zones: the northern highlands, the Indus River Plain, and the Balochistan Plateau. The northern highland is the site of some of the world’s highest mountain peaks, like K2 and Nanga Parbat. The capital is Islamabad.
Pakistan has the world’s second largest Muslim population, which, like in other countries we have told you about here, influences the attitude towards Valentine’s Day, especially during recent years.
As the popularity of Valentine’s Day grew, mostly among the younger population, ultra-religious parties started anti-Valentine’s rallies and, finally, a private citizen by the name of Abdul Waheed filed a petition to the High Court in Islamabad to ban the day on the grounds that it is a Western cultural import that went against the teachings of Islam. In 2017, the court granted the petition and banned not only any celebrations of Valentine’s Day, but also any media coverage or mention.
Not everybody in Pakistan agrees with the decision, like flower sellers who did good business on Valentine’s Day as well as university students.
Make sure to check out our recent Valentine’s Day coverage: