The origins of St Valentine’s Day: Valentine’s Day is celebrated with cards, flowers, and chocolates but has its roots in a 3rd-century priest in Rome who performed secret marriages between young people. Martyred by the Roman emperor Claudius II in 270 A.D., St. Valentine is honored by Christian churches every year. However, across the world and more recently in Turkey, young people have developed a fashion for surprise proposals on this day.
Since this celebration originates from Christian traditions, it may not seem appropriate to more traditional Turks. In the Ottoman period, love was kept behind closed doors. Sadabad, is a valley that used to be the most popular resort in Ottoman Istanbul. Young lovers would often meet there to escape the eyes of their parents and society.
Valentine’s Day in Turkey, or ‘Lovers Day’ (Sevgililer Günü) as it is known, is not a day traditionally celebrated. The concept has only really taken hold over the last twenty – twenty-five years. It is not a Turkish tradition and is something that the elder generations may well find amusing and bewildering at the same time. Western society has introduced this day into the Turkish calendar, along with everything the day itself conjures up. That said, Turkey oozes of romance and love every day and not just Valentine’s Day. Turkey is a destination that can make millions fall in love – either with the country itself or with its fellow humans. Turkey blankets hidden jewels that reeks of romance immensely.
If you ask a modern Turk, they will tell you that every day is Valentine’s Day, with the right person. I remember sending a Valentine’s card from the UK to my Turkish boyfriend eight years ago.. …obviously I was not aware at the time that the postal system here runs at a snail’s pace – it arrived in April! He promptly telephoned me to ask what I had sent him (I was on a ban of three months for overstaying my visa).. …the joys of young love! Once I had explained it to him and we had been reunited, he would often surprise me with roses picked from neighbouring gardens. Proof that there doesn’t have to be one day dedicated to ‘love’.
Fast-forward and each year the day seems to welcome more attention from both businesses eager to cash-in on romance, and the general public here in Turkey – The number of flowers produced in a month are sold on [a single day on] February 14th!
Walk through the malls or high streets in Istanbul, Bodrum, Antalya or the coastal resorts and you are sure to see all the Valentine paraphernalia – the red fluffy toys, bunches of roses, fancy chocolate boxes and heart shaped cookies. Popular restaurants dress up tables with petals, candles, hearts and balloons offering special menus for the special occasion. Couples exchange gifts or organise a night out or a romantic evening in, and supermarkets run special offers on cosmetics, perfumes and toiletries.
Last year in Kuşadası (for example), there was a parade through the town with the local brass-band playing. The side streets were adorned with red balloons. We had someone dressed up in a heart costume and there really was ‘love in the air’!
This year will be a vastly different affair. The world has fallen silent and with it our brass-band. Valentine’s Day this year also happens to fall on a Sunday, we are currently on weekend curfews, so there will not be any public displays of affection or romance unless our current restrictions are lifted.
However, this last year has taught us some valuable lessons; we do not need to be reminded to show our love to our partners, husbands or wives, if they can stand by our side through the worst year of our lives, they are not going anywhere! We do not need hearts and flowers (I am not saying that they are not welcome), all you need is each other and maybe a romantic meal ordered in or cooked together.
Maybe next year, if we dare to dream, the band will strike up once more, flowers will be cascading like a waterfall from the many florists across Turkey and the restaurants will be fully booked, not just to mark Valentine’s Day though, but to show the strength of your love for each other at getting through these surreal times.
Turkey, as a passionate nation, has just embraced a wonderful, romantic tradition celebrated across the globe in varying forms and is slowly awakening to the joys that this day brings to their loved ones. Hopefully, next year we will be able to prove this.
An interesting fact that I stumbled upon whilst researching for this article; In the Ottoman period, in everyday life, since it wasn’t appropriate for women to talk in public, they would express themselves through their lace handkerchiefs – a line of yellow flowers stood for sadness or hopeless love; white jasmines suggested that the woman was married; hyacinths was to notify all that the woman was engaged to be married ; wild roses meant that the woman’s man was far away; peppers meant that she was on bad terms with her husband and pink flowers meant that the woman was pregnant.