My husband and I will be celebrating our sixth Valentine’s Day together this year, so the traditional gestures of chocolates, flowers, and a card were beginning to feel a little trite and bland. Our love for each other, however, is not, and I wanted my gifts to reflect this.
As a travel and culture enthusiast, I searched abroad for some international inspiration. Though I always thought of the holiday as an invention of Western culture, the roots of Valentine’s Day actually date back for centuries, and it’s celebrated all over the world in countless ways—but my new favorite traditions come from Japan.
Elevate Chocolate to a New Level
In the early 50s, Japan was buzzing with delight over the arrival of chocolate candies brought over by American soldiers. Commercialized heart-shaped boxes may now be available in every grocery store in the country, but Japanese culture still emphasizes handmade food, especially chocolate. Giri-choco, meaning “obligatory chocolates,” are given to friends and coworkers, while honmei-choco are given to express a desire to be closer to a romantic partner, like this homemade chocolate bark:
- ½ c. coconut oil
- ½ c. cocoa powder
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 3 tbs honey
- ½ c. chopped walnuts, almonds, or macadamia nuts
- Prepare a candy mold by lining a cookie sheet or baking dish with wax paper.
- Using a saucepan over low heat, melt the coconut oil.
- Whisk in the cocoa powder, vanilla extract, and honey. Stir until well blended and smooth.
- Stir in the chopped nuts and mix until evenly distributed.
- Pour the mixture into your prepared mold, spreading it until the candy layer is about ¼-inch thick.
- Refrigerate the candy in the mold for 1 hour.
- Break the bark apart into pieces.
Show your partner that you took the time to make something with his or her enjoyment in mind. You didn’t take the easy route—you made a delicious gift from the heart. You can also show off how well you know your lover—try adding in chopped nuts, fresh orange zest, peanut butter, finely ground coffee, or cinnamon, depending on his favorite flavors.
Switch It Up
Often seen as an opportunity for a man to woo the woman, in Japan Valentine’s Day emerged as a popular holiday at the same time as the major women’s liberation movement and so the two concepts of showing your love and respecting women became intertwined. Today, many Japanese couples celebrate Valentine’s Day by trading gender-assigned responsibilities and experiencing life in the other person’s shoes.
This year, make a swap. If you usually do the cooking while your man is accustomed to bringing home flowers, reverse the roles. Give him the opportunity to cook a romantic meal for two and bring him a special feel-good treat. Experiencing something from the other person’s perspective gives you a new appreciation for your partner.
A Look to the Future and Room for Honesty
Valentine’s Day is an opportunity for couples to sit down together, taking a moment to think about the journey they’ve traveled together so far and to envision a bright future together ahead.
Every year seems to bring new challenges and unexpected turns, but the most successful relationships are able to bend and flow with the tides of life. Now is a good time to acknowledge how far you’ve come—and toast to where you want to go. Reflect back over what you’ve done well together and ways that you can improve to prevent past mistakes from repeating themselves. Let go of past hurts and vow to work together to forge a smooth, stable path ahead.
Confession is an important Valentine’s ritual in Japan. It’s a time to be honest with your loved one and say all the things that never seemed to have a right place or right time before. Lovers use the holiday to confess their secrets to one another, to more fully understand each other.
Start a new tradition with your partner of trading three truths each Valentine’s Day. Confess your love, doubts, fears, and past experiences so that you come to appreciate one another for the complex beings you are. Give the gift of intimacy by allowing your partner into the inner secrets that make you unique.
Take the Next Step
In Japanese culture, Valentine’s Day marks a rite of passage for a relationship. Couples make deliberate efforts to cultivate harmony, connect on a deeper level, and improve their communication. It’s also a time to solidify their commitment to each other by taking a new step together.
For some couples, this means trading house keys, saying, “I want you to be more a part of my life.” For others, it means planning a trip together or meeting each other’s families. But, for all couples, it’s a special time to do something meaningful together that resonates with how you feel about one another. Think about where you would like to be in your relationship in a year from now. What step can you take this holiday to work towards that bright future together?
Some of the best gifts you’ll ever receive can’t be seen, like a confession of love or a gesture of devotion. Valentine’s Day is a time for giving the gift of yourself. Show your dedication to your partner by honoring your relationship in a new way.
It’s easy to forget the true meaning of a holiday that has become so commercialized by candy, flower, and card companies. That’s why I wanted to take a step back and look at the holiday through a new cultural lens. For people in other parts of the world, it’s a landmark date that opens up a world of possibilities. Acknowledge what you’ve done well together, make room for a little more equality in the relationship, clear the air with honesty, and take a step towards a more committed future together.
Want more ideas on how to make this Valentine’s Day unforgettable? Let the Elves help find the perfect gift or download our free printable coupons to give straight from the heart. Get even more ideas on our Facebook, Instagram @Elfstergram, and Twitter @Elfster
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