We asked our partner offices from Timor Leste, Vietnam and Zambia how people celebrated Valentine’s Day in their country. Their responses show that people are pretty much the same the world over – but there are differences that make each of our cultures special too.

Timor Leste – don’t give flowers!

Timor Leste gained its independence in 2002 and most Timorese were not aware of Valentine’s Day celebration. It was only in 2004 when the young Timorese who studied and had exposure from the outside world began to celebrate this occasion.

Timorese don’t give flowers to their loved ones for they believe that flowers should be given only to the dead. They don’t even use fresh flowers at home. I am Filipina married to a Timorese national and I remember my husband was offended when I put fresh flowers in our vase and he told me to remove it because as he said, “I am not yet dead”. Even in the church, no fresh flowers can be seen but they just decorate the church with plants and plastic flower ornaments even if it is wedding or funeral masses.

Of course, if you live let’s say in other country where Valentine’s Day is so commercialised, you might think that Timorese are not romantic people because they don’t give flowers and chocolates on this occasion. Perhaps, they are not used to giving these kinds of gifts, not only because it’s not their culture but also because most Timorese are poor. However, in their own way they celebrate Valentine’s Day by going to the beach or mountains with their loved ones and there they would enjoy nature, just eat and drink and sometimes dance (because some of them bring radios).

Timorese girls on the other hand show their love to their boyfriend or husband by making personalised cards. As for men, most of them I asked agreed saying that love is more important than the material things that they will give to their loved ones.

All in all, gifts are given to appreciate and show love to their loved ones. It is not so different from what is done elsewhere in the world.

Handmade card from Timor

Vietnam – with a song in your heart

Valentine’s is not one of our traditional days; it became popular just few years ago amongst the young generation. The reason, perhaps, is the result of globalization with more cultural exchange with Western countries. Flowers and chocolate are popular gifts, going out to celebrate the day is more than popular. Same as what you are doing in NZ.

Apart from flowers and chocolate, young Vietnamese people also prepare gifts for their partners. This kind of gift is the same as birthday gifts, but more romantic, of course. It may be a ring, teddy bears or heart-shaped stuffs or simply casual things, such as clothes, leather wallets, etc.

Some skillful girls even prefer making handy gifts to their partners. People can make an embroidery handkerchief or knit a scarf. A handkerchief or scarf has a special meaning in Eastern culture, it means the close connection between two partners.

Besides Valentine’s, men in Vietnam have other special occasions to express their love and appreciation to their wives or girlfriends. On Vietnam woman’s Day (22 October) or International Woman’s Day (8 March), men usually prepare meal for their beloved ones. This is special in Vietnam because normally it is women who do the cooking in families.

When it comes to tradition and cultural aspects, we have Bac Ninh Love duets. They are folk songs, which are sung by young people to express their love in an indirect and subtle way during Spring festival. This, however, is more of cultural or spiritual activity than a practice. Nowadays, very few people use Bac Ninh Love duets to show their feeling towards other.

Zambia – a special meal

Generally in Zambia, whether in the village or in towns/cities, people express their love and appreciation by giving gifts. These may not necessarily be flowers but could be anything that one feels they are able to give away. The modern Zambian has adopted the western way where flowers, chocolate and teddy bears etc, are presented to their loved ones.

In rural areas the gift could be in the form of a chicken, vegetables and whatever they are able to give away. A rural Zambian will appreciate receiving flowers for a gift. Sometimes the preparation of a traditional meal would be a way of expressing love and appreciation. They would even go out of their way to cook a special meal which would be with a chicken, a goat or a cow which they would not afford to eat every other day but would do it for that special occasion to show their appreciation and love.

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If you’re in New Zealand and thinking of doing something a little more special than the traditional (depending on where you live) gift giving for Valentines Day, remember ChildFund Gifts that Grow. Sweeten your love with a range of fruit tree seedlings that give long-lasting help to children and families in developing countries or gift a blanket to keep a child warm at night. Purchasers receive a special gift card to give to their Valentine that describes the gift and explains how it benefits the recipients. To order visit www.childfund.org.nz/catalogue or call 0800 223 111.

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