Who wouldn’t want to have a day in their calendar made just to celebrate love? Well, that’s what Valentine’s Day is for. This ritual is celebrated by many different cultures from all around the world. I was born and raised in Brazil and on that day there’s a typical pattern of behavior: couples are expected to exchange gifts and see heart-shaped decorations all around. Romance is the big theme everywhere, indicating that love is one of the important values of the local culture. Also, it’s a day that businesses rely on to profit. These establishments usually provide certain products and deals adapted to the spirit of that celebration and expect to sell a bigger amount of merchandize than at a regular time of the year.
What a lot of people don’t know (that included me until not long ago) is that this social event is celebrated in different ways and has its own background according to each culture. Human beings end up considering their own particular cultural habits as the “normal way to behave” when comparing it to other cultures. We call that tendency ethnocentrism. Because of how we develop a certain loyalty to our own society’s beliefs, it’s a lot more common to see people instinctively acting that way than using cultural relativism. Cultural relativism states that each culture should be analyzed according to its own values, beliefs and environment.
In Brazil we call Valentine’s Day “Dia dos Namorados” (“Lover’s day”). It’s celebrated annually on June 12th, right before Saint Anthony’s day, who’s recognized for blessing young couples with happy and prosperous marriages .
Moving to the U.S., I was really surprised to find out that “Dia dos Namorados” was called “Valentine’s day” and celebrated on February 14th each year. The ritual itself isn’t too different, but I thought it was so odd that the timing is so distinct from my home. At first, I didn’t even associate the name of the celebration with what it actually meant in my culture. Little did I know that this fest day in America had a different story behind it, celebrating the Feast of Saint Valentine.
I didn’t quite understand either why quite a few friends exchanged gifts of that day as well, since in Brazil it’s very clear that only couples took part in that ritual. If a friend sent me any gifts on that day in Brazil, I’d take it as a love declaration. All of my friends in the U.S., though, exchanged either cards, boxes of chocolate or roses even though none of us were romantically involved with each other. You would rarely see this sort of behavior in Brazil.
My surprise with this social phenomenon was due to the process of socialization, which refers to how we learn to interact, behave and perceive the world around us according to our cultural values. I was taught to behave and interact in a certain way on that social occasion. “Dia dos namorados” to me was basically exclusive to couples and supposed to happen in June. Period. Therefore, being in an environment with different rules being applied to that event became somewhat of a foreign experience to me.
By: Laura Rizzotto.