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February 11, 2015

How Americans Celebrate Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day - Celebrated at School, Work, & Home 

The day of love, cupid and heart break. Americans celebrate Valentine’s Day in a big way. From preschoolers to sweet hearts to married couples and beyond, the day has expectations. Those expectations, at times, can, of course backfire. To help you get an idea of what Valentine’s Day is, I’ve gone ahead and given you some definitions, as well as some ideas on what Valentine’s Day means within American culture.  

What is Valentine’s Day?  
Valentine’s Day was originally celebrated as the feast or festival for Christian martyr Saint
Valentine's Heart Candies
Sugar candies eaten on
Valentine's Day.
c.terren in Virginia @flickr
Valintinus. There are said to many known as Valtininus (translated to English as Valentine). In Ancient Roman Saint Valentine wasn’t associated with love, it wasn’t connected that way until Chaucer wrote “Valentine,” a poem in the 1382. 

For this was on seynt Volantynys day 
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make. 
More poets also wrote about love and Valentine’s Day and since then there has been a spread of “love being in the air” in the beginning in February. 

When is Valentine’s Day? 
Valentine’s Day falls on February 14 every year. Take note that there is no work or school holidays. If Valentine’s Day falls on a weekday, work and school will happen as usual. 

What is the meaning of Valentine’s Day in contemporary US? 

Valentine's Day Decor
c. LadyDragonFlyCC at flickr
With the first “commercial” Valentine’s Cards being sent in the late 1800s, over 100 years later, there are plenty of stores and florists that make their year’s worth due to the influx of Valentine’s cards in February. Today Valentine’s holds different meanings, depending on relationships. Couples expect a date night, teen girls hope for a boyfriend, while teen boys may break up with their girlfriends just before Valentine’s Day, because of expectations of flowers, dinner, and maybe some jewelry. But what people new to the US do not realize is that Valentine’s isn’t just for couples! 

How else Valentine’s Day celebrated? 
Valentine’s Day is not only celebrated between couples, but also between friends. Single girls may call each other for an “anti-Valentine’s” party, and kids celebrate it too, often in a big way! 

[It is noted that Valentine's Day may be the second most expensive holiday after Christmas. If you want to take out your significant other, spouse, partner or family out for dinner on this day, assure you have a reservation sometimes a week or more in advance. It may not be possible to just show up at some restaurants on Valentine's Day without a reservation.] 

How is Valentine’s Day celebrated in the office? 
Most offices have “anti fraternalizing” rules so couples, especially those not at the same step or level, are unable to date. 

But it doesn’t mean that Valentine’s Day is not celebrated at work! 

First, many couples send each other flowers to their workplace, so people know who is part of a couple. Of course, some friends are known to send each other flowers so they don’t feel left out. Some will even send them to themselves! 

In general, no one should be left out. Do bring a box of (mid price) chocolate to the office and leave them in the break room. (Take note, if you see an open box of candy, chocolates, donuts or any food item in the break room, work on the ‘honor system’ and please take only one. It’s meant to share with everyone, not only for the first lucky one to enter the break room!) Valentine’s Day is not the day to declare your love for your co-worker! In fact, even though Valentine’s Day is a day for love, it doesn’t mean you have a free pass for flirting! HR rules still apply! 

Emotions may run high on Valentine’s Day. Some will be sad because they don’t have a date that night, or because everyone else is receiving flowers at the office. 

If you’re managing an offshore or onsite team, you can create a productive, yet festive environment, by encouraging people to bring in chocolates and cookies, and then write something they love about their job on a white board.  

[Some offices in India hold Valentine's Day parties, with duet singing competitions, decorations, foods and other party-like elements. Valentine's Day is not typically celebrated like this in US offices.]

Questions you may have about Valentine’s in the office:
  1. Can I make small talk about Valentine's Day with my US colleagues from India or onsite? It is customary to wish people a Happy Valentine’s Day, but one shouldn’t ask questions about if they have a date planned for the evening, or if they received flowers. There are strict laws on sexual harassment and if someone thinks you are asking them out, there could be issues, so in my experience, asking colleagues about their plans for the day was avoided, but if colleagues bought it up with me, I may discuss it vaguely or broadly.
  2. What are questions I can ask or should avoid asking? You can ask questions like “I saw some pictures of very elaborate Valentine’s Day cards, did your kids make them or did you purchase them? This is fascinating to me”. It is generally okay to ask about people’s children when you know they have kids. Since there are potential issues of sexual harassment, it is best to avoid topics with people you don’t know outside work.
  3. I don't celebrate it, so, how can I respond if they ask me? If they ask you if you celebrate it, you can be polite and say something like “No, I don’t really celebrate it, but I see it is something that many in the US do celebrate in a variety of ways.” It is best to avoid political issues, even if you politically are against celebrating Valentine’s Day (in the US or if you’re in India working with a US contact).  

How is Valentine’s Day celebrated at schools? 
Strawberry Shortcake - Vintage 80's style child's Valentine's card.
Vintage 80's style child's
Valentine's card. Many
children's cards feature
current cartoon characters.
c. Aimee Ray @flickr
Most schools, public and private, in the US celebrate Valentine’s Day from the earliest of ages. Yes, even day cares have Valentine’s Day! Kids are expected to bring an (approved) treat and card for all children in the class. Yes, ALL kids. It isn’t about dates or love. There isn’t a question of “Will you be my Valentine?” – all kids bring for all kids. Though, if you purchase the pre-packaged cards, you can bet most kids set aside the “best” ones for the kids they like, including their best friends. Fortunately most packages do not include any bad ones or ones that would make someone get upset or have their feelings hurt! Of course, many moms have made Valentine’s a Pinterest holiday and create lovely mini-presents for their children to give out to all their classmates.

Popularity of Valentine’s Day? 
As you can see, Valentine’s Day is an important social holiday in the US. From flowers and hearts and cupids and Valentine’s Cards, it is hard to not be inundated by the holiday. Even if you don’t celebrate it actively, at least let it be a reason to have a smile, be thankful and grab some chocolates or buy overpriced flowers (roses especially become pricey the week of Valentine’s Day!) 

A “Hallmark” Holiday? 
Many people, even in the US, boycott Valentine’s Day because they don’t like the advertising surrounding this day of love. From greeting cards to massive “deals” on diamonds and other jewelry, you may find a person or two who actually will boycott Valentine’s Day. While there are political issues surrounding the holiday coming to India, overall, most Americans do not see Valentine’s Day as a day to be religious or political. It may be a day for some people to get married in the US, but only if they want to ensure that both partners will “always” remember the anniversary!

This is a guest blog written by Amanda [with edits by Jennifer Kumar].

If you work offshore with US clients or colleagues, check out our programs to make small talk or impress stakeholders with culturally convincing virtual meetings.

Other February "Holidays": 
Things to Do on Presidents Day 
Groundhog's Day 
Superbowl (Football Tournament)

Authentic Journeys: Bridging Culture on Virtual Teams

We help build effective, culturally competent global teams with focus on the cultures of the USA and India. Jennifer Kumar, Managing Director, an American citizen, has almost 10 years experience living, studying and working (owning a business) in India. Authentic Journeys Consultancy is registered as a Private Limited in India (Kerala) and an LLC in the USA (Salt Lake City, Utah). We provide onsite and live-online instructor-led courses, facilitation and corporate coaching.