Valentine Spoil-Sports

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

In the run-up to Valentine Weekend, the Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita offers a brief cross-cultural vignette: Arabia doesn’t want any Valentines. It turns out that, while it’s normally no problem to import or deal in red roses, red hearts, or any sort of “Be my Valentine” articles in Saudi Arabia, the big exception happens to be during the days immediately preceding February 14, when the religious police crack down on that stuff, inspecting shops and confiscating anything of that sort that they come upon.

Frankly, I’d venture to say that Valentine’s Day is little more of a traditional, long-standing part of Polish culture than it is for the Saudis. Rather, it’s more likely the kind of Hallmark-card-driven “holiday” that intruded into both nations the more they became exposed to the West – and although that exposure came rather more suddenly to Poland, in the wake of the anti-Communist revolution that culminated in 1989, Saudi Arabia clearly is more determinedly vigilant about counteracting it.

UPDATE: Yes, I was right about the place of Valentine’s Day in Polish culture (it’s namely a rather recent thing), as we can see from a quite interesting article on the subject by Jan Cienski on the GlobalPost website. There is also a brief Valentine’s Day piece from Rzeczpospolita, written by Ewa Łosińska (Valentines with the Saint), that mentions the importance of the actual Saint Valentine to Polish Catholic worship (i.e. what Valentine’s meant in Poland before the opening to the West with the fall of the Iron Curtain). But this is all rather meager stuff: there are relics of the Saint within the Saint Florian cathedral in Krakow as well as a statue of him in the Ethnographic Museum in that same city, and then another figure of the Saint in a village in the area, but that’s about it.

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