Valentine’s Traditions Throughout the World

Love it or hate it, Valentine’s Day is hard to avoid here in the UK. We know love is universal and should be celebrated but how do different countries recognise it (if at all) around the world? In Iceland for example, Valentine’s Day is barely acknowledged and it is not hard to see why, with all the other Icelandic traditional days and seasonal customs, it would hardly fit in the calendar! We look at some of the other Discover the World destinations to find out what local variations of the day exist. 

StvalentinemosaicWhere it all began! Way back in the third century, a priest named Valentinus was imprisoned in Rome for performing weddings for Christians, who were forbidden to marry. Whilst in prison, Valentinus fell in love with his jailer’s daughter, who he was supposed to be healing. He was executed on February 14th, but not before sending his new love a handwritten letter signed ‘from your Valentine’. Today, Italians celebrate the day by sending presents to their loved ones. A hand-woven basket filled with chocolates and tied with a ribbon remains a traditional gift throughout the country.

Although a relatively new concept in Norway, Valentine’s Day is growing in reputation with Norwegians even managing to come up with their own quirky traditions. One of the most popular is Gaekkebrev poems, rhyming love notes that men send to women anonymously on the 14th February. If the recipient guesses the sender of the poem correctly she wins an Easter egg. However if she fails to guess correctly, then she herself owes the egg, to be collected on Easter Sunday.

Although the 14th February passes in China without much attention, its equivalent, the Qixi festival China Qixi Festivalis celebrated throughout the country with its folklore known to all. As the story goes, two lovers, a handsome shepherd and a beautiful weaver, are separated by a great river and forbidden to meet. With the help of a sympathetic bridge-building crow, they reunite on the seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar year, never to be seen again by their cruel and dominating families. Today on this date (usually mid-August) the Chinese are expected to do one kind thing for their loved ones to replicate the generosity and kindness shown by the crow.  

Dia dos Namorados, translated as ‘Lovers’ Day’, is celebrated in the Azores and Portugal on 12th June (due to the date’s proximity to the Portuguese Saint Anthony’s Day). It is celebrated in a similar fashion to how Valentine’s is celebrated in the UK although one local variation does exist - on the evening before Dia dos Namorados, groups of women write the names of their crushes on folded-up pieces of paper. Whichever name they pick from the pile, is the person they should date the following night.

Costa Rica
Commercialisation doesn’t seem to have robbed Valentine’s Day of its traditional meaning in Costa Rica. Instead of sending expensive gifts and cards, Costa Ricans celebrate the day by performing acts of appreciation for their loved ones. These are not exclusively performed for partners however, with the gestures honouring friendships as well, the local name for the day is ‘El dia del amor y la amistad’ meaning Love and Friendship Day.

Posted on February 11, 2015 in Azores , Bay of Naples , China , Classics , Costa Rica , Iceland , Norway | Permalink | Comments (0) | E-mail this

Complimentary A1 classroom Italy poster: The Impacts of Tourism

Impacts of Tourism Poster

Discover the World Education are delighted to offer you a new complimentary poster highlighting both the positive and the negative impacts that tourism can have on a destination. With tourism accounting for 11% of all global earnings and employing more than 200 million people worldwide, the industry can be a key economic pillar for many destinations. However, if not managed effectively, mass tourism can overwhelm an area and can have negative economic, social and environmental impacts.

The poster encourages students to consider these implications using the case studies of the Bay of Naples and Pompeii for context.

If you would like to request a copy of this poster then please email
Further resources on tourism and a range of other geography curriculum links can be found on

Posted on January 7, 2015 in Bay of Naples , Geography , Study Trips | Permalink | Comments (0) | E-mail this

Christmas Traditions Throughout the World

With Christmas nearly upon us and the school year ending, there’s not long left for the traditional rituals to begin - decorating the tree, singing carols, indulging far too much with family and friends and seeing what presents Santa Claus has left under the tree. These traditions are well known to us in the UK, but how is Christmas celebrated (if at all) elsewhere? Below we look at some of the lesser known Christmas traditions in Discover the World Education destinations.


In Iceland, the Christmas period is an intriguing mixture of religious practice and traditional folklore beginning on the 23rd December and ending on Epiphany, 6th January. Iceland celebrates Christmas with good food, gifts and loved ones. Gryla

From a young age, Icelandic children are told the story of Gryla, part animal and part troll. She is an ogress who lives in the Icelandic mountains. Legend says that every Christmas, Gryla comes down from
the mountains in search of naughty children to boil in her cauldron.                                                                                                                              

Yule ladsGryla is also the mother of 13 Yule Lads who venture down from the mountains with her in search of mischief. For each of the 13 nights leading up to Christmas, a Yule Lad will visit Icelandic children leaving sweets and small gifts for well behaved children and rotten potatoes for those who have been naughty.  

Old Icelandic folklore states that every Icelander must receive a new piece of clothing for Christmas or they will find themselves in danger. This danger comes in the form of an enormous black cat who prowls Iceland on Christmas Eve and eats anyone who doesn’t follow this simple rule. This cat is known as the Christmas Cat.


Christmas is the most important religious holiday in the Azores and traditions of the nine islands fuse from both Portuguese and American influences.

Typically a large dinner is prepared on Christmas Eve (usually salted and dried codfish) before Azoreans head to church for midnight mass. After the mass, it is customary for families to visit relatives and friends. These visits often start at the house closest to the church and visits go on until the early morning hours. At each house, visitors are served typical seasonal drinks, such as milk and tangerine liqueurs before families return home to open their gifts.

Santa Claus is a new concept to the islands and has replaced the Child Jesus as the distributor of Christmas gifts. In the past, it was believed that it was Jesus who placed toys in socks hanging from the fireplace while everyone was asleep.

Costa Rica

With Roman Catholicism being the dominant religion in Costa Rica, it is not surprising that religion plays a prominent role in festive celebrations. It’s not unusual for families to have a model of Christ’s birthplace in a stable so big that it often occupies the majority of the living room. On Christmas Eve, “Noche Buena”, the Christ Child is placed in the manger just before the family attends the Midnight Mass. The night before Christmas children will place their shoes out for the Christ Child to fill with treats and small gifts. On Christmas morning, the children are asked by their parents “What did the Baby bring you?”

The most anticipated activity of the Christmas season are the Toros a laTica bullfights. Dozens of young men will hop into the arena and attempt to frighten the bull into charging! The bulls are never harmed, however occasionally a young man will be gored!


The Christmas season lasts 3 weeks, starting eight days before Christmas lasting until the Feast of Epiphany. A strict fast is observed 24 hours before Christmas Eve and is followed by a celebration meal, in which a light Milanese cake called ‘panettone’ features as well as chocolate. Small gifts are also given.

Traditionally, children wait until Epiphany, January 6th for their presents. According to tradition, the presents are delivered by a witch called Befana who flies around on Christmas Eve night delivering toys and gifts. The legend is that the three wise men stopped at Befana’s hut to ask directions on their way to Bethlehem and for her to join them. She refused as she was too busy. She now delivers presents to every child in the hope of reaching the baby Jesus.


At 4.00pm all work comes to a halt on Christmas Eve. Everyone bathes and puts on new clothes to greet the season and a large sheaf of grain is hung out for the birds. Christmas dinner begins with rice pudding with almond hidden in it for one lucky recipient. A bowl is set out for the barn elf so that he will continue to watch over the animals and not turn mischievous.

Julebukking is a Christmas tradition and closely resembles the Halloween’s trick-or-treating. People wear masks and costumes (Julebukkers) and go door to door where neighbours attempt to identify who is under the disguise. Julebukkers will often disguise their voices and body language to further the masquerade. Offering people holiday treats and drink is customary. Once identified and the food eaten, the Julebukkers continue to the next home.


Since the vast majority of Chinese people are not Christian, the main winter festival in China is the Chinese New Year, which takes place towards the end of January. Now officially called the ‘Spring Festival’, it is a time when children receive new clothing, eat luxurious meals, receive new toys, and enjoy firecracker displays. An important aspect of the New Year celebration is the worship of ancestors. Portraits and paintings of ancestors are brought out and hung in the main room of the home.

Christians in China celebrate by lighting their houses with beautiful paper lanterns and decorating their Christmas trees, which they call “Trees of light”, with paper chains, paper flowers and paper lanterns. Children hang stockings and await a visit from Santa Claus, whom they call Dun Che Lao Ren (dwyn-chuh-lau-oh-run) which means “Christmas Old Man”.

Posted on December 11, 2014 in Azores , Bay of Naples , China , Costa Rica , Iceland , Norway | Permalink | Comments (0) | E-mail this

Interview with a member of the Icelandic Association for Search & Rescue

By David Rogers 

Suggested Classroom use:

With rising numbers of tourists visiting Iceland, there has been increased demand on the volunteer services of ICE SAR. You could use this article to introduce the service as part of a wider unit on tourism, with increased demands on the rescue services considered as an impact of tourism. Another idea would be to get students to investigate advice that tourists should heed when travelling in the country, and create an information leaflet, weblog post or webpage.



Almost a million tourists visit Iceland each year, taking part in adventurous activities such as hiking on glaciers to exploring the highlands by four-wheel drive.  

The Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue (ICE SAR) ensure the safety of these tourists as well as taking part in emergency hazard management and helping to educate native Icelanders and tourists about staying safe in the land of fire and ice.

To find out more about the organisation, we interviewed ICE SAR member and CEO of Vatnshellir Cave tours - Thor Magnusson:

What made you get involved in ICE SAR?
I started as a volunteer rescuer when I was 18 years old. At that time, I was a fisherman on small boats and trawlers around Iceland but my interests were the mountains and the wilderness all over the country. Anytime I heard of an emergency or people lost somewhere, I felt a strong urge to help those in need. I started in one of the teams in Reykjavík and trained with them for a few years until I moved to Akranes, a small fishing town in west Iceland, I was involved with this team for 8 years, (6 of them as the team leader). In Late 1987, the Association of Search and Rescue teams (Slysavarnafélag Íslands) invited me to become a supervisor and I was in service for 25 years. I started as a superintendent and later as the head of the rescue department.

What are the best things about the job?
To get the opportunity to become a member and spend your life as a rescuer was a dream come true for me. To work with so many great people, all determined to go as far as possible and risk their own life in search and rescue. Also, the warm and genuine greetings and thanks from victims and their relatives who were in need of help.

And the worst?
Sometimes it’s quite stressful, especially those moments when in charge of complicated rescue operations. It can also have a huge effect having lots of intrusion from the press or others. Then there are often complications which arise when decisions are made on very little information. These are often criticised afterwards.

What qualifications and training do members receive?
All members have to finish first level courses in multiple fields. This includes first aid, mountaineering, wilderness travel, navigation, safety on and around the ocean and white-water areas.

Do you mainly help tourists or Icelanders?
There are both tourists and Icelanders who get into problems. One of the most frequent call outs we receive are from tourists who get stuck in a car on a 4x4 mountain road, either in snow or dirt. We also get a few extreme adventurous tourists going up to the mountains without proper local knowledge.

How many incidents are ICE SAR involved in each year?
The organisation has a very good website where most general information is available. However, coordinates and rescue details are not available for the general public. Reports are sometimes published in coordination with the local police and a short summary of each rescue is published in the annual year book from the Association of Search and Rescue

Are Icelandic children taught how to deal with Iceland’s hazards in school?
Teaching of the risk of the environment is not compulsory in the Icelandic school system. I think the potential risks in Iceland are very much common sense to Icelandic people. For example, you don’t go out if you’re not dressed adequately. And you don’t swim in the ocean if the waves are big. We somehow really learn to appreciate and respect the Icelandic nature without knowing it, since it’s so natural to us.


Posted on December 10, 2014 in Iceland | Permalink | Comments (0) | E-mail this

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