Written by: Olivera Tolimir
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Have you written, signed, and sealed your cards yet?
If you have, there’s just enough time to sip coffee and learn Serbian ways of celebrating the holiday! Or let’s say – you’ll see why some Serbs enjoy Valentine’s Day while others disapprove of its celebration.
If the previous sentence sounds familiar, we guess you’ve read our text where you could learn Serbian ways to celebrate Halloween. It’s another holiday that Serbians can’t agree about. Some love it, while others hate it.
The truth is that most Serbs haven’t heard about Saint Valentine until the second half of the 20th century. Then, as a product of globalization, we started incorporating some new traditions.
But to understand our complicated relationship with Valentine’s Day, let’s dive into the history of this day and the saint behind it.
Who Was Saint Valentine?
Saint Valentine was a third-century Roman priest or a bishop of Terni. He’s celebrated in both Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, but Catholic Christians acknowledge him way more. They memorize him on February 14th.
The saint was a martyr who died during the prosecution of Christians. His story is full of inconsistencies, but more than one connects him with the holiday.
All of the stories are heartwarming.
The story we particularly like is this: when Emperor Claudius II realized single men were more devoted to war than married ones, he forbade young men to marry. Valentine didn’t find this decision rightful, so he married people secretly! Unfortunately, the Emperor found out and requested to have him executed.
The other legend says Valentine was helping Christians escape Roman prisons, but the Romans caught and imprisoned him. While in jail, he fell in love with his jailor’s daughter and wrote her the first Valentine’s card with the signature From your Valentine.
Whatever the story, Saint Valentine was a just man who believed in the importance of love, even in the worst circumstances. No wonder his day has become the celebration of love.
Learn Serbian Ways to Celebrate Valentine’s Day
In Serbia, Valentine’s Day is considered the most romantic day. It doesn’t differ much from other countries that celebrate it. We usually spend it with our significant others and buy them gifts such as greeting cards, flowers, and chocolate. Couples have romantic dinners or even go on a short trip since the 15th and 16th of February are vacation days in Serbia (unrelated to Valentine’s Day).
You might wonder what’s the problem then.
The problem (for some people) is that our Orthodox Church celebrates another saint on February 14th. That’s why traditional Serbs dislike the foreign tradition and stick to their own.
It’s not Valentine’s Day, but Saint Tryphon’s Day, you’d hear them say.
It even sounds slightly different in Serbian since we don’t even mention Valentine in the translation of the holiday’s name. We call it Dan zaljubljenih, which means The Day of Those in Love.
So, we keep the romantic parts of the holiday, but don’t sign our cards with the Greetings from your Valentine or ask our crush if they’ll be our Valentine. Of course, everyone in Serbia knows the tradition started thanks to Saint Valentine, but it’s become a secular holiday.
But who is this saint who shares his day with Saint Valentine?
Let’s find out together!
Learn Serbian Holidays: Who Was Saint Tryphon?
Saint Tryphon (Serbian: Sveti Trifun) was, just like Saint Valentine, a third-century Christian saint. Again, both Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate him as a great martyr. He’s celebrated on February 1st in both churches. But since the Julian calendar (that the Serbian Orthodox Church uses) is 13 days late, his day falls on February 14th according to the Gregorian calendar.
As a child, Saint Tryphon took care of geese and was famous as a healer. During the Christian prosecution, he was tortured and beheaded.
In Eastern Orthodox churches, he’s known as the protector of winegrowers and gardeners. Tavern owners also consider Saint Tryphon their saint since their income is tightly bound to the quality and quantity of wine each year.
In some villages, pregnant women used to go to vineyards on this day to pass their fertility onto the vine.
If you’d like to learn Serbian ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day, it’s not enough to buy some chocolate and take your significant other to a romantic dinner. You have to understand possible negative comments around it.
Of course, not even conservative Serbians have anything against people following their traditions.
The problems begin when an Eastern Orthodox Christian says they celebrate Saint Valentine on February 14th. That’s when the comments start.
We don’t celebrate that. We honor Saint Tryphon today.
It’s not our tradition!
Have a nice time, but you should talk to your priest.
And then young people get irritated and either break the conversation or say, Fine, I don’t care what you celebrate. I’ll celebrate what I want.
And that’s how Serbs fight over another holiday.
At least in Facebook comments.
In real life, people usually live their life the way they want. Of course, you may hear the grumpy neighbor commenting how you shouldn’t take over the Western holidays when you have your own, but it’s rare. It’s more likely they’ll compliment your date outfit and say how you, kids, are sweet.
Saint Valentine vs. Saint Tryphon
So, you managed to learn Serbian ways of fighting and celebrating.
But Saint Valentine and Saint Tryphon have a lot more in common than we like to think.
They were both third-century Christian martyrs who helped people at the cost of their own lives. They died for their faith, and that’s what made them saints in the first place.
It’s not a coincidence we celebrate them in the middle of February. This date marks a point when winter days become longer, and spring is getting closer. As nature becomes more vivid and fruitful, we celebrate love and fertility. Most Christian holidays are adapted pagan rituals. And for pagan celebrations, observing nature and living according to it was a priority.
But as much as people argue over which saint is more important, it’s no secret that, nowadays, this holiday is more connected to the capitalist culture than its Christian roots. We usually don’t proclaim love to our beloved ones by hugging and kissing them. It’s expected to buy a gift to show love and appreciation.
So, let’s break the cycle!
Celebrate this February 14th by opening a bottle of wine you have at home with your dearest person.
Isn’t it a lovely compromise?