We all know that usually, in the United States, Valentine’s Day means people flooding stores while trying to find the perfect gifts and sweets for their loved ones, restaurants running out of tables due to the reservations, flower shops collapsing with orders that have to arrive to surprise someone. In this country, February 14th is about gift giving, going on dates and celebrating the people we love.
However, this holiday is celebrated in many different ways by people from all backgrounds, and that includes us Latinx. So we went ahead and asked four of our favorite US Latinas about what Valentine’s Day means to them and the traditions they carry from their countries of origin.
Estrella, a Salvadorian cook and owner of @star_fitfoodie, told us that Valentines for her represents ”el día de la amistad”, a day to celebrate the friendships and relationships you may have. “This could be with your partner or even your family and friends. It’s anyone who you’d love to spend quality time with.”
Mariela, a Puerto Rican vegetarian cook and elementary teacher, @thehungrydragonfly, is on the same page: Valentine’s Day isn’t “only” to “celebrate with your partner, but with your friends and loved ones. I grew up in Puerto Rico and fondly remember how we celebrate” it “at school and at home with music, cards, and candy. In my classroom, I celebrated this day with activities to encourage respect and love for everyone.”
For Ingrid, a Peruvian chef and the person behind @ahungrylatina, Valentine’s Day is a special day to celebrate love, pamper herself and her loved ones. “This day gives me a chance to show gratitude towards the people I love, thanking them for being in my life and to show how much I adore them.”
So, do they have any traditions for Valentine’s Day?
Zariel, a Dominican influencer who dedicates her Instagram account @loveyourchichos to help Latinas to embrace their bodies and culture, told us that, growing up, her family would dress in red, cook a fancy dinner and spend time together. “Our dad would get all of us (me, my sister and my mom) Godiva chocolate boxes (my mom would get the big one haha). And we’d all give each other cards and have a nice dinner together with some wine. It was such a nice celebration to slow down and have fun as a family.”
Valentine’s Day for Ingrid begins with a spa day, an appointment for a mani-pedi and a massage. “As a chef and foodie, a delicious meal plays a very important part of my day and this is the perfect occasion to not skip dessert! (…) I will also be taking a moment to reach out via phone to my favorite people in the entire world… my mom and my two siblings that live in Peru.”
For Estrella, the tradition means recreating her favorite Date Night Ideas. “Usually, this is a day I spoil my partner (more than usual) with his favorite meals that I make. Nothing beats a home cooked meal made with love.” Mariela agrees: “Our tradition is to share sweets, desserts, chocolates among friends at school, with my family and my partner. But the funniest tradition was a family party where we would exchange gifts, music and lots of food. Now that we live in the US we celebrate with a delicious homemade dinner.”
Since all these ladies talked about the differences between V-Day celebrations during their childhood and now that they are living in the US, we wanted to know more!
Zariel told us “I don’t know how Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the Dominican Republic but I know we didn’t use the holiday to spend money, instead we celebrated the love we had for each other. I think it’s important to remember we don’t have to spend money to love ourselves or the ones you love.”.
Ingrid explained to us that the first difference she noticed is the name that Peruvians give to Valentine’s Day: “In Peru, this day is called ”Día del Amor y la Amistad” (Day of Love and Friendship) so not only couples show their love and affection but also friends, family members and colleagues in one way or the other celebrate their non-romantic love. I also feel that in Peru, we prefer a romantic experience rather than giving or receiving gifts.”
“In Puerto Rico V-Day is celebrated with serenades, food and romantic gestures. Many people send messages of music, flowers, sweets and cards to their loved ones. I find that it is a bit similar to the way it is celebrated in Puerto Rico and in the US.” Mariela told us.
Last but not least, Estrella told us an anecdote from her childhood in El Salvador: “I had a “boyfriend” (we were childs) who I remember wrote me a letter with drawn characters I liked, with a handwritten note on wax paper. It was different from traditions here when we knew we would be receiving some candy with a little manufactured card at school. I liked that more time was put into my Valentine’s Day card that made it personal.”
So far, we all agree that Valentine’s Day should be a day to celebrate loved ones, but could it also be a day to celebrate ourselves? Perhaps Valentine’s Day could also be an initiative to start focusing on self-love and self-respect, which after all is just as important as loving and respecting others.
Mariela is completely on board with this approach: “Self-esteem is very important, especially in this society that is highly influenced by what we see on social media. When you learn to love yourself, to accept how much you are worth, you feel happier with yourself and with others. Self-love should definitely be encouraged more in this month. Love is a very encompassing subject. This month of love should be a tool to create more self-love and respect for others.”
Ingrid puts it beautifully: “I strongly believe that you don’t need a romantic partner to have a love-filled Valentine’s Day. While I think self-care and self-love should happen year-round, we can definitely use Valentine’s Day as an excuse to spend this holiday celebrating the love that we have for ourselves!” (…) We could start by taking some time to discover (or rediscover!) a hobby, start a project that’ll bring us joy, make a vision board, and my favorite one… cook myself a nourishing meal! The most important thing to always remember about love is: Love is not outside of us, Love is within us.”
Zariel adds an important fact to this question: “Of course! Especially since it’s also Heart Health Month, no time like now to practice self love. I often talk about how self love can look different for everyone from a larger or smaller scale, whether it’s booking that massage or cooking yourself a delicious meal. We are our biggest priority and it’s important to treat ourselves that way too!”
Finally, this is COCINA and we believe in the power of delicious food to spread love, so: any favorite recipes for Valentine’s Day?
Estrella: “I made heart shaped pupusas using my partner’s favorite combination of chicharrón con queso to kick off the Valentine’s Day mood!”
Mariela: “I always prepare a chocolate dessert and delicious pasta for my family. For this year I am going to prepare a rich vegan mushroom pasta and a chocolate cake.”
Ingrid: “There is a very special recipe for me that is not only one of my favorite desserts because of how delicious it is but, also It’s a traditional Peruvian dessert that was born as a result of a love story that dates back two centuries. The dessert is called Suspiro de Limeña (which means ”sigh of a woman”), and it is dedicated to love! The name was baptized by a poet which makes it perfect for this occasion. The base is a homemade manjar that is topped with a Port flavored meringue and sprinkled with a touch of cinnamon.”
Zariel: “If I were to cook something special for today it would be a pastelón de plátano maduros (Dominican style) in the shape of a heart! With a tall glass of wine.”
Thank you very much ladies for participating in this article and for your beautiful words about this famous and lovely day!
Some answers have been edited for length reasons.