Do Czechs prefer Valentine's Day to May 1st ?

Photo: CTK

February 14th is St Valentine's Day, a holiday marked by lovers throughout many parts of the world. On the day, many send cards (as many as one billion by some estimates) while others opt for flowers or chocolates. But here in the Czech Republic, Valentine's Day is a much more recent phenomenon, and you may be surprised to learn that even now most Czechs mark another day as the day of love.

Before 1989, Valentine's Day was practically unknown in then-Czechoslovakia and most Czechs traditionally marked May 1st - not only as International Labour Day - but as a day for lovers. Even now, on the first of May young couples are recommended to kiss under a blossoming cherry tree to ensure a year of good health and good luck. On the day, it's also long been a tradition for Praguers to meet at the statue of Romantic poet Karel Hynek Macha on the capital's Petrin Hill.

Of course, since 1989, Valentine's Day has made in-roads, thanks in no small part to the florist, jewellery, perfume, and greeting card industries, and it's now become a question whether Czechs prefer one day over the other. Earlier I spoke with a number of people out on the streets of Prague.

Young woman: "I think Valentine's is nothing for us! We don't feel it, I think that we don't feel it. It's just a matter of commerce. The tradition for us is the first of May. It's a special day: spring - symbolising new life and love - for Czechs!"

Young professional: "I never celebrated St Valentine's Day before '89 or '90. Even now I don't celebrate it! I think that maybe May 1st is more important here than Valentine, a day when a lot of people go out and meet at Prague's Petrin Hill and kiss under the tree or visit the statue of Karel Hynek Macha, the Czech poet."

Young mother: "Huh! In the Czech Republic? I have no idea. But it's very commercial. To celebrate or not? I don't know."

Woman, early 30s:

"For us it's a new holiday, one that I don't really celebrate. But, when you see how others mark the day, especially young people, their enthusiasm kind of rubs off!"

Photo: CTK
Man, early 30s:

"No, I don't like the holiday. It strikes me as 'imported' and I don't celebrate it or respect it as a holiday at all."

Despite the abundance of answers to the negative there, there are some say that there is room for both holidays in the Czech calendar. Magdalena Palenkova, a florist I spoke to who runs a shop near Wenceslas Square, told me she likes Valentine's. And, she says, contrary to some of the criticism, the holiday has caught on. Her proof? Flower sales on February 14th go up.

"I think that Valentine's Day has begun to catch on: flower sales usually go up on the day, sometimes even a couple days before. Clients include both Czechs and foreigners, it's around fifty-fifty. It's true that Valentine's doesn't have a long history here, but I like it. The only thing is, is that I'm not seeing anybody just now, so I myself am not expecting any flowers this year."