Besos y Abrazos: Valentine's Day in the Spanish-speaking World

Though it may go by other names, and even occur on days other than the 14th of February, the idea and sentiment surrounding el Día de San Valentín (Valentine’s Day) is as important in Spanish-speaking countries as it is in other parts of the world.  


Known as el Día de los Enamorados (Lovers’ Day) in Argentina and Chile, the celebration looks pretty similar to that of the U.S. and other English-speaking countries.  Couples give each other flowers and chocolate on February 14th and enjoy a romantic evening at a restaurant or bar.  A more traditional celebration, however, is el Día del Amigo (Friends Day), which is celebrated in June.  Groups of friends get together to share a meal and each other’s company.


Peruvian orchids from Machu Picchu

Peruvian orchids from Machu Picchu

In Peru, it’s customary to give orquídeas (orchids) instead of roses on February 14th.  And in Guatemala, where the day is known as el Día del Cariño (the Day of Affection), it’s common to give sentimental gifts to lovers, friends, and coworkers.  The children of El Salvador celebrate this holiday with a game called Angelito (little angel) or Amigo Secreto (secret friend).  They choose a slip of paper with the name of another child and then give a little gift to their amigo secreto.


Mexico honors el Día de San Valentín as well, but the day is more commonly known as el Día del Amor y la Amistad (The Day of Love and Friendship).  Couples exchange flowers and balloons, as well as the increasingly popular heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, but the day’s focus is also directed at showing gratitude to friends.


The 14th of February isn’t all that important in Colombia, since their celebration of love occurs on September 20th, when it’s common to see secret admirers giving gifts to their crushes and professing their love.  And Bolivians celebrate El Día de Amor one day after, on September 21st. Due to Bolivia’s location below the equator, this September day also marks the start of Bolivian spring, adding a heightened sense of romance and happiness to the occasion as people say goodbye to winter.  Couples give each other cookies, candy, and flowers.  They also celebrate a second day of love and friendship on July 23rd.


The candy heart version of Valentine’s Day has certainly taken off in Spain, but many regions of the country also have their own traditional celebrations on other days of the year.  On October 9th, the city of Valencia celebrates the day of San Dionís (Saint Denis).  Men give women gifts of handkerchiefs filled with marzipan candies shaped like fruit, which represent the Valencian harvest.  


The Autonomous Communities (similar to states) of Aragon and Cataluña celebrate el Día de San Jorge, or la Diada de Sant Jordi in Catalán (St. George’s day), on April 23rd.  It is both a day of love and friendship, as well as a day of regional pride. The Aragonese celebrate St. George’s patronage during medieval times and his supposed slaying of a horrific dragon. The celebration also includes the exchanging of gifts amongst loved ones, which usually includes the men giving roses and the women giving books.  


This gift tradition is even stronger in Cataluña, where the streets fill with vendors selling roses and books, and the books are sold at a discount in honor of the day. The tradition of giving books on this lovers’ day dates back to the early 1900s, and the decision to continue celebrating this holiday on the 23rd of April was reinforced by the fact that William Shakespeare, Miguel de Cervantes (author of "Don Quixote"), and prominent Catalan author Josep Pla, all died on April 23rd.  The day is also full of Catalan national pride, which can be seen in the multitude of Catalan flags flying in each town and city in the region and cultural events like choirs singing in town squares.


So how can you impress your friends and loved ones with your Spanish skills this Valentine’s Day (and every other day), while you shower them with besos (kisses) and abrazos (hugs)? Here is a list of some important vocabulary that you’ll need to know.

Terms of Endearment

  • Cariño - honey, love, sweetheart

    • Usage note: This word is used for both men and women. It does not change to cariña for women.

  • Amor - love (referring to a person)

  • Mi amor - my love

  • Amorcito - sweetie, love, darling, sweetheart

    • Usage note: This changes to amorcita for women.

  • Cielo - sweetheart, honey, angel

    • Usage note: This word is the same for both men and women.

Adjectives for complimenting someone

  • Bonito/a - pretty, lovely, beautiful

  • Guapo/a - handsome, beautiful, hot, elegantly dressed

  • Lindo/a - pretty, cute, lovely

  • Hermoso/a - beautiful, lovely, handsome, gorgeous

  • Bello/a - beautiful, lovely

How to say “I like/love you.”

  • Me gustas. - I like you.

  • Te quiero. - I love you.

    *Usage note: In most countries this phrase is reserved for friends and as a predecessor to the big “I love you.” in a romantic relationship.  It can also be said by an adult child to his/her parents.  In Spain, however, it’s used for all types of love, including deep romantic love.
  • Te amo. - I love you.

    *Usage note: This phrase is typically used in romantic relationships and is intended to be stronger than Te quiero.  It may also be used by small children who are addressing their parents.  In Spain it is considered old-fashioned and overly poetic, so it’s not really used.

Valentine’s Day vocabulary

*Usage note: This is a general term for candy and does not necessarily mean “caramel”, though it can.


So whether you choose to celebrate el Día de San Valentín, or a different day of love and friendship, you can make the people in your life feel extra special by lavishing them with love in two languages!