On Día del cariño (Valentine’s Day), February 14, many Guatemalan schoolchildren express their friendship with a hug and perhaps exchanging a card or a small gift. In some schools, children bring presents for their teachers; in other schools, it’s the teachers who bring gifts for all of the pupils.
Like many countries, Guatemala celebrates Día del cariño after the legend of the priest, Valentino, who married couples in secret in the days of the Roman Emperor Claudius II. Although the day was officially established as Valentine’s Day at the end of the fifth century A.D. (Valentine himself was executed for his efforts in the late third century), it has been suggested that a reason for celebrating relationships in mid- February had something to do with the tendency of birds to start coupling around this time.
In Central America Día del cariño is a celebration of the “spirit of love” which extends beyond sweethearts to include friendships and family. For many, it is an important time for families to gather for a special meal and time together. Presents and flowers may be exchanged, but it is the simple sharing and affection that is important.
For families who don’t celebrate this way, sons and daughters will visit their mothers, show their affection and bring them roses and/or other gifts.
For friends, it is a time to say how much you care for them and appreciate their friendship. Close friends may telephone each other to say “Feliz Día del cariño”, invite each other out for a coffee or lunch and exchange small gifts.
For sweethearts, the tradition is similar to other countries. A special dinner is arranged, roses and gifts are exchanged, as well as marriage proposals. It is a popular, even auspicious day for marriages; last year, 77 couples were collectively married in an event in Guatemala City following a tradition started by former President Álvaro Arzú 17 years ago.
What distinguishes Día del cariño from the popularized Valentine’s Day celebrations is that in Central America the day is primarily about all relationships and those we care for, about letting friends know you care for them, assuring family and partners of your love for them. Gifts aren’t the most important thing—the emphasis here is on quality time instead and being with those you most care about.