The Spirit of Love, Friendship and Caring


Valentine’s Day in the US; Dia del Cariño in Guatemala

By Kate Barber


It’s that time of year again. Children are passing out cards and candy to classmates, couples enjoy  romantic dinners for two, the flower shops are sold out and there’s red, pink and white hearts everywhere you look. It must be Valentine’s Day!

Everyone knows about this beloved holiday, but where exactly does it come from? How is it celebrated in other countries – like Guatemala? To find out the answers to these questions, read on!


stvalentine4The history of Valentine’s Day is still shrouded in mystery. However, many believe its roots lie in ancient Roman and Christian traditions.

In ancient Rome, the pagan fertility festival of Lupercalia was celebrated in mid-February. By the end of the fifth century, Christian leaders overshadowed this festival and Pope Gelasius declared February 14 as St. Valentine’s Day to commemorate the day St. Valentine was martyred.

One of the most popular legends contends that Valentine was a priest who lived in Rome during the third century. When Emperor Cladius II determined that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages of young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Cladius ordered that Valentine be put to death.

Another popular legend surrounding Saint Valentine involves his imprisonment. Valentine is said to have sent the first “valentine” greeting himself after he fell in love with a young girl who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is believed that Valentine wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine,” an expression still used today.


Countries and people around the world have adopted Valentine’s Day and it is seen as a time to celebrate love and friendship. In the United States, Valentine’s Day is one of the most celebrated holidays of the year where romantic gestures are rampant and countless men and woman display affections to their sweethearts.

For many people in the U.S. and around the world, Valentine’s Day is about spending time with the ones you love and showing them that you care about them. This is especially true in Guatemala.

Guatemala has a very similar holiday to the Valentine’s Day celebrated in the U.S. known as “Dia del Amor y de la Amistad” (Day of Love and Friendship) or “Dia del Cariño” (Caring Day).

“As my 3rd grade teacher told me, ‘Dia del Cariño’ is a celebration of the ‘spirit of love’ that extends beyond a boyfriend or girlfriend,” said GV Program Outreach Manager, Mario Flores. “For some in Guatemala, it’s an occasion to get together with family members and exchange presents, although this isn’t as important as giving a hug and sharing your love. It’s a time to tell everyone in your life how much care for them.”

Like traditions found in the United States, Guatemalan school children partake in exchanging cards and gifts to fellow students to celebrate the holiday. In Guatemala, children are assigned a secret friend to give a card and a small gift to. Schools in Guatemala also hold festivities to celebrate the holiday, which can include plays, poems and songs preformed by the students as well as treats such as cake, candy and a piñata.

Of course, Dia del Cariño also has very strong ties to romance celebrated through similar traditions that we observe in the U.S. According to Mario, the tradition in Guatemala is to give roses to your girlfriend, go out to dinner and exchange gifts such as jewelry or clothes.  Despite the gifts, many Guatemalan couples insist that the most important part of the holiday is simply showing that special someone in your life how much you care for them.



roseWith cards, pink plush teddy bears, heart-shaped boxes of chocolate, bouquets of a dozen roses, jewelry and countless other gifts purchased for Valentine’s Day, many in America see the holiday as purely commercial and only celebrated by those in relationships. In the words of Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) in the film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: “[Valentine’s Day] is a holiday invented by greeting card companies to make people feel like crap.”

Despite the commercialism, for many people in the U.S. and around the world, February 14 is really about spending time with the ones you love and showing them how much you care; regardless of whether you’re single, in a relationship, married, or have a growing family.


In the spirit of the holiday, we at Global Visionaries would like to announce to the GV community that our executive director, Chris Fontana is expecting a new addition to his own family this Valentine’s Day. The staff and volunteers of Global Visionaries would like to wish Chris and Lisa  our most heartfelt congratulations. Send us your notes by replying to this post and we’ll make sure to pass them on!


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