Richard E Grant on spending Valentine’s day with Madonna
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It’s the one day a year when hundreds of couples make the effort to show their appreciation and love for their partner. Bunches of flowers and chocolates are bought, candlelit dinners are shared, heartfelt messages are penned — and curt words are exchanged for those who forgot. While some dismiss the day as a commercial holiday, the reproach for Valentine’s Day is taken to the extreme in some countries where the celebration — which marks the feast day of the Christian martyr — is seen as both a foreign and immoral tradition, which was felt to be at loggerheads with Russian cultural traditions in one city.
In the Nineties, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Valentine’s Day came to Russia and has long been popular — with most but not all.
In 2008, a rival holiday on July 8 called The Day of Family, Love, and Fidelity was introduced in a bid to ward off the “corrupt” Western influences on the young while simultaneously promoting marriage in a move to boost the dwindling population.
In the city of Belgorod, this went even further. Valentine’s Day was completely banned in the city just 24 miles north of the Ukraine border in 2011. The university banned concerts and discos and the zoo cancelled a couple’s discount available on the special day.
Deputy Governor Oleg Polukhin signed a decree ordering authorities to call off any celebrations as it was felt the holiday went against Russian cultural traditions and only benefited commercial organisations.
Mr Bolotnov told The Times: “The atmosphere of these holidays does not help young people to develop spiritual and moral values. Society has to think about the consequences of St Valentine’s Day celebrations.
“We could just as well have introduced a Vodka Day. Marking this sort of holiday means that tomorrow we could end up creating other celebrations such as National Beer Day or a Day of Marijuana.”
Although couples can give gifts and flowers in private, celebratory events in public venues cannot take place. Russia also has an alternative in the form of International Women’s Day, held on March 8, where men buy flowers, chocolates, and gifts for women from partners to female work colleagues.
Banda Aceh, Indonesia
Akin to Russia, Valentine’s Day is widely celebrated in Indonesia, particularly in urban areas Jakarta. But in the city of Banda Aceh, couples were banned from celebrating with the mayor saying in 2020 that if they did, they would be “defying Islamic law”.
In Malaysia, the country’s conservative Islamic authorities are strongly against the celebration and Muslims celebrating it. The 2020 Population and Housing Census revealed that just over 63 per cent of the population practicses Islam.
Some 80 Muslims were arrested on Valentine’s Day in 2011 when the Islamic morality police raided hotels in the Selangor state, seeking couples who were sharing rooms despite not being married — or committing khalwat or “close proximity”. The punishment for khalwat is two years in prison and/or a fine of more than £800.
The raids were part of the “Mind the Valentine’s Day trap” which dated back to a fatwa doled out in 2005. The celebration was labelled by then Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin as “not suitable” for Muslims.
Similarly in Iran, the religious authorities have taken a strong stance against the Day of Love with shops in the holy city of Qom ordered not to sell Valentine’s gifts. The Iranian regime see the day as a “cultural onslaught of the West” and the production and sale of cards and paraphernalia is banned.
However, it is incredibly popular with hundreds of Iranians sending lovey-dovey text messages each year. In a bid to tackle the problem, many are encourage to celebrate the Iranian holiday called Sepandārmazgān, the Persian day of love.
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Until six years ago, celebrating Valentine’s Day in Saudi Arabia was risky as the celebration was banned with it potentially resulting in an altercation with the religious police. The day was deemed to go against Islamic proprieties.
In 2004, more than 200 Bangladeshi and Burmese workers were arrested in Mina for celebrating February 14.
The grand mufti described it as the “pagan Christian holiday” with the fatwa issuing a public statement in local newspapers part of which read: “A Muslim is forbidden from taking part in this holiday and other unholy celebrations through food, drink, commerce, shopping, gifts, greetings, advertisement or any other form.”
But after crown prince Mohammad bin Salman took away many of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice’s powers, members of the public can now buy gifts and flowers which were previously expensive because of the furore surrounding the day.
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