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Poland learns to love Valentine's Day

With help from hearts, politicians, the Church and Harlequin romance, Poles embrace the holiday.

Valentine’s has now entered the canon of Polish feasts. Restaurants and florists report that it is the biggest day on their calendars, and even children have started giving each other paper hearts.

“It is very different from normal Polish holidays, which usually celebrate glorious military defeats and are very gray and somber affairs,” Kowalewska said.

Crucial to the holiday's swift adoption was the position of the Catholic Church, which did not put up any serious opposition to Valentine’s Day. In 1997, even Pope John Paul II, a Pole, congratulated believers on the occasion of St. Valentine’s Day.

The same cannot be said of the second-most popular transplant holiday in Poland — Halloween. While Valentine’s did not have any real competition in the Polish calendar, Halloween falls at the same time of the year as All Saints, one of the holiest days in Poland. At that time Poles travel to their family graves, then clean them and decorate them with flowers and candles. Every cemetery in the country is brightly lit, and if one flies over Poland at night, the dark countryside is lit with hundreds of sparkling graveyards.

The Church is very uncomfortable with Halloween, feeling it introduces a frivolous accent into an otherwise serious and religious time. Many priests also have doubts about Halloween’s pagan origins.

“I would request that neither you nor your children celebrate this holiday,” wrote the chaplain at one of Warsaw’s private Catholic schools in a letter to parents last year.

Stores are making attempts to market Halloween, but it has mainly caught on as an occasion for adults to attend costume parties. Children in some Warsaw neighborhoods do try to go door to door for candies, but it is still very much a minority phenomenon.

“I think that the key to Valentine’s Day becoming such a big hit was that it didn’t offend anyone. We sold it as a day of kindness and sincerity — with no erotic or naughty overtones — and it worked,” said Kowalewska.