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Strangest Valentine’s Day traditions around the world revealed



A couple making a heart shape with their hands
Valentine’s Day: not all countries will be celebrating the occasion in the same way this month | Photo: Matt Nelson

While Brits tend to buy a bunch of roses or visit a nice restaurant, Valentine’s Day traditions for some countries can be a lot less conventional. 

“It might not come as a surprise that other nations are more creative in their romantic pursuits, and whilst some traditions are still going strong around the world today, others have evolved over the years, while some are even banned,” says Huw Owen, co-founder at tailor-made holiday platform TravelLocal.

Valentine’s Day struggled to gain traction in 2023 amid a cost-of-living crisis and spending estimated to have fallen 19% year-on-year, according to a Mintel report. And, love aside, we are spending less on romantic celebrations, with the average spend per person being £23 according to a survey commissioned by Finder, as well as data from GCA and Statista.

However, it is not stopping people to celebrate the occasion. To mark Valentine’s Day on the 14th February, we selected five of the lesser known, obscure Valentine’s Day celebrations around the world, and how they have changed over the years.

Italy: waiting by the window for the single ones | Photo: Angel Bena


Of course, taking the top spot has to be the region of love where Valentine’s Day originated. The Roman Empire and the legend of Saint Valentine paved the way for romance today. In Italy, Valentine’s Day is often called La Festa Degli Innamorati meaning ‘the feast of lovers’ and is strictly for lovers only.

Going back in time, a more unusual tradition was for unmarried women to wake before dawn on Valentine’s Day and stand by the window, waiting for a single man to pass. Some believed that the first man she saw would be the one she married.

Fast forward to the present day, Italians will often celebrate by gifting chocolates and flowers but also, a new tradition has seen the ‘locks of love’ or ‘lucchetti dell’ amore’ – become popularised. This sees young lovers attach padlocks to bridges and railings and throw away the key to show eternal love.  Although once a charming way to prove one’s commitment, to allow the monument or bridge to last without damage, we would perhaps avoid throwing away the key and instead bring the padlock home. The intact structure of our beautiful cities will thank you for it! 

How to say ‘I love you’: Ti Amo 

France: love lottery has now been banned


Valentine’s Day in France is more subtle and less commercialised than in some other  countries. The French prefer to celebrate with romantic and traditional gestures such as gifting chocolates and flowers. It’s nothing out of the ordinary, but things weren’t so subtle back in the day…

Now banned in France, is ‘loterie d’amour’ or ‘drawing for love’. This involved single people getting together in a house or on a street to be paired together. If the man wasn’t attracted to the woman he was paired with, he could leave her. It’s reported that the women left behind would then get together to burn pictures of the men whilst shouting curses.

How to say ‘I love you’: Je t’aime  

Argentina: kisses are exchanged for sweet treats in July


As well as celebrating Valentine’s Day with the more traditional, universal activities, Argentinians also celebrate ‘Sweetness Week’ in July, where kisses are exchanged for sweet treats such as chocolates. It started as a commercial invention but is now a tradition each year. Who needs one day when you can have a whole week?

How to say I love you: Te amo 

Japan: not all chocolates are equal | Photo: Budgeron Bach


In Japan, it’s common for women to gift all the men in their lives chocolates on Valentine’s Day – from boyfriends to coworkers – but not all chocolates are equal…

The more special men in their lives receive ‘honmei choco’ or ‘true feeling’ chocolates and the less special will get ‘giri choco’ or ‘obligatory chocolates’ or even ‘tomo-choco’, which translates to ‘friend chocolate’. Interestingly, men don’t gift anything back until March 14th, known as ‘white day’ – where gifts must greatly exceed the value of what was gifted by the female.

How to say I love you: aishite imasu 

Spain: Flowers and books gifted between partners on St George’s Day


Whilst the Spanish do often celebrate the usual Valentine’s Day traditions in Valencia, the ‘day of love’ actually falls on 9th October during the Feast of St Dionysus. On this day it’s common for people to make and give their loved one a ‘macadora’ – a marzipan figurine – a symbol of their love together.

Further north in Catalonia, the ‘day of love’ is celebrated on St George’s Day, April 23rd. In the past the woman would gift a book to the man in their life, whilst the man would offer the woman a single rose. Fast forward to the present day, it’s common for books and roses to be gifted between partners on St George’s Day. As it’s also ‘The Day of the Book’, the streets of Barcelona are filled with stalls of booksellers and florists, bringing to life a shared celebration of love and culture.

How to say I love you: te quiero or when in Valencia – t’estime

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Applications for a Channel 4 New Writers Scheme close tomorrow



A TV camera filming an event
The New Writers Scheme offers writers an opportunity to harness skills with months of expert industry training and mentoring

As Channel 4 approaches its fifth anniversary of its base opening in Leeds (October 2024), the channel’s nationwide training and development programme, 4Skills, has shared a range of upcoming opportunities across the UK.

The New Writers Scheme offers writers a fantastic opportunity to harness their skills with months of expert industry training and mentoring. The project, which has been rolled out across the UK following the successful pilot last year in the south west of England, aims to identify and nurture underrepresented writing talent outside of London with a focus on diverse, regional and authentic voices who have a passion for television drama.

This year’s new writers scheme aims to work with around four to eight writers located in Bristol, Glasgow and Leeds, making up 20 participants in total. The aspiring writers will benefit from eight months of expert industry training and mentoring, alongside introductions to scripted indies and feedback from Channel 4.  

Channel 4’s Drama Commissioning Editor, Gwawr Lloyd said: “The pilot programme was a triumph and it’s fantastic to extend this scheme to the wider Nations and Regions by offering places in Leeds and Glasgow as well as Bristol.

I thoroughly enjoyed working with the last cohort of writers and I’m excited to get to know the new creatives on this year’s scheme. It’s an incredible opportunity for the channel to work with fresh talent from different regions. Often narratives told on screen reflect the writer’s own personal experiences and it’s important to hear from a variety of voices, especially from underrepresented groups, to inspire interesting and authentic story ideas.”  

Kevin Blacoe, Channel 4’s Head of Partnerships & Skills, Nations & Regions, said: “Nurturing talent is something we are passionate about as a broadcaster and these initiatives enables us to do just that.

“4Skills is all about providing opportunities for those from underrepresented backgrounds and different regions of the UK who wouldn’t normally get the chance to experience what it’s like working behind the scenes in television and guiding them as they progress their career.  By doing this we’re not only supporting those already working in the sector but we’re investing into the future talent of television, ensuring every voice is heard both on and off our screens. “

In addition to the expansion of the writers scheme, 4Skills has ambitious plans for creative talent in 2024 having already launched the Late Night Lycett training scheme last month.

Other schemes due to open up for applications before the summer include the Production Training Scheme, Content Creatives, Channel 4 Apprenticeships and the Freelancer Focus initiative.

  • Production Training Schemes – Channel 4’s Production Training Scheme is a year-long, fully paid training programme which places up to 20 trainees at independent production companies across the UK. The scheme is planning to run again in September 2024.
  • Content Creatives – aimed at people who might not think a career in the creative industries is for them, the Content Creatives scheme is aimed at young people from lower socio-economic backgrounds who have a passion for creating digital content. Placements for 30 creatives will begin in September 2024 across West Yorkshire and Manchester. 
  • Apprenticeships – Channel 4 currently supports 56 apprentices across a huge range of departments including: 4Studio and Policy and Public Affairs teams in Leeds, 4Creative and Product in London, Sales Operations in Manchester, and Commissioning in Glasgow. The fully paid-up apprenticeships range from 15 months to 36 months and people will be able to submit applications to sign up to a Channel 4 apprenticeship this spring.
  • Freelancer Focus – In partnership with the National Film and Television School, 4Skills runs regular bespoke training that supports the freelance community. Last year this included Freelancer Focus, a two-week programme, which had over 7,200 attendances across the 20 sessions and covered everything from pitching to CVs to finance to wellbeing. In 2024 there will be further bespoke face-to-face and online training, kicking off with factual edit training in Cardiff in March.

The New Writers initiative is one of many projects being supported by 4Skills, which provided more than 57,000 learning, training or development opportunities in 2023.

Last year’s development highlights included the Paralympic Production Training Scheme, which recruited 16 disabled trainees with some of them set to work on 2024 Paris Summer Paralympic Games; engaging with 121 schools in the UK through 4Schools where students learnt about the range of different job opportunities within the broadcast industry; 4Skills online work experience; supporting the freelance community in partnership with National Film and Television; and offering specialist support to regional indies through Business Boost.

Applications for the Channel 4 New Writers Scheme are now open, and it welcomes submissions from new and emerging writers based in commutable distance to either Bristol, Glasgow or Leeds. The scheme is open to unrepresented writers looking for their first writing credit and writers who are working on developing their own original series.

The deadline for applications is Friday 1st March 2024. For full details and how to apply, visit:

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New era for tennis in Kazakhstan as juniors reach international level



Amir Omarkhanov is first Kazakh player to ever reach the Australian Open Junior Championship quarterfinals
Amir Omarkhanov is first Kazakh player to ever reach the Australian Open Junior Championship quarterfinals

Elena Rybakina’s victory at Wimbledon in 2022 was a milestone for tennis in Kazakhstan. Her success caused a mixed reaction, however, raising questions among many observers.

Where were all the tennis players who had been developed in Kazakhstan? Would any of the juniors trained at tennis centres across the country be able to play for national teams, and did Kazakhstan even have a pool of homegrown talent?

To answer these questions, you just need to look at the world rankings. Ten Kazakhstanis finished the 2023 season in the top 100. While some of the players that compete for Kazakhstan in the professional rankings were born elsewhere, all the players in the junior rankings were born and trained in Kazakhstan. Amir Omarkhanov, who in 2024 became the first Kazakh player to ever reach the Australian Open Junior Championship quarterfinals, is ranked 16th in the ITF junior rankings, and Asylzhan Arystanbekova, who made it to the quarterfinals at the junior doubles tournament this year is ranked 53th.  

In 2022, Kazakhstan’s 14U team competed for the first time at a world team championship, where they reached the semi-finals. At the Billie Jean King Cup Juniors Finals in Córdoba, Spain, the Kazakhstani team finished in 9th place among the best 16 teams in the world. This was the first-ever world championship competition for Kazakhstan’s 16U girls team. Meanwhile, the 16U boys team also finished in the top 10 at their debut world championship.  Even back in 2021, juniors from Kazakhstan won a record 37 ITF Juniors tournaments in singles and doubles and reached the finals in 44 others. In Tennis Europe 14 & Under tournaments, players from Kazakhstan won 19 tournaments and reached the finals in 15 more.

These achievements would not have been possible, of course, without proper training and, most importantly, accessible infrastructure. Players who are now 14–16 years old began playing tennis about 10 years ago. Bulat Utemuratov, President of the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation (KTF), played a key role in making tennis accessible to children when he became head of the Federation in 2007. Not long after taking over leadership of the KTF, Utemuratov spearheaded an ambitious effort to build state-of-the-art tennis facilities across the country. Home to only 7 tennis centres and 60 courts in 2007, Kazakhstan now boasts 48 modern facilities with 364 courts, most of which are indoors.  

According to the KTF, the average hourly cost for court rental has decreased from $50 in 2007 to $10 at present. The number of children playing tennis has grown from 900 in 2007 to 30,000 in 2023, and 3,500 of the most talented young players are given an opportunity to train free of charge and have access to the equipment they need as well as tournament support.

In addition to building the required infrastructure, the KTF has also been active at every level, starting with grassroots tennis for 5–7-year-olds.

A great deal of attention is paid to the 10 & Under Tennis project, where children learn the foundations for further growth. KTF experts attend the main tournaments for players 10 and under in order to scout the most promising players in this age group. The Federation also has a targeted programme that provides financial support for more than 100 young players aged 11–14 years old from all over Kazakhstan.

In addition, an important part of the junior development system is the Team Kazakhstan Academy, which was created in 2008 for promising juniors 14 and up. More than 300 of the country’s most talented children, juniors and young tennis players have already passed through the Academy.

The results we have seen from our junior players suggest that investments in the development of tennis infrastructure and targeted programmes for children have helped make tennis in Kazakhstan more accessible and taken it to a qualitatively new level, while also laying a solid foundation for training talented young players. They are the ones who will represent Kazakhstan at professional tournaments in the future, and the country won’t have to bring players from elsewhere.

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Netflix’s ‘The Last Kingdom’ costume exhibition returns to Bamburgh Castle



Netflix's 'The Last Kingdom' Costume Exhibition Returns to Bamburgh Castle
Entry into The Last Kingdom exhibition costs £17 (adults) and £8.50 (children)

An exhibition showcasing costumes and props from global hit Netflix series The Last Kingdom has returned to Bamburgh Castle, UK.

Being displayed for the first time are costumes worn by Mark Rowley (Finan) and Arnas Fedaravičius (Sihtric), both who starred in the show from series two onwards and in the feature-length Netflix movie, Seven Kings Must Die.
The exhibition also includes costumes worn by Alexander Dreymon who plays protagonist Uhtred, Thea Sofie Loch Næss who starred as Skade and Cavan Clerkin as warrior-priest Father Pyrlig.
To crown it all, destiny is all for visitors who can become queen or king of the north and sit in the Wessex Throne from the series.
The Last Kingdom was produced by Carnival Films, which is part of Universal International Studios, a division of Universal Studio Group. Adapted for Netflix from Bernard Cornwell’s historical novels The Saxon Stories,the plot centres on the Anglo-Saxon citadel of Bebbanburg – Uhtred’s ancestral home – today called Bamburgh Castle.
“We are delighted that Bamburgh Castle is putting on this exhibition and giving the show’s loyal fans and members of the public the chance to step into The Last Kingdom. The props and costumes are such an integral part of the series, so it seems only right they stand proudly on display in Uhtred’s ancestral home of Bebbanburg,” says Nigel Marchant, Executive Producer and Managing Director of Carnival Films who have loaned the collection.

“Carnival Films has curated this fascinating collection of items that will be instantly recognisable to fans of the series and equally intriguing to anyone with an interest in Bamburgh’s past. The exhibition explores how the series was drawn from real life with a plotline inspired by its gripping history,” adds Kate Newman, events manager at Bamburgh Castle.
Alongside the exhibition, additional Follow in the Footsteps of Uhtred guided tours led by Ragnar the Viking of award-winning Lundgren Tours, compare the real history of Uhtred with the fictional version. Tours last two-hours long and include free entry into the Castle and staterooms.
Entry into The Last Kingdom exhibition is included with general admission (adults £17 / children £8.50. Under-fives free. Family tickets £47.00). Tickets are available on the gate or at

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