TEHRAN - Despite Iran's standoff with the West and warnings by top religious leaders against "decadent" cultural imports, the celebrations of the Valentine's Day are finding a niche in the Islamic Republic."The usual routine each year is an exchange of gifts and then going out for dinner," Elmira, a 24-year-old architecture graduate in the capital who declined to give her last name, told Agence-France Presse (AFP) on Tuesday, February 14.
The Valentine's Day is a holiday celebrated on February 14, by many people throughout the world.
In the West, it is the traditional day on which lovers express their feelings for each others.
Though Iranian religious leaders warn against celebrating the occasion, the Valentine's Day has become a phenomenon in the Shiite country, with a growing numbers of Iranians marking the event.Shopkeepers say that demand for the Valentine's Day gifts, as rose bouquets, sentimental cards with the English word "love", chocolate, perfume and even teddy bears, sees a strong boom.
The owner of one Italian restaurant, who asked not to be identified, said his establishment was booked up well in advance by couples.
Observers attribute the increasing popularity of the Western celebration in Iran to the huge number of youth in Iranian society, where youth make up 60 percent of the 75 million-strong population, and one Iranian in three aged 15 to 30.
Valentine's Day "used to be huge for me," Elmira said, but now she was looking for something more meaningful.
"Silly traditions do not really matter if there are no feelings involved."Islam does recognize happy occasions that bring people closer to one another, and add spice to their lives.
However, Islam goes against blindly imitating the West regarding a special occasion such as Valentine's Day.
Hence, commemorating the Valentine's Day is an innovation or bid`ah (innovation) that has no religious backing.
Some Iranian see the Western occasion as an opportunity to get gifts.The day was not at all about adopting a Christian calendar but rather because "I would love to receive gifts and chocolate," Saba, an 18-year-old graphics student in the northeast holy city of Mashhad, told AFP.
The young student said she prefers to attend a private party in a home than risk a restaurant or other public place which could attract unwanted attention from Iran's morality police.
"Even though we would not be doing anything un-Islamic in restaurants or cafes, there are not many places in our city to hang out on Valentine's (Day) and be safe," she said.
Saba's fear was triggered by a ban imposed by Iranian officials against the production and sale of Valentine's Day items last year.
The ban was justified by a rapid decline of marriages in recent years, blamed on Western superficiality.
According to official records, the number of divorces in Iran has been increasing over the past decade, reaching 150,000 cases in 2010, compared to only 50,000 in 2000.
With a ratio of one divorce for every 7 marriages, the number doubled in the capital Tehran with one divorce for every 3.76 marriages.
Coupled with the high divorce rates, the Islamic republic is also seeing a dwindling marriage rate.