Iranians on Monday went on a gift-buying spree for their loved ones for Valentine's Day, witnesses said, despite a ban on the sale of items giving expression to the annual romantic ritual.
Witnesses said several Tehran shops were packed with customers buying red and purple hearts, teddy bears, chocolates and boxes of all colours embossed or printed with the word "Love" in English.
AdvertisementThe steady flow of purchases in some of Tehran's affluent neighbourhoods came despite the printers' union banning the sale of Valentine's cards and other gifts.
Shopkeepers avoided openly displaying cards and other presents emblazoned with hearts or half-hearts and red roses, but were doing steady business in meeting the demand of both men and women customers.
The authorities had said the sales ban on such items was part of the fight against the spread of "corruptive Western culture."
"Selling Valentine cards is now a crime. But everything else is selling. We've got red teddy bears, purple and red hearts" and other items, said one shopkeeper who declined to give his name.
"I fear if we carry Valentine signs our licences will be revoked," he said before rushing off to attend to several young men and women seeking presents for their Valentines.
Over the past three decades, Iran's Islamic regime has sought to prevent the spread of Western culture among its overwhelmingly young population.
Such efforts, carried out in the name of Islamic sharia law, include bans on unmarried couples socialising and even broadcasting television cookery shows that include foreign recipes.
But Valentine's Day is becoming increasingly popular among Iranians from all walks of life, with men and women celebrating by exchanging chocolates, flowers, perfumes, teddy bears and other gifts.
Every year restaurants in the capital are packed on February 14 with young men and women out on dates.
"Today is the day of love and I don't care what they say," said 50-year-old Jamshid, dressed in a smart suit and tie as he left one store clutching a big red box.
Lina, 24, said February 14 was the day to express love.
"One way to express love is through actions, and on Valentine's Day you can show what that special someone means to you," she said.
"But in Iran, you have to do it without the cards," she said, holding a large red teddy bear.
Iran's conservatives take a harsh view of the celebrations, saying there is no room for such expressions in Islamic culture.
Some nationalist Iranians have suggested replacing Valentine's Day with "Mehregan," a pre-Islamic but obsolete festival celebrated in early October, marking the autumn equinox and honouring the ancient Persian angel of love, Mithra.
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