By Junil Kim
Known equally for inducing both sighs and groans from hopeful and jaded people worldwide, Valentine’s Day is just around the corner on February 14th. If the mere thought of Valentine’s Day is more headache-inducing than swoon-worthy, you could consider the wider array of South Korea’s romantically themed holidays. It doesn’t take an exhaustive look into Korean pop culture to realize that Koreans are a fan of romance, as evidenced by these various holidays.
Unlike America and other Western countries, Valentine’s Day in South Korea is largely a holiday when Korean women give chocolate to men, though it is similarly celebrated on February 14th. This tradition is similar to Japan’s version of Valentine’s Day, when Japanese women give “giri-choco” as a platonic gift and “honmei-choco” as an affectionate gift to male acquaintances. Due to this tradition, retailers will primarily target female shoppers. Couples will still typically celebrate the holiday together and it is not uncommon and sometimes expected for men to also treat women on Valentine’s Day.
White Day, which is celebrated a month after Valentine’s Day on March 14th in both South Korea and Japan, is the man’s turn to shower gifts on romantic partners. Although not a strictly kept tradition, the “rule of three” in reciprocal gift giving is normally applied to White Day, where the man should give a gift roughly three times the value his lover gave him on Valentine’s Day. As the name implies, gifts are typically white in color with white chocolate being the classic gift of choice.
For those that are not as romantically fortunate, Black Day on April 14th is celebrated (or cursed) by Korean singles. Singles will traditionally congregate together and eat jjajang myeon, a Chinese-style Korean noodle dish covered in black bean sauce. The holiday is celebrated more in jest than in actual sorrow, though Black Day purists will assert that the day is reserved only for those that did not receive any gifts on Valentine’s Day and White Day. Despite restaurants and matchmaking services that pounce on the downbeat holiday, advertising for Black Day is lightyears away from the ever-present marketing efforts of retailers during Valentine’s Day and White Day.
Perhaps the most baffling of South Korea’s romantic holidays is Pepero Day, which is named after the famous Korean chocolate covered snack. Due to its unmistakable stick shape, Pepero Day is celebrated on November 11th (11/11). Yonhap News reported that as much of half of Lotte’s annual Pepero sales come from the holiday. Convenience stores in particular benefit greatly from the holiday and display giant gift baskets of Pepero adorned with stuffed animals and fancy wrapping. Ambitious lovers will also make elaborate homemade versions of Pepero by dipping thin candy breadsticks in chocolate and covering them in decorations. The day and snack is also the source of some mild controversy due to its obvious similarities with the Japanese Pocky snack and associated holiday, which is also on November 11th.
If these holidays sound a bit excessive, keep in mind that there are other monthly couples days that occur on the 14th of the other calendar months. Although days like Kiss Day (June) and Hug Day (December) may not be as widely celebrated, Americans can rest easy this Valentine’s Day knowing that there is only one major romantic holiday to worry about.
Junil Kim is the Program Manager and Executive Assistant at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.
Graphic by Jenna Gibson, Director of Communications, Korea Economic Institute of America.