Love is love no matter where you are, and yet, the cultures and nuances that surround it vary, and there’s no better environment in which they can be examined than on Valentine’s day. 해피 발렌타인 데이. Whether you love or loath the day, it’s undeniable that it’s all around, in shops and restaurants, it’s somewhat hard to escape in the western world. The legend of St.Valentine dates back to Roman times, and the first written account of a Valentine’s Day dates back to the 1400’s but is believed to have been celebrated since the middle ages. Juxtaposed to this, in the eastern world, the celebration of Valentine’s Day is a fairly new concept. It’s no secret that Korea is a country that’s been rapidly modernised, so new traditions influenced by the west are celebrated in a somewhat different way, taking pieces of old western tradition and merging them with modern life.
Unlike the celebration of Valentine’s Day in the west which is held only on the 14th of February, Korea celebrates variations of Valentine’s day over and over again over consecutive months. Valentine’s Day itself is celebrated on February 14th as it is in the west, but in the month following on March 14th, Korea celebrates White Day and the month following that on April 14th, Korea celebrates Black Day. So what do all these days mean?
Unlike Valentine’s Day in the west, the day of February 14th is far less of a ‘big deal’ in South Korea. Valentine’s Day is a simple day in which women can show appreciation for the men they love in their lives. Far from the western stress of planning what to do for Valentine’s Day, Korean women will usually give chocolates to their husbands/boyfriends or even just male coworkers. Some couples may choose to go for a meal or a date but it’s not really a tradition to do so in South Korea. Some women would traditionally make their own chocolates for their loved ones, but these days, the chaos of modern life often doesn’t afford the time for this. Instead, chocolates are usually bought from supermarkets and convenience stores. Convenience stores tend to sell the best gift wrapped chocolates, and are great for the occasion.
In the month following Valentine’s, on March 14th, Korea celebrates White Day. It is on this day that men show their appreciation for the women in their lives. Usually, similar gifts to those given on Valentine’s Day are given to women on White Day. One particularly popular gift on White Day is Pepero (빼빼로). Pepero is a Korean biscuit stick, virtually identical to Pocky, most commonly dipped in chocolate although it comes in many different variations. Pepero actually has an entire day dedicated to it on November 11th, since the date (11/11) conveniently resembles two sticks of Pepero, but White Day usually holds the second largest sale of Pepero during the entire year. Men will also sometimes give soft toys or flowers on White Day.
If the months of February and March make you sick of the sight of love hearts and chocolates, then the month of April is for you: on this day, Korea celebrates Black Day. Black Day is a day dedicated to single men and women. On April 14th, single people gather in Chinese style restaurants to eat jjajangmyeon (짜장면), a black bean noodle dish. The origin of the jjajangmyeon tradition is unknown, and what significance its uncompromisingly black colour may have on the day can’t be verified, but it is certainly loved by many.
So if these three days weren’t already enough, you might find delight in knowing that Korea holds a celebration of love on the 14th of every month throughout the year. The ‘love days’ of Korea are the following; Diary Day, Rose Day, Kiss Day, Silver Day, Green Day, Photo Day, Wine Day, Movie Day, Hug Day. However, these days aren’t really celebrated to the same degree that Valentine’s Day, White Day and Black Day are. It’s more a reminder to stop and think of loved ones amidst the chaos of every day life – a sentiment that we can get behind.
Altogether, Valentine’s seems to have less significance in Korea than it does in the western world. This is partly due to the fact that it’s a fairly new tradition, with White Day first being celebrated in Japan in the 70’s. After being celebrated in Japan, the tradition spread to neighbouring countries including Korea by the 80’s. White Day was originally introduced to Japan by confectionery companies, clearly trying to sell more products. Most Koreans are therefore aware that these holidays are very commercial and so, they don’t regard it as being too important. Also, the fact that a love day exists during every month might mean that the significance of Valentine’s is somewhat lessened.
Out of all the three days, Black Day seems to be the most celebrated. Even when in a relationship, Koreans often gather with friends to eat jjajangmyeon, as a kind of celebration of friendship and freedom, and of course to eat delicious food.
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