The argument that holidays such as Valentine’s Day and Halloween are manufactured by greeting card companies and supermarket chains definitely holds plenty of water back in the Western World – but marketing savvy Korea has taken the issue to dizzying new heights. While holidays such as Chuseok and the Lunar New Year embody the proud traditions of Korea, other holidays such as White Day and Pepero Day seem to be little more than manufactured holidays.
But isn’t that a part of Korea’s quirky charm? In my mind these holidays are right up there alongside bizarre fuzzy hats shaped like bear’s heads and atrocious matching couple outfits.
With White Day falling today (March 14th), I thought it’d be a good time to highlight a few of Korea’s more unusual holidays.
The mother of all Hallmark holidays exists in Korea much as it does in the Western world, but there’s a slight twist on it. With the additional holiday of White Day falling a month later – Valentine’s Day is ostensibly for women to shower men with gifts of chocolate. As far as I can tell this doesn’t stop women from expecting gifts and romance from their men, but tradition does seem to dictate that females do the majority of gift buying.
During my first year in Korea I was almost drowned in a sea of chocolate goodies from my adoring students, and even though I like to think I’ve come even farther in being everybody’s favorite teacher, it’s a sad truth that my booty has been smaller and smaller every year. That sounded like an ad for Jenny Craig.
A month after Valentine’s Day comes White Day, which is (as you’ve probably guessed) the day where it’s the turn of men to spend inordinate amounts of money on candy. Chuppa Chip gift packs, Jelly Belly boxed sets, and all manner of cutesy teddy bears with cheesy slogans adorn every spare bit of shelf space in Family Marts and Lottemarts across the country.
While I opted for the slightly less cheesy option of giving a certain special somebody some roses for the day, I was not above buying the adoration of my students today by tossing out handfuls of cheap Korean candy at the beginning of every class. I used peppermints to buy correct answers and was not above rewarding children who called me handsome with a bland, tasteless jelly candy that they seem to gobble up here on the peninsula.
With two holidays dedicated to sickeningly happy couples, it seems only fair that the sad singles get a day all to themselves. Black Day, falling on April 14th, is a day for single people to get together and eat jjajameyon or black noodles. I’m actually a huge fan of the dish at any time of year, but I love the image of a bunch of teary eyed and lovelorn losers sitting around a table and shoveling the black bean soaked noodles into their mouths.
While people back in Australia and New Zealand celebrate Remembrance Day on November 11th, people in Korea are exchanging sticks of biscuit dipped in chocolate of varying flavors. ‘Traditionally’ this is dairy milk chocolate, but I’ve found everything from wild berry flavored to coffee.
The date (11/11) is chosen because the 1’s resemble the day’s namesake, and any teacher worth their salt can expect to come home with arm-loads of the surprisingly addictive Korean treats. I was still eating the damned things in early December 2008 when I returned to Australia after my first contract ended.
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