Alas, the holiday of Love!
Just like many places in the world, Valentine’s Day in South Korea is an important romantic holiday. It is also celebrated on the 14th of February. But in South Korea, Japan and Taiwan, only women give gifts. Traditionally, women give men chocolates as a sign of affection. And rather than be economical with their purchases, women may actually benefit by spending a lot on men. How? A month later, on March 14th, her man will reciprocate on so-called White Day when he is expected to observe the 'Rule of Three' and reciprocate with a gift three-times the value of what he received in February.
Valentine's Day in Korea is a bit different from Valentine's Day elsewhere in world. In fact, Valentine’s Day is one of 12 "love days" celebrated on the 14th of every month in Korea. These days range from the popular (White Day) or depressing (Black Day), to the bizarre (Hug Day) and everything in between. ‘Big money’ is both spent and made on Valentine’s and White Day, while the other love days receive little to no commercial attention.
Valentine's Day (February 14th): Rather than the catch-all holiday as it is in the rest of the world, on Valentine's Day in Korea, women give chocolate to men as a sign of affection. Traditionally, men that receive these gifts will give a gift in return the following month on White Day. This has been changing in recent years, as retailers have begun targeting Men and Women on both days. As such, the day is a couples’ day, rather than a generally observed holiday as it is in other countries. Many convenience stores set up large displays out in front of their shops, with a heavy focus on chocolate and chocolate candies like Ferrero Rocher, Twix and Chupa Chups. These shops remain up from roughly the week before Valentine's Day to the week after White Day. Similarly, many advertisers capitalize on the two days to anchor their early season sales of jewellery, sweets, lingerie and other sentimental gifts.
Couples go on dates on February 14th. It’s a happy and romantic day for couples. Although people may say that it’s not an important holiday, you should definitely pay attention to it if you are in a relationship with a Korean person. They may not care themselves, but they may be asked by their peers or friends. Therefore, it’s better if they are able to say something about celebrating it if asked.
This is a day where you celebrate together with your ‘better half’ if you are in a relationship. It is also seen as a great occasion for women to confess their love to men. So for single women, they can gather all their courage and grab this day to let their men know of their feelings.
Single people don’t celebrate this day, but they have a similar holiday for themselves called Black Day.
These days, on Valentine’s Day, a woman will buy chocolate for colleagues and friends as well, but will make a distinction between courtesy chocolate and the 'chocolate of pure love.' If the confection is handmade (or expensive), that’s a sign. But she’ll have to wait an entire month for the reply.
White Day (March 14th): First celebrated just over 35 years ago in Japan, White Day is the man's turn to show his affection with sugary sweetness. It takes place exactly a month after Valentine's Day on March 14th. The name stems from the giving of primarily white gifts, like white chocolate and lingerie, by Men as an answer to Valentine's Day gifts. In recent years, the exclusively white nature of the holiday has changed to include both dark and white chocolate, other shades of lingerie and non-chocolate candies like lollipops. Some people follow the so called "Rule of Three" which dictates that the reciprocal gift given by the man must be roughly 3 times the value of the gift he received on Valentine's Day. This rule is not widely expected or practiced, but many Men view it as a rough guideline for reciprocal gifting.
That means he has to spend three times what she spent on him. And not only can he give candy, but also flowers, stuffed animals, lingerie and even jewellery. How he responds signifies what he thinks about the relationship. If he doesn’t give her a present, it means he thinks he’s above her. While if he gives a gift of equal value, rather than go to the power of three, the relationship is over.
Black Day (April 14th): Supposedly, singles that did not receive a gift on either Valentine’s Day or white day congregate on April 14th, otherwise known as "Black Day". They eat Jjajangmyeon -Black Noodles(짜장면) with other single friends. It’s basically Chinese noodles in a black bean-paste sauce. It’s extremely tasty. Although it’s called Chinese food, black noodles are solely found in Chinese-Korean establishments.
By April 14th, the weather in Korea is generally fair and mild, summer is around the corner and "you don't need a reason, or a day, to go out anymore." Perhaps the most telling difference between the two major relationship holidays and Black Day is that the advertising around Black Day is nearly non-existent, in stark contrast to both Valentine’s Day and White Day.
Originally, Black Day was a time for singles to get together and cry in their favourite comfort food. There’s a lot of pressure on 20s to get married and have children. So Koreans feel sad, not merely for being single, but because they haven’t fulfilled their social obligation, which is really important in the East Asian cultures. Some go as far as wearing black on that day as some women even wear black nail polish.
But something has happened, at least in South Korea, in recent years. To a small but growing minority, Black Day isn’t a lamentation but a celebration of singlehood, of recognizing and appreciating the self, and for some women, the chance to follow a career path rather than the traditional one of domestication.
Today, South Korea remains a very traditional Confucian culture colliding with modernity. Their society is trying hard to navigate new technologies, economies, and the dissolution of tradition. In many households in and around Seoul today, both parents work, people go to college longer and work long hours in order to establish themselves.
So, the traditional social pressures don’t rightly fit and are harder to square with this new paradigm. Like their counterparts in the West, many South Koreans are sick of the commercialism and forced schmaltziness of these holidays. So, in a way, Black Day is a way for singles to take time with friends, suck down a healthy helping of carbs, and decide what singleness actually means for them.
The Other Days: Other monthly couples days occurring on the 14th are: Diary Day (January), Rose Day (May), Kiss Day (June), Silver Day (July), Green Day (August), Photo Day (September), Wine Day (October), Movie Day (November), Hug Day (December).
In South Korea, these days being purely romantic and social in nature, they are not given much religious significance as such.
HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!