Valentine’s Day: The Korean Way

Up with the pink hearts, the lipstick kisses, the bows and arrows!  Valentine´s Day is one of my favorite holidays, specifically for its commercialization.  In South Korea, where femininity, or perhaps girlie-ness, is widespread and commercially capitalized, shops and schools are all covered in pink hearts, just the same.  The commercials use it to advertise perfumes and candies and chick flicks.  But instead of the boys figuring out what they’re buying for their girlfriends, it’s the other way around.

Valentine’s Day:

February 14th is the day Korean women, with their sparkly bows, ruffled dresses, and four-inch heels are the ones bringing chocolates to their boyfriends and crushes.  Compared to smoking in secret in the women’s bathrooms, or the tittering laughter and shy mannerisms of the girls on reality TV, such a forward display from the women might seem contradictory.

In the States, I had been accustomed to candy hearts and mass-produced Be-Mine cards exchanged between friends at primary school.  Then in secondary, students could order heart-shaped lollipops or flowers to be sent to blushing classmates.  Most of the time, however, it was the girls on the receiving end.  Even between friends, the boys would have been too embarrassed to exchange anything more than an ironic “Happy Valentine’s Day.”  In Korea, the girls had to brave making the first move, one that wouldn’t be reciprocated in kind.  At least, not until the next month.


White Day:

March 14th, White Day, is the boys’ opportunity (or duty) to respond to the gifts received on Valentine’s Day.  There is some sense of obligation in the gift.  In fact, in neighboring Japan, the expectation is that the man return with a gift of greater value than he was given the month before.  Unfortunately for chocolate loving girls like me, this is not a day for chocolates—simply sugary confections.  White Day does not sport the same glitter and pomp, no hearts hung in windows or special promotions on roses.  It passes rather quietly in commercial comparison, perhaps because the holiday was invented centuries after Valentine’s Day, and by a confectionery.

Black Day:

In Korea, single people have got a holiday, too—Black Day, on April 14th.  This is the day singles head to their local Chinese restaurant to eat a dish of black noodles (jajangmyeon)—noodles covered in black bean sauce.  This holiday could become quite a success internationally, as singles often use Valentine’s Day itself to gather, dressed in black, and drink and party.  Why not give it a day all its own, with a traditional dish and a way to identify other singles?  Maybe next year, they’ll be exchanging chocolates and sweets.

Jordan Felker Written by:

Who would have thought that the girl who spent the summers in her basement reading would find herself hopping countries, speaking Korean and Spanish with taxi drivers, and eating red stew from a pot that spewed fishtails and tentacles? When Jordan graduated with a degree in Creative Writing and Film Studies, she took it with her to teach EFL, realizing somewhere along the way that she really loved to teach. Now a high school English teacher, EFL tutor, and freelance writer, Jordan spends her free time trying to forget that she´s actually an American by dancing salsa and eating with chopsticks.