So how do Koreans celebrate Valentine’s Day?
Valentine’s Day in the West can be a very stressful ordeal for everyone involved. Couples, particularly men, are put under a lot of pressure. In contrast, Valentine’s Day in Korea is an altogether more straightforward affair (particularly for men).
It may be due to the fact that there are SO many different couple holidays and anniversaries in Korea or that the holiday doesn’t have as a long history in the country but, Korean Valentine’s Day is much less of a big deal that it’s Western counterpart. Rather than couples spending huge amount of money and time organising elaborate gifts and evenings for their other half, in Korea, Valentine’s Day is simply a way for women to show their interest and affection to men by giving them chocolate.
That such a holiday exists in a country that glorifies ‘aegyo’ where women are expected to act shy and wait for men to make they first move may seem a little strange but it is a little bit more complicated that it first appears. It seems that for many, Valentine’s Day has lost most of its romantic significance and many women choose to simply buy little chocolates for all the men in their life to show they care for them. As a result of this, one convenience store chain told CNN that Valentine’s Day is one of their top 5 days for sales. Convenience stores are hardly the kind of place one would buy extravagant gifts for the person they love.
If there is someone a woman (or girl) is really interested in, she may decide to show her feelings by taking the time to create handmade chocolates. Around Valentine’s Day, bookshops and convenience stores in Korea begin to sell lots more of the equipment required to make chocolates. If you have ever seen the popular drama ‘Boy Over Flowers’, you may remember the lead character Geum Jan Di making chocolates, for the nothing-if-not-narcissistic Goo Jun Pyo, in the shape of his face for the occasion. For the less creative, buying luxury handmade chocolates is also an option and many of the more upscale chocolate brands and European style bakeries (such as Paris Baguette) have special ranges especially for the holiday.
Of course, in Korea’s couple-centric culture, one romantic holiday is not enough and another way that the Korean holiday differs from the Western one is that Valentine’s Day is part of a series of three holidays. It is followed exactly one month later on the 14th of March by White Day (a holiday imported from Japan where it has been celebrated since the late 70s due to some serious effort from confectionary marketing companies) where men then repay the gifts given to them on Valentine’s with other sweets. These holidays are virtually identical other than, this time, men do the giving. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the gifts given by men tend to be more elaborate and expensive than those given by women. This could be because there is more pressure put on men to impress women with gifts in general or maybe because they tend to focus on giving gifts only to women they are romantically interested in.
Rounding off the celebrations, for those singletons who didn’t have the opportunity to take part in the first two holidays, is Black Day on, you guessed it, the 14th of April, exactly one month after White Day. Black Day is an opportunity for all single people to get together and either drown their sorrows or celebrate their freedom, depending on their outlook, over a bowl of the classic Korean-Chinese dish jajangmyeon (or black bean noodles). It’s a slightly odd tradition and just by looking at this noodle dish, it’s obvious that it is not intended to be a romantic holiday. It’s origins are unknown but I’m sure Chinese restaurant owners in Korea are grateful for the holiday, however it came about.
Supposedly there are actually also couple holidays that take place on the 14th of every month but they are not celebrated as widely as these main three. You can see a full list here.
Whatever you think of Valentine’s Day, White Day and Black Day in Korea, it is interesting to see how different holidays are celebrated in different parts of the world and these celebrations say a lot about Korea’s couple culture and it’s commercialisation. I can’t help but think Korean Valentine’s Day sounds a little less stressful but this may be the payoff for a dating style which all-in-all expects a lot more constant material demonstrations of love that those accustomed to a Western dating style may be used to.
So would you rather celebrate Valentine’s Korean-style, Western-style, or maybe just not at all?