Love it or hate it, Valentine’s Day is an unstoppable holiday that long ago seduced its way into the customs of many western countries. Somewhat more recently, Cupid set his sights on the Asian continent, wooing and flashing his dimpled smile until the likes of Japan, Singapore, and China became infatuated. Perhaps his biggest conquest however has been with flirty South Korea.
Not only have Koreans fallen head over heels with this imported holiday but for the younger generations in particular, only one day a year set aside for encouraging courtship just wasn’t enough. Propelled by an obsession of anything romantic or cute and encouraged by a nation full of savvy marketers, a large number of Koreans observe at least twelve unofficial couple based holidays a year.
While these special days are considered ‘off the calendar’, the 14th of every month is being recognized by more and more people as a way to celebrate the notion of love (or mourn the lack thereof).
January 14th: Diary Day/Candle Day
To kick off the new year and encourage future memories worth writing about, gifts of blank diaries are given among couples and friends on this day. Anniversaries, birthdays and other special occasions (like the other holidays falling on the 14th) are then recorded into the brand new journals. Korea is full of stationary shops that specialize in quirky notebooks and agendas, often covered with ‘Konglish’ or mistranslated phrases. One of my students gave me a diary with the words ‘Yo! Miss Syringe’ on the front.
Some also celebrate this day as Candle Day and give and receive decorative candles.
February 14th: Valentine’s Day
Valentine’s Day, the catalyst holiday, is celebrated in Korea much like it is in most places, except for one main difference: it is only the women that give the gifts. Men are off the hook in February, and it is the ladies who must court their beaus on this day. While this may seem unfair at first, we quickly see which of the sexes has the foresight in Korea.
March 14th: White Day
A month after Cupid visits, White Day is celebrated. This is when the women reap what they sowed on Valentine’s Day. Some follow the custom that the man should give a gift that is approximately three times the worth of what he received from his beloved the month prior. Many gifts, whether they are roses, chocolate or candy, are often given in the color white.
April 14th: Black Day
Created for single people, this holiday lacks the fanfare and candy of the couples’ days. Instead, it is a rather depressing day where singles eat a sticky black bean paste noodle dish called ‘jjajangmyun’ and wish they had a corresponding love interest. In a country where not having a partner is considered embarrassing by many, Black Day is a day of mild mourning. Some however, have turned this occasion into a celebration of independence, getting together with other singletons and toasting their freedom with a heaping bowl of noodles. Most still secretly hope that they will meet another sad noodle eating single on this day and be a couple in time for next month’s holiday.
May 14th: Yellow Day/Rose Day
On Yellow Day couples dress in-you guessed it-yellow, and give each other roses. Singles that didn’t have their fill of lonely heart noodles on Black day have the chance to fill up on yellow curry and hope that their love life will ‘spice up’.
June 14th: Kiss Day
Somewhat self-explanatory, Kiss Day is a day when couples…well… kiss. This is also a good day to confess your feelings to a crush and start a new relationship with a smooch. Many companies, ranging from lipstick brands to breath mint makers, do their best to capitalize on this day, offering special promotions.
July 14th: Silver Day
Silver rings are exchanged on this day between couples with plans of marriage in the near or distant future. Acting as promise rings, these silver gifts are often given before or after introducing each other to their parents. This significant day seems to be the ‘perfect'(and not at all unnatural) time for moving relationships to the next level.
August 14th: Green Day
Like most days celebrated on the 14th of the month, Green Day in August is mostly for lovers. It is a day designated for drinking soju (a harsh alcohol made from rice, tasking similar to vodka) and then taking a romantic walk in the woods. Most likely the brain child of a drunk teenager who wanted to be alone with his girlfriend, Green Day is centered around the fact that soju comes in a green bottle.
September 14th: Photo Day/Music Day
If you have spent any time in Korea you will know that most days are photo and music days. The 14th of September however, is a day where it becomes ‘official’ (or as official as an off the calendar holiday can get). Portrait studios and gimmick photo booths enjoy increased sales on this day and reverse-facing snapping cameras can be seen all over the country. ‘Noribangs’ or singing rooms, enormously popular in Korea, are in high demand on this day. Music stores welcome couples with wide open doors, happy to accommodate the high CD sales.
October 14th: Wine Day
Wine Day is again rather self-explanatory but it seems that the point to these somewhat made-up holidays is to make time in a busy country to have a special date every month. Couples drink a glass (or bottle) of wine with a cosy dinner and singles drink away their sorrows.
November 14th: Movie Day
Another popular Korean hang-out is a DVD Bang, or movie room. These are rented for approximately the price of one cinema ticket and can hold a small group of people. This is similar to going to the cinema but without fighting for a seat or getting stuck behind the 6 foot 2 guy who refuses to take his hat off. Predictably chick flicks and romantic films are rented out on this day, while singles fight over the last copies of Bridget Jone’s Diary and pull out the hooch they had left over from Wine Day.
December 14th: Hug Day
Running short on reasons to dedicate a special day, hug day wraps up the year with a firm and gentle squeeze and a sigh of relief. Couples predictably spend the day hugging each other while polls on which Korean celebrity is most cuddle worthy give the singles something to fantasize about.
While some consider these holidays to be contrived and nothing more than marketing techniques, they continue to gain force. While it true that many of them don’t seem to hold enough meaning to justify a holiday named after them, you have to commend young Koreans for looking for reasons to celebrate love and life.
A version of this article was published on MATADOR NETWORK.
Valentine’s Day (and holidays like it). Love or hate? Why? Does anyone know of any other interesting love based holidays in other countries?