Red, White, & Black: Special Days Celebrating Love in Korea

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As the chilly month of February descends upon us, so too do thoughts of romance (or lack thereof!) as Valentine's Day draws near. For young Korean couples, however, Valentine's Day is just the first of many love-themed days that are approaching. Seeing the commercial success of Valentine's Day, marketers have latched on to the 14th of each month and made a special day that couples can use to celebrate their love, but none are quite as popular as White Day and Black Day.

Love locks on a fence in Busan

Valentine's Day is celebrated differently in Korea than it is in the West, with only women doing the gift-giving. On February 14th, women and girls in Korea present chocolate to the men and boys in their lives, including fathers, brothers, romantic partners or crushes, classmates, teachers and students, and coworkers. These chocolates can be store-bought or handmade, but the more elaborate, labour-intensive, or expensive the chocolates are, the more meaningful the relationship, or the higher the desire to begin a romantic relationship. Stores large and small stock up for the holidays with chocolates, cards, and candy-making or wrapping supplies. Although some women give candy to all the men in their lives, others give only to the ones they have a romantic interest in, and this leads to a competition particularly among students, whereby social status is measured by the amount of chocolate received.  Women also tend to share chocolates with their friends, coworkers and female counterparts on this day.

Valentine's Day display outside a convenience store

White Day takes place one month later, on March 14. On this day, men present the women in their lives with candy or presents. Good etiquette says that a candy favour should be returned to any woman who presented the man with a favour. Again the larger the favour, the more important or romantic the relationship is or hopes to be. Of course, not all Valentine's Day favours are returned with a White Day favour, and again the number of White Day gifts a woman receives can be seen as a measure of her social standing, especially when men are expected to give candy and gifts that are more valuable than the ones they themselves received. This means that men will purchase a White Day gift that is worth up to four times the value of the Valentine's Day offering, and stores will once gain enjoy high mid-month sales. While wallets may be a bit slim after Valentine's Day and White Day, Korean couples do have the advantage of enjoying the love-themed fun twice as long as Western couples do! 

In April, a special day takes place for those not included in the couples-only frenzy of Valentine's Day and White Day. It is somberly known as Black Day, and it is uniquely Korean. On April 14, singles dress in black and gather to eat jjajangmyeon or noodles with black bean sauce. Once gathered, they can choose to celebrate their singledom or to mourn their loveless-ness and commiserate with one another. I suppose it's better fun than the Western way of doing things, which would be crying alone at home with a pint of ice cream!

Feeling blue and lonely?
Try some jjajangmyeon on Black Day!
So whether you're single or you're someone's better half, perhaps you'll consider celebrating love Korean-style with Valentine's Day, White Day, and Black Day. And if it's not your thing, at least you know on which days to avoid the shops!

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Busan, South Korea
I'm a lucky young woman who has had the wonderful opportunity to live and travel in South Korea. My time here has taken me all over the country, and my blog follows those adventures. Enjoy!
You can also find my wiritng on The Korea Blog, the official blog of the government of Korea



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