Love for Days

Korea celebrates couples and singles in a series of holidays

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Illustration by Lizzy Choi.

While Valentine’s Day in the U.S. is only one day for couples and friends to show their love, Korea takes the festivities to another level.  The country celebrates Valentine’s Day in addition to White Day, Black Day and nine other Korean holidays dedicated to love on the 14th of every month.

In Korea and other East Asian countries, like China and Taiwan, Valentine’s Day was traditionally a chance for a woman to confess her love to a man by giving him a gift, usually homemade chocolate or candy. White Day comes a month later on March 14, giving the man an opportunity to reciprocate the gift if he feels the same. Couples now exchange gifts on Valentine’s and White Day as well.

Singles in Korea celebrate Black Day on April 14 by donning black clothing and eating black bean noodles, or jajangmyeon — a popular Korean/Chinese comfort food — in hopes they’ll have someone to exchange gifts with next Valentine’s and White Day.

“I feel like it’s a good luck thing. So, by eating jajangmyeon you’re just like, oh by next Valentine’s Day I’ll have someone,” said Rachel Kim, a third-year exchange student at UC Santa Cruz from Korea.

Valentine’s Day and White Day were introduced to Korea by Japan. Valentine’s Day came to Korea in the 1980s, followed by White Day, which was created by a Japanese confectionery company to increase sales.

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Illustration by Lizzy Choi.

Black Day was likely created as part of the monthly love holidays, which are unique to Korea and were introduced in the ’90s.

Each of the 12 love holidays is associated with a specific tradition, and social media is a primary catalyst for their celebration. Many of the holidays are not well known, and Kim said she often only hears about them because her friends post about them on Instagram or Facebook.

These monthly love holidays are a reflection of the prominence of dating culture in Korea.

“I remember my intensive Korean professor, Mr. Oh, elaborated on how there is this appraisal of being lonely and [it is] perceived as sad if you don’t have a date,” said David Tuan Vo, a UCSC alumnus and former exchange student to Korea in an email.

Black Day is gaining popularity as a chance for singles to celebrate too, since Valentine’s Day and White Day are for couples and romantic love.

“Although it is said to be a depressing day for unattached individuals since their solo status is reconfirmed, it may just be a way to add some fun to mundane daily life by creating new customs and meanings,” said Jung-Sun Park, a professor of Asian-Pacific studies at CSU Dominguez Hills.

Valentine’s Day and White Day are the most popular of the love holidays celebrated on the 14th of every month and are mostly celebrated among young people. Valentine’s Day is the oldest and most popular of the love holidays in Korea, but White Day has gained popularity through gift advertisements and promotions.

Korea’s remaining love holidays are not very popular and are predominately recognized over social media and through advertising. The insignificance of such holidays is also sometimes criticized because of how they are used largely as marketing strategies, but most young people don’t mind because they see the holidays as something fun to do with friends, Rachel Kim said.

“I was in Korea during those days and had a blast. Lots of stores adorned themselves. Friends, colleagues and my partner at the time gifted each other pocky,” Tuan Vo said. “It was festive — an embodiment of love in the air.”