Red, White, and Black

February 14, 2011

It’s Valentine’s Day. For many American men, that means a guilt trip is coming if they don’t shower their significant others with chocolates and red roses. For some, it’s a mutual exchange, a time to celebrate love and passion. I still don’t see how we started with martyrdom and ended up with “B MINE” candy hearts. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting time in Korea, in that it’s celebrated differently. There are three holidays scattered over two months: Valentine’s Day, White Day, and Black Day.

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Valentine’s Day

Pretty just what you’d expect. Chocolate sales. Red decorations. Champagne bottles. Except women are expected to give gifts to men. Granted, there’s more of a platonic nature to the events of February 14th in Korea. Remember when you were in primary school, and you had to give cards to every last person in your year, including that fat girl with glasses who liked to hit you? Well, guess what, she turned out to be a bikini model; you shouldn’t have judged her so quickly. In any case, that principle is kind of carried to the workplace. Women give gifts to their male friends, even acquaintances out of a sense of obligation, and out of courtesy and friendship.

White Day

This day is more what Americans would expect Valentine’s Day to be: men giving women gifts. It’s not uncommon for most of the gifts to be white in color: white chocolate, white roses, something with marshmallows. Again, obligation, courtesy, friendship in the workplace. Give something to the girl in glasses.

Black Day

I believe this is unique to South Korea. If you are single, or at the very least had no one to give you something on Valentine’s Day or White Day, you go out in groups and eat jajangmyeon (자장면), noodles with black bean paste. It’s quite tasty… the taste of loneliness.

When I was Couchsurfing in Seoul over New Year’s, I stayed with a Korean PhD student from Texas Tech University. He was writing the curriculum for the class he TAed and I noticed he had marked Valentine’s Day, but not White or Black Day. Thinking this was a great idea, he quickly marked both on the calendar and instructed students to learn the meaning of the holidays. So if you are a Tech engineering undergrad, I’m sorry.

On a completely different note, the snow has been out of control this weekend on the east coast. Even Busan has gotten enough to warrant closing schools, and they never have any. A friend of mine was making her way on the bus to Seoul Friday night when the first flakes began to fall. Within an hour the roads were impassable; she ended up sleeping on the bus with no food, water, or bathroom. Perhaps the funniest moment came the next morning when the military arrived (how, I don’t know) and distributed supplies… like cookies and Lotte cakes. I hope there’s a better plan if North Korea attacks and citizens are cut off from basic needs: “Quick! Kim Jong Il is leading the attack south! Break out the cookies! No, you incompetent fool, not the peanut butter, the chocolate chip!”

3 Responses to Red, White, and Black

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Kevin, Turner Wright. Turner Wright said: New blog on Valentine's Day, White Day, and Black Day in Korea http://onceatraveler.com/red-white-and-black #happyvalentinesday […]

  2. goodandbadjapan on February 14, 2011 at 5:52 am

    I was wondering what Black Day was. Quite like the concept – something for everyone in Korea.

  3. Jill - Jack and Jill Travel The World on February 14, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    Black Day and eating black bean paste noodle sounds like a punishment for being single :p Joking aside — they all actually sound like fun holidays. I wouldn’t mind celebrating all three.

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