February the 14th is a divisive day. Every year Valentine’s Day splits people. Not just into singles and couples, but those who actively look forward to it and those who dread, ignore and berate it.
Those who fall into the first group may just have a penchant for Hallmark cards, or, perhaps, they really do think nothing says ‘I love you’ like a 2-4-1 Pizza Express with a solitary red rose sitting between you on a marble-topped table in restaurant echoing with the sweet nothings of 50 other couples.
The naysayers, who fall into the second group, are those who say they don’t care but sulk if they don’t receive a gift, those who really mean it when they say they don’t want anything and cringe in horror they receive anything bearing bright red emoji hearts which in no way encapsulate the complexities of our real life beating versions, or they may simply be those who think the whole thing is a load of commercial BS.
Whichever category you fall into in Britain you only have to deal with Valentine’s Day once a year. In South Korea, however, there is a romantic holiday almost every month, with a large number of Koreans observing unofficial couple-based holidays throughout the year. Aside from Valentine’s Day they include Diary Day in January, where blank diaries are given to plan the year ahead and White Day in March, where couples give one another (you guessed it) white coloured gifts.
However, unlike us, they also have a day for single people. April 14th in South Korea is known as Black Day. On this day single people are said to come together, eat sticky black bean paste noodles, Jjajangmyeon, and commiserate together.
We spoke to some young women from South Korea to find out if they are just simply romantic than us, whether they do celebrate Diary Day, White Day and Singles Day or whether they, like many of us, think it’s all a ploy by savvy sales people.
Jeong Eun Sohn, 30, lives in Seoul and works for UK-based company Sofar Sounds
She’s cynical about Singles’ Day, ‘Singles Day is kind of a joking day, to make fun of single people. In Korea many people also think Christmas is a day for couples, so now people are starting to joke that December 25th is also Singles’ Day. For instance movie theatres will sell Kit Kats only for single people and show movies only for single people around this time. It’s not a religious holiday here.’
Has she ever eaten black noodles on Single’s day herself? ‘ When I was in college we always ate black noodles, all of us together. And around Singles’ Day there is a kind of blind dating part for single people. However I think this is a marketing strategy for single people.’
‘Black noodles is actually a very common dish for us here. It’s like you eating a burger - it’s not a special dish. It’s one of the most common delivery foods - like how you might order pizza in London.’
She has no plans for Black Day this year but says there's another day that she thinks is more interesting: July 7th, Lunar Day.
‘There is a myth that a boy living in the eastern side of the sky and a girl living in the western side of the sky meet once a year on this day - it’s Buddhist myth. So, around this time some of the more innovative temples host a mixing service for people in their 20s and 30s - like a dating service … I haven’t been but I have thought about it very seriously. I feel like a temple is a religious place so I think that maybe the guys I might meet there, at the temple, will be better than the boys I would meet in a club!’
‘I’m not a religious person’, she says, ‘but I support Buddhist culture so maybe I could meet someone there who I share common values with.’
Ji-young Eom, 23, is a graduate from Ursan, currently living in Seoul and looking for a job
She has never celebrated Black Day. ‘To be honest, it’s quite desperate she says – everyone who didn’t get any chocolate or candy on Valentine’s Day is just sitting there, it’s sad.’
‘Black Day has kind of fallen out of favour, nobody really does it.’
What about the other days? ‘Companies want to make money so they create days – it’s just a way of making money. When I was at high school we really thought these days were important, it was really childish.’
She’s currently single and has no plans for either Black Day or Valentine’s Day this year.
Yunhee Kim, 32, is a Korean teacher from Geoje Island
She says she has never celebrated Black Day, ‘we don’t know who came up with this day; my friends and me don’t care about it. Once when I was 23, me and my friends were single and we had jajangmyeon (black bean sauce noodles) together for fun. We thought someone who worked at the restaurant came up with it to promote their business!’
And what about the other days? ‘When I was early 20s, I celebrated with my ex bf just for fun. For example he gave me a rose on Rose Day (14th May) and we gave peperos (a long chocolate covered biscuit) to each other on Pepero Day (11th Nov). But since my mid 20s, I don’t celebrate those days. Some days are not only for couples; you celebrate them days with your colleagues too. Male colleagues give chocolate to female colleagues on Valentine's Day, female colleagues give sweets to male colleagues on White Day!’
She also says that Korean couples also have many ‘couples items. Korean guys and girls love cute and romantic things. We have matching couple t-shirts and pyjamas, underwear and watches. Korean couples also celebrate 100 days, 200 days, 300 days and so on. A bit like your western anniversaries.’
Min Han, is a legal assistant from Seoul
She says there are so many celebration days for couples that ‘people lose track so most of those days go by unnoticed. Valentine's Day and White Day are celebrated often but rest of the other days, not so much.’
‘As for me, I don't really celebrate any of those days because I think they're quite meaningless. I only celebrate anniversaries by a year.’ And what about Singles’ Day? ‘It is considered to be some sort of consolation day for singles. However, I personally have never done this – regardless of my score on those days!’
She thinks that ‘South Korea has very couple-friendly atmosphere. Relationships play very big part in people's lives and more than 50% of people in 20s are dating. Couples are definitely more celebrated more than singles. There is a perception that singles are to be pitied. Even Christmas is also considered to be a day for couples, rather than family.’
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This article originally appeared on The Debrief.