How to Celebrate Valentine’s Day in South Korea

Celebrating Valentines Day in South Korea

Valentine’s Day Abroad: Celebrating Love with a Korean Twist

I cradled the mini Snickers bars and gold coins in my freshly manicured hands, my Valentine’s gift from my one true love. Gone are the days of flowers or boxed candy. Instead, we embrace simple joys that we could indulge in on any day of the week—with a special twist. This year, we’re celebrating Valentine’s Day in South Korea, the most exciting twist yet.

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Celebrating Valentines Day in South Korea

Oh, my bad he did bring me Reese’s Peanut butter cup from the commissary. We started the day with couples pedicures and massages. Ending it with Indian food in front of the TV and beers at two of his favorite pubs. I had no idea, Valentines Day was even celebrated in South Korea. That is until our waiter handed my husband a handful of chocolates. Luckily, the chocolates were for me.

The Twist

Like most things in South Korea, Valentine’s Day is magnified. The holiday has been co-opted and reconstructed into something else. Sure it started off as a marketing campaign to sell chocolate (sound familiar), but it soon morphed into an even larger marketing campaign to sell more chocolate, jewelry, and even speed dating venues. That shouldn’t surprise you, Korea really likes to outdo themselves whenever possible.

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Setting the Stage for Celebrating Valentines Day in South Korea

My husband says Korea is more or less a life-size version of a sappy love song. I tend to agree, Valentines Day seems to be celebrated every single day of the year:

  • Stores that sell matching outfits from the top of their heads to their tiny feet. During the summer it was hard not to gag, for some reason a lot of them looked like they were searching for Waldo. It’s bad enough already when it looks like they shop at the same store anyway. Come on guys, your jeans shouldn’t be that tight.
  • Couples walk around arm-in-arm on Valentine’s Day in South Korea like someone will snatch one of them away at an instant. What’s weird is that girls do and so do guys and it makes sit hard to traverse the already crowded streets.
  • Meals are always shared. It seems sweet, but no you can’t have some of my fries.
  • Love Motels cater to them because they usually live at home until marriage (and sometimes even afterward because of costs) so they are looking for “alone time”. I have to do a story on this one day, but I’m having a hard time convincing my husband to go to one.
  • Ever watch Korean TV? Aside from the 20 minutes of commercials to every 30 minutes of the show, they draw little hearts, wigs, and emoticons on everything, even the news.
  • Young boys are sometimes just as pretty as the girls and tend to wear their emotions on their sleeves and mascara on their eyes.

The last one is in no way fact-based; it’s solely my own limited observations.

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Valentines Day in South Korea

Not unlike our unofficial holiday in America, Valentine’s Day in Korea is February 14th too. However, the Korean tradition is for Korean girls to give chocolate to their significant other or the boy their crushing on.

The department stores have huge displays of red and pink hearts and in good Korean fashion, boxed sets of candy everywhere. I also witnessed the exchange of flowers and romantic dinners.

You might say, this doesn’t seem fair, why are men on the receiving end of these chocolatey treats?

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White Day

Celebrated a full month after Valentine’s Day in South Korea is the opportunity for the men to reciprocate with chocolate gifts. Although it’s not uncommon for them to spend 3x as much on the woman of their affections. It is celebrated on March 14th and you guessed it, concocted by the candy industry to sell more candy. Other industries stepped into market luxury items like jewelry, handbags, and perfumes. And if that’s not enough.

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Black Day

Celebrating Black Day a month later, it’s dedicated to all the “losers” who didn’t receive a gift on the preceding Valentines or White Day. I actually can’t wait to witness this– you know the whole train wreck thing.

They supposedly dress in black and socialize in large groups where they eat black food like Jajangmyeon, a noodle dish flavored with black bean paste, and commiserate over being single.

So what do you sell to a bunch of socially inept people– dating services.

Matchmakers and speed dating companies realized the potential to make money, so you’ll see a lot of advertising for their services around this time for Valentine’s Day in South Korea.

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Rose Day

Finally, held on the 15 May, Rose Day, also called Yellow Day. Many couples dress in yellow and exchange roses to celebrate. They also get engaged or announce their engagements. 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 in the hopes of spicing up their love lives.

The marketing is working. Korea is built for consumerism and Valentine’s Day.

They embrace it wholeheartedly. And I see it every day. I live next to two large department stores. There is always a line of cars vying for the limited parking spaces. Steady traffic from open to close.

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  1. Shaheen Khan

    This was such an interesting read. I had no idea that Valentine’s day was such a huge commercialised thing in South Korea. Emotions do sell like hot cakes. I am sure though there is a lot of pure joy and affection between those celebrating. Love your manicure BTW:)

  2. Amber S.

    This was so neat; I love to learn about other cultures. The idea of different themed days is so cool, and I imagine really great for keeping the passion in a relationship!

  3. Alison Rost

    And here I was thinking that we’ve overdone ourselves with all the Valentine’s day tradition. I think Korea has a more elaborate but fun way of celebrating Valentine’s! It would be cool to experience it at least once!

  4. David Elliott

    Wow…this is so different. Here it’s definitely the men who do the giving, and the women never give back gifts later on. I mean they do, but in different ways. I loved learning about how differently they do it there.

  5. Valerie

    Cute Korean traditions ! Specially rose day, I know they’re commercial more than anything but I can’t help to love these traditions, im such a cheeseball 😛

  6. Cathleen

    I hear it’s the same way in Japan. My dad’s girlfriend is Japanese, and he says he finds it surprising that HE is the one getting the flowers and chocolate :p

  7. Karen Morse

    Wow! Their Valentine’s day is celebrated much more than I imagined they would celebrate it. I think it’s really fascinating, there are so many “days” to watch our for and each one has a valid enough reason to celebrate, I guess.

  8. Amber Myers

    How interesting! My husband was in Korea for a year. I’ll ask him about this. Granted, he probably wasn’t paying attention. Black Day sounds amusing to me.

    My husband did say he watched some Korean TV and was slightly traumatized, ha.

  9. Jen Temcio

    I am so shocked to learn these facts about South Korea. I think that it is funny that they have things “drawn” on the screen during the news. And the matching outfits are too much! lol

  10. Jay Colby

    Time is going by so fast Valentine is in a couple weeks. I wasn’t aware that South Korea had so many great Valentine’s Day traditions.

  11. Dee Jackson

    I’ve been to South Korea and it was amazing. I loved how you really took time to learn more and thus celebrating together.

  12. Erika Ramona

    My student once told me about how Koreans mend broken hearts together during Black Day and it’s funny being narrated by a 10-year-old. I actually like the taste of Jajangmyeon!

  13. Kim

    Love the Korean tradition of the girls giving chocolate to their boyfriends! Super interesting to learn about other cultures too!

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