People say Paris is the city of love, but have they seen South Korea’s traditions?
In Korea, Valentine’s Day is one of 12 holidays focusing on love. Along with Valentine’s Day, there is White Day, which is when men give reciprocal gifts back to the women who gave gifts to them on Valentine’s Day. This is because on Valentine’s Day in Korea, women treat men as opposed to the tradition in the U.S. within heterosexual couples, where women generally expect to be pampered by men on that traditional day.
Korea also has Black Day, which is when single people gather together to eat dark, depressing-colored foods to indicate their sadness. There is a holiday for everyone!
I didn’t realize how disproportionate it is to have a holiday where one person in the relationship gets pampered and not the other until I learned about Valentine’s Day and White Day in Korea. Not that American Valentine’s Day traditions are wrong or bad, but it would be nice for everyone to be celebrated. Yes, Valentine’s Day is about togetherness and the unity of a couple, but one person traditionally asks the other to be their valentine and gives gifts.
Americans love going big, so celebrations of any kind tend to be on the grander side of things. This is stark in juxtaposition to Korean Valentine’s Day, where celebrations are kept lowkey and simple. This may explain why one holiday surrounding love in the U.S. is enough, whereas it doesn’t feel overboard to have more than one similar holiday in Korea.
Some people think that both countries should have holidays where both partners are equally involved.
“I feel like Valentine’s Day in Korea should have both the female and male get chocolate or a small gift for each other to show equal love,” said Lily Chae, a 20-year-old Korean cosmetologist.
An additional tradition of Korea’s Valentine’s Day is that a lot of women use the day to confess their feelings to someone. When White Day comes around, that is when she’ll know if the other person shares the same feelings because they’ll reciprocate the gifts.
Considering how White Day is a month after Valentine’s Day, I would place this tradition under cruel and unusual punishment. Waiting a whole month to see if someone likes you back? That is a bit much.
I am in Korea for the semester to stay with family who live here, and it was a culture shock to me when I saw the way Valentine’s Day is celebrated here. Stores weren’t decorated to the nines like they were in the U.S. and people weren’t walking around with flowers in their hand. Instead of thinking that couples in Korea celebrated in a simple way, I mistakenly assumed that most Koreans just didn’t care about the holiday. It was wrong of me to automatically assume that just because a group of people weren’t celebrating a holiday in the ways I was used to, that they didn’t care at all.
“I personally like American Valentine’s Day a bit more because personally, I use it as a day to tell my friends I love them,” said Callie Rhoades, an IU alum who majored in East Asian languages and cultures. “Korean Valentine’s Day doesn’t really have that opening.”
This is true. Korean Valentine’s Day seems to center more around couples, whereas modern American Valentine’s Day is mixed with couples, friends and family all expressing their love for one another. This isn’t meant to be a debate on which country’s celebration of a holiday is better. Rather, it is intriguing to see cultural differences and the beauty held in different parts of the world.
Moral of the story: Don’t wait for any holiday to give you permission to spread love, everyone.