One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” –Henry Miller

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Happy Pepero Day!


I learned an interesting cultural nugget about Korea today.  Korea is full of quirky holidays. 

I walked into my elementary school this morning and was immediately greeted by smiling children holding up red, green, and golden boxes-- some wrapped, some with ribbons, but each holding thin long stick cookies, dipped in chocolate.  "Jessica Teacher! Pepero!" as they gestured the boxes in my direction.  I couldn't help myself, each additional box of peperos made me want to skip down the hall. I threw my arms around my students, thanking them profusely while most stood stunned with their hands at their sides. I suppose some of them might have felt a tad accosted by what (only now) appears to have been an overreaction to stick shaped cookies. As uncomfortable they might have felt, I couldn't stop hugging them if I tried. I saw my co-teacher, Shi On, chuckle as I hugged one of our students on the way out of class 6-5.  She, with more grace, accepted her box of peperos by simply saying, "thank you."  My defense: It was my first pepero day experience! I felt so loved <3  

I had been warned (somewhat) about pepero day. I spent 5k won (roughly 5 U.S. dollars) on six boxes of peperos the day before, thinking that number should be sufficient. My thought was that if any students gave me a box, I would give them one in return.  Not knowing the scale of this holiday, I didn't want too many. After all, any remaining boxes would only end up back in my apartment!... . . . I should have bought a few *dozen* more! I gave the first six away in a snap.  Then I resorted to recycling the boxes I had been given by giving them to other students.  Finally I gave up after I realized that even this tactic could not sustain the pace. I did what the other teachers did: I accepted the boxes, thanked them for it, and watched them giggle as they scampered off (but not without a squeeze!).

Pepero day is celebrated on 11/11. It's a day when young Korean children and couples exchange this delightful cookie.  Pepero's, if you'll notice, are in the same shape as the "1"s in it's date. And there you have it folks! All it takes to make a Korean holiday...chocolate dipped cookies in the shape of the date they are celebrated.  What a fantastic marketing scheme, Lotte Department Store (the manufacturers of peperos).

Pepero Day, as I learned from the teacher's table at lunch, falls into a long list of commercialized holidays in Korea. The 14th day of every month is some kind of holiday for couples, which is appropriate for a country that obsesses about marital status.  (When I got to this country the string of questions that I was usually asked started with "Are you single [single=not married] ?'  "Do you have a boyfriend?" "Do you want a boyfriend?" "Do you want a Korean boyfriend?" and "How old are you?")  So here they are:
January 14th: calendar/planner day. Couples give each other this gift ... I guess to help them remember the next eleven
February 14: Valentines Day: An imported holiday, but uniquely Korean. Women give gifts to men on this day. No worries ladies, it's made up for triple fold on ..
March 14th: White day:  The day men reciprocate by giving gifts to women that are worth 3 times the value they received on February 14th.  Way to go ladies! clever thinking!
April 14th: Black Day: I don't think I would have survived my adolescence with a holiday like this.  Singles who did not celebrate on feb. 14th and march 14th get together a eat ja jang myun - a black noodle soup or anything else black. So let me get this straight... couples get candy and flowers... singles get to eat black food together to morn their single status. ummm.. I don't think so. You can keep that one Korea!
May 14th: Rose day: Couples exchange roses
June 14th: Kiss Day:  self-explanatory
July 14th: now here's a good one: silver day: couples exchange silver jewelry. I think this holiday needs to make it's way back to the States
August 14th: couples drink Soju (a rice liquor in a green bottle) and take long walks in the woods. I suppose in Korean fashion singles can drink themselves into a stupor
September 14th: Photo Day: ... I think you've got it
November 14th: Movie day
December 14th: Hug day

I came home with a bag full of pretty little boxes of peperos. Now to pawn them off.  I went to yoga tonight and was able to give away 6.  If this sounds like a charitable act, I assure you, my waist line is thanking me for this.  I love and hate the thought of eating peperos for the next 3 weeks.
Peperos that I received from students <3


  1. ooh..not those look really good..n u missed on october ..what is that one supposed to be?

  2. Oh I did!
    October 14th – Wine Day
    Couples have wine on this day

    October 24th – Apple Day
    The Korean word for apple is called ‘Sa-gwa’ (사과), also means to apologize. On this day, friends, family and couples give an apple to each other to apologize for past mistakes.

    and I forgot to mention that August 14th is called green day, which explains why couples drink soju

  3. That's a bonkers Peppero haul, Jessie! The students must love you! My middle school students are, by and large, too cool for peppero day...

  4. Kids in my elementary school lOve Pepero day, Anne. The buzz word all day was "pepero." I wish I could say that it was me, but every teacher had a stash like this =)

  5. That is awesome I am going to tell brandon that we are celebrating March 14th not Feb 14th that way on valentines day i can get him something and then surprise him by saying now March 14th i get something worth 3 times more!! hahahhahaha that is a great plan!