UPDATE : 2020.11.23 Mon 02:26
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Pepero Day in Korea
Last Wednesday, Nov. 10th, my daughter came home with packages of long, thin, chocolate coated biscuits. I welcomed her with a big smile saying “Thanks. I was feeling kind of hungry.” She looked at me and replied “Sorry, Mom. They’re not for you. They’re for my friends and hagwon teachers. Tomorrow’s Pepero day, you know.”

Ah, yes. I almost forgot.

The 11th of November is observed annually in Korea as Pepero Day, since the date 11/11 resembles four sticks of Pepero. Wikipedia tells me that Pepero Day was started in 1994 when some middle school girls in Busan started exchanging boxes of Pepero as friendship gifts to wish one another to grow “as tall and as slender as Pepero.” The funny thing is eating Pepero sticks won’t make you tall or slender at all with all its sugar and carbohydrates. Another variation of its origin suggests that Pepero Day was actually dreamed up by Lotte Confectionery Company, the owner of Pepero brand.

Pepero Day is celebrated like Valentine’s Day in this country. Anyone living in Korea is expected to give away boxes of cookie sticks and other skinny confections. This day is a boon not only for Lotte Confectionery but for other companies as well. Supermarkets and convenience stores stock up on cookie sticks as the day draws near, and they also combine the cookie sticks with other goodies such as lollipops and chocolates. Retailers also combine Pepero with non-edible items such as teddy bears, accessories, pens, keychains, and even jewelry. These vendors beef up their promotional events and jack up the price of Pepero gifts, duping people into spending more instead of just paying the usual 500 won to 700 won per box.

But it isn’t just for cookie sticks. Bakeries are also jumping into the bandwagon, selling chocolate-covered baguettes and biscuits. Rice growers try to promote the consumption of “garaetteok” or rice sticks instead of Pepero. This healthy alternative was proposed to combat obesity and to promote showing gratitude to neighbors by giving rice cake as gifts. However, this proposal fell flat. Pepero Day is celebrated by children and young people, and they didn’t buy the idea of giving rice cakes to one another.

Personally, I’m not a fan of Pepero Day. I’m not a fan of holidays that are contrived and have no meaning whatsoever. I don’t condemn the people who celebrate them. I just think they’re pointless. Period.

Korean people celebrate many unofficial holidays to shower each other with affection and gifts. It must be difficult for young couples to get their relationship going with so many special days. In this society driven by commercialism, shrewd marketing bloodsuckers can concoct a “special” day associated with noble ideas of friendship, matrimony, love, and sharing-- and voila! You have a special day for every month – Ace Day, White Day, Black Day, Rose Day, White Day, Soju Day, Yellow Day, Samgyupsal Day, Whatchamacallit Day. There are suckers out there who will fall for it.

I think there are other ways of making people’s hearts flutter. A box of pretzels just ain’t gonna do it for me.

Cecile Hwang  Language Education Center

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