What in the world is Pepero Day?
If you’re looking for something different to do this February 14th, try celebrating with pepero.
Many people around the world are familiar with Valentine’s Day, even if they may not celebrate it themselves. That day in which couples, crushes, and friends show their love by spoiling one another with chocolates, teddy bears, candy, flowers, and maybe even a proposal. Who wouldn’t want to join in the fun?
But, in South Korea - a country that does acknowledge V-Day to some extent - there’s another holiday that takes place in November, called Pepero Day. And, if you’re looking for something different to do this February 14th, then consider taking a trip to K-Town (or, your local East Asian supermarket).
Okay - first things first. What is “Pepero?”
Chocolate comes in all shapes, sizes, and flavours. Whether it’s a round ball wrapped in aluminium foil, a bar filled with caramel or nuts, or a peanut butter cup coated in cocoa, there are really no limits when it comes to the sweet treat and what it represents. In South Korea and Japan, there are many chocolate snacks, but none are quite as well-known as “Pepero.” Known to the Japanese and much of the Western world as “Pocky,” in Korea, it’s known as “Pepero.”
(However, it should be noted that the Japanese came up with the concept first, and have even accused Korea’s Lotte company of infringing on the idea.)
But we’ll get to that in a bit.
Lotte’s Pepero is essentially a rectangular box filled with skinny, chocolate-dipped cooking sticks. These days, you can find versions of Pepero dipped in everything from green tea flavoured chocolate, to cookies and cream, to strawberry flavoured goodness.
What is Pepero Day?
My boyfriend and I were first introduced to Pepero Day when we lived in South Korea. As our students came running into class in the morning excited and holding more bags than they could carry, I wondered what Korean holiday we’d be celebrating that day.
When a student slapped down a box of chocolate that I had occasionally seen in convenience stores, covered in pink hearts, I had to check the calendar. After seeing how far we were from February, I wondered, “Why are all my students suddenly bringing me candy in the middle of November?” Though I didn’t dare complain; I accepted wholeheartedly.
Later, I asked my co-workers what all the hoopla was about. I was already working on getting used to all the other holidays that were being celebrated in Korea at that time, for instance, Chousek and the Lantern Festival, and wasn’t sure I could handle remembering yet another holiday. Or, rather, the disappointment I felt at not knowing that I should have brought my students chocolate, too.
So, that’s when I was introduced to “Pepero Day,” which is November 11th. Unlike other Korean holidays that follow the lunar calendar and can thus fall on different days each year, Pepero Day is always on this day.
Why? For no other reason, that when you hold four Pepero sticks together, it looks like four “elevens.”
There you have it: 11/11.
Clever, don’t you think? A friend who was introduced to Pepero Day the same year as me said, “I remember that we all commented on how well marketed the holiday was!”
How did Pepero Day start?
Speaking of marketing, there are a lot of myths and legends surrounding how Pepero Day started. Unfortunately, most people think the holiday began simply as a way for Lotte and other companies to maximize their sales, and it’s therefore difficult to find people who think otherwise.
Though, some people are more optimistic and will happily delve into some of these stories. The first story is that Pepero Day has been around since the late nineties, but it may have started as early as the eighties. The story suggests that Pepero Day started when young girls in the country started to give each other Pepero sticks as a way of wishing them to be thin, like the sticks themselves.
Others think that because “11:11” is said to be a lucky number, it made sense that a holiday was born on this day. Some people think that Pepero Day was merely another holiday created to appeal to a popular Korean interest for quirky celebrations.
All this considered, I wanted to talk to Koreans and people who live in the country to see what they thought of Pepero Day, before making assumptions.
What do Koreans think of Pepero Day?
When I asked my Korean friends their opinion of Pepero Day, I wasn’t too surprised by the responses. Not unlike a single person on Valentine’s Day, Pepero Day tends to not be so enjoyable for people who aren’t in relationships. Not only that, but many Koreans agree that the holiday is just another way for companies to spread consumerism.
“To me, it’s curious and interesting when November 11th comes. I grew up in the countryside, and from what I remember, in high school, the convenience stores started selling Pepero with slogans back in 2000. We have had the Pepero snack for a very long time, but, there was never a day to celebrate it. And Japan has had Pepero much earlier than Korea, and Japan has no such day.”
Another friend, a Korean woman who grew up in the United States, had a slightly more positive take on the holiday.
“I didn’t celebrate it because I didn’t grow up in Korea. Celebrating Pepero Day pretty much just means buying some Pepero. It’s cute, but I don’t think many people take it seriously. My partner and I buy Pepero for fun, but, I don’t really have feelings about it.”
An old co-worker also told me, “On last year’s Pepero Day in 2018, I saw a TV news program that said Pepero Day is stressful for adults because some company bosses pressure their employees to bring Pepero into work for them.”
What do foreigners think of Pepero Day?
While three Koreans certainly can’t speak for everyone, the general consensus is that most older Koreans weren’t too crazy about the holiday. So, I wanted to know what foreigners thought. After all, when I was in Korea, I thought Pepero Day was very sweet, and when there’s an excuse for your students or friends to give you some chocolate, then I’m totally okay with it.
A childhood friend who also taught in South Korea for two years had the nicest things to say about Pepero Day when I asked her about it.
“Pepero Day is the best day to be a teacher in South Korea, because you get so many Pepero boxes from your students. It's my favourite Korean holiday!”
Another friend said with sadness, “I work at an international school here, and I miss these little Korean holidays! They are not something we do. I completely missed it last year.”
How you can celebrate Pepero Day
Whatever you might think about Pepero Day, I encourage you to give it a shot if you’re looking to do something unique for Valentine’s Day. Most supermarkets that sell international items will have Pepero, or the Japanese version, Pocky.
You can also try your hand at eating eleven packs of Pepero at 11:11 P.M., which is something that Korean children say they like to do. Or, you can also consider taking traditions from the other East Asian “love” holidays, like White Day, Black Day, and Rose Day, three similar holidays that happen in the months following Valentine’s Day, for couples and singles who may have missed out.
So, how will you spend your Valentine’s Day? With or without Pepero?