09 November 2011

Pepero Day?

While my friends and family in the UK and my homeland of Canada, along with all commonwealth countries will be donning poppies and observing a moment of silence to honour the members of our armed forces who have died in the line of duty since World War I, I will be stuck in The Twilight Zone that is South Korea and eating chocolate covered biscuits. Why? Because in South Korea, November 11th is Pepero Day. What in the world is Pepero Day? Allow me to explain...

Pepero is a long, stick shaped biscuit that would be rather bland (think breadstick) if it weren't dipped in chocolate. They are manufactured by Lotte, which is a Japanese/South Korean conglomerate (established in 1948 in Tokyo by Japanese-educated, Korean businessman Shin Kyuk-Ho) and are actually a direct rip-off of the Japanese snack, Pocky, manufactured by Glico. Pocky was invented in 1966, while Pepero didn't make its appearance until 1983. The "holiday" however, didn't begin until 1994. Well, you can call it a holiday, but I prefer to call it a clever marketing strategy, as Lotte usually does about 55% of their Pepero business in November every year. According to one story, Pepero Day was started in 1994 by students at a girls middle school in Busan, where they exchanged Pepero sticks as gifts to wish one another to grow "as tall and slender as a Pepero," but I find that story highly suspicious, don't you? Why November 11th? The date 11/11 is said to resemble five Pepero sticks. Does this mean that Lotte will see even more sales this year on 11/11/11?

Something else you should know is that over time, this holiday has evolved into a day that is meant for lovers, making it similar to Valentine's Day, which is kind of annoying really, because they do celebrate Valentine's Day in South Korea and, like in Japan, only women are meant to give men chocolate on February 14th. Men are expected to return the favour a month later, on March 14th, otherwise known as White Day (celebrated in both South Korea and Japan) and if that wasn't enough, on April 14th South Koreans have a pity-fest called Black Day, reserved for all those who did not receive chocolate on either Valentine's Day or White Day. Are you confused yet? Welcome to my world.

Now, the good news (or bad news if you're on a diet) is that if you're an English teacher in South Korea, chances are you will be receiving a whole lot of Pepero on Pepero Day, regardless of your relationship status. Like in North America on Valentine's Day, children are encouraged to offer gifts to all of their classmates and usually to their teachers too. It's only November 9th and I've already received one gift of Chocolate Rondeletti (a gourmet version of Pepero from a South Korean bakery chain called Paris Baguette) from one of my students. I've also heard that Paris Baguette sell actual baguettes dipped in chocolate on this holiday, but that may just be a rumour.

I find it rather fascinating that a country that has been plagued by war more than most celebrates such a lighthearted and contrived holiday on the very same day that Remembrance Day (not to mention Veterans Day in the US and Armistice Day in France, Belgium & New Zealand, all commemorating the end of World War I) is observed. It just goes to show you that, despite the hardships they have endured, Koreans certainly have a sense of fun. My students are very excited about Pepero Day and they freaked right out when I pointed out that this year is 11/11/11. I will be sure to post a photo of all Pepero that comes my way, although I am hoping that they won't overdo it. I am, after all, trying to watch what I eat...

Pepero Day display in the shopping area near Sungshin Women's University


Cheriqui said...

Pocky is a frequent resident in my home, although much to my children's chagrin it never lasts long. :) Love reading your blog!! :D


Deena said...

Haha! Thanks Kendra! I love reading yours too. I just wish I were as good at keeping mine updated as you are.