For westerners, November 11th is a sad day of remembrance. Together we gather to remember those lost in the World wars and in other battles our countries have fought in. I have a strong memory of my mother crying in front of the television as we watched veterans hang poppy covered wreaths at the foot of the war memorial in our capital city. Every year my mother bought my sister and I pins shaped like poppies. We wore them on our coats all month long to show respect for our veterans and fallen soldiers.
One year on November 11, I got trapped in the high school work room before school began. I was painting finishing touches on the set for the Remembrance Day ceremony later that day. The door handle fell off from the inside and they had to call the fire department to break the door down. Luckily, they freed me just in time and the show went on without another hitch.
In Korea, November 11 is not a sad day to remember Koreas’ lost war heroes. It happens to be a special and happy day, Pepero Day. Pepero Day is mainly a children’s holiday. Children give chocolate covered cookie sticks, Peperos, to their friends, teachers and family members. Children love Pepero Day because they love chocolate covered cookies and they enjoy giving and receiving these snacks among friends. I love Pepero Day because I too love heaping piles of free chocolate.
When I was a teacher I received more Peperos than I knew what to do with. Admittedly, I did wolf down a pound or two of Peperos in one afternoon. After all, there are 10 different flavors sold by Lotte Confection Company, the original makers of Pepero. My favorites are the ‘almond’ sticks covered in chocolate and crushed almonds and the ‘nude’ sticks with chocolate on the inside. I kept the best ones hidden away in my ‘snack’ drawer, which was usually empty. However, in the end, I gave a good portion of them away to random strangers on the street, my yoga instructors and my coworkers, who also had a year’s supply of cookies by the last bell.
In Korea, giving Peperos is a sign of friendship and love, but this tradition doesn’t date back centuries to China, like many other Korean traditions. Pepero Day began only a few years back in 1994. Legend has it that a group of middle school girls in Busan started giving each other these treats in hopes that they would grow ‘tall and thin’ like a Pepero Stick. To me this seems counterintuitive since tossing back chocolate coated cookies will in no way help someone get thin. Nevertheless, it’s a cute story.
The commonly accepted theory is that Pepero Day was started by Lotte to increase Pepero sales. It may be the most successful marketing ploy of all time. Pepero sales have been increasing 10% each year since 2007. Over 30% (and one website said 55%) of Pepero sales are in November during Pepero season. Lotte adamantly denies this theory saying that the company noticed a slight increase in sales around November and then just went with it. Lotte chose 11/11 for the ‘holiday’ because Pepero are shaped like the number 1. Novemeber 11 (11/11) looks like four Pepero sticks.
Last year there was a huge Pepero Day celebration. It marked the first millennium of the Pepero holiday as the date was 11/11/2011. Lotte Company celebrated by holding a “Find the Golden Pepero” contest. There were 120 winners who won 120,000,000 won each. The contest prize confused me a bit. I thought it would have been more appropriate to select 111 people to win 111,000,000 won but who am I to criticize this merriment? Lotte decided that celebrating the Pepero Day’s millennium birthdays requires waiting far too long for a giant party, so they will be hosting the “millennium” fiesta once every 100 years.
But it’s not fun and games for everyone. Last year one mother complained that she felt pressure to spend absurd amounts of money on cookies for her innocent child who didn’t know any better. “I had no way of explaining to a child that Pepero Day was a company’s commercial strategy, and I knew her little heart would be broken if I did not buy [a giant gift box with a doll accompanied by a zillion Pepero cookies], so I ended up buying Pepero to take to the kindergarten on the 11th,” Yu said. (thehankyoreh)
A hard working company man was frustrated by Pepero day, which is also observed by couples to show their love for each other. He commented, “I have been very concerned since last month when my girlfriend asked that we celebrate the ‘Millennium Pepero Day’ event together.”
There has been some backlash against Pepero Day in hopes to curb commercial spending, take pressure off parents whose children want to participate and promote real Korean traditions. Many Hagwons and schools have started “Garaetteok Day”. Garaettaeok is a type of Korean rice cake that is formed into a long cylinder. It too looks like the number 1. It can be decorated with chocolate, candies, or colorful decorations made from rice dough. These goodies are healthy and delicious and truly were eaten thousands of years ago.
If you plan to participate in Pepero Day as I certainly will be, try your hand at making them yourself. You can buy kits from Emart or bake your own stick cookies. Perhaps mix it up by giving your sweetheart a garaetteok instead. Come this Novemeber 11 make sure you get your fill of chocolate sticks.
From all of us at WorkNPLay have a HAPPY PEPERO DAY, whatever that means!
Lindsey lived and worked in Seoul, South Korea for over 5 years. While there, she dabbled in different areas of work and explored the culture. She spent time teaching elementary students, business English to adults and high school students about college preparation. She also studied Korean, wrote blogs and tasted as many foods as she possibly could including fermented skate fish. Over the years, Lindsey developed a love for Korea and the culture. She is keen to share her knowledge of Korea with others and she will always consider Korea a second home.