What you need to know
May 14 marks one of South Korea's 13 annual Valentine's Days. What is this monthly ritual really about?
In South Korea, it is “Yellow Valentine’s Day” on May 14, or Rose Day.
For most Taiwanese, the biggest holiday in the second week of May is Mother’s Day. But for South Korea, May 14 is one of the 13 Valentine’s Days celebrated every year.
On Yellow Day, singles who want to be in a relationship wear a yellow shirt and order a “yellow” curry at a restaurant as a symbolic gesture that encourages them to get rid of their “single status.” For those who already have a lover, they would instead celebrate Rose Day by exchanging roses.
Taiwanese are quite familiar with Valentine’s Day, like the most popular Valentine’s Day on February 14, or White Day on March 14 when beloveds return chocolate to those who have shown affection on the February Valentine’s Day. South Koreans also celebrate those two occasions — but they are just two instances of what is a monthly ritual.
One of the most well-known Korean Valentine’s Days might be Black Day on April 14. Singles would wear an all-black outfit on Black Day and order zhajiangmian, which is topped with a black sauce. This is to tell the world, “I am single and depressed.”
What other Valentine’s Days do Koreans celebrate?
At the beginning of the year, on January 14, Koreans celebrate Diary Day by exchanging blank diaries or planners and wishing one another a new start. Sometimes people might write down their own birthday or anniversary date before gifting the notebooks away, reminding the recipient of the “important days.”
On June 14, it is time for couples to celebrate Kiss Day. It might also be a good time to start a relationship with a passionate kiss. In the following month, on July 14, couples exchange silver rings as a promise of love.
August 14 is called Green Day. While couples might go on a date in the countryside, singles would drink a bottle of soju, a Korean alcohol beverage known for its green bottle. (Refer to for the comprehensive list of Valentine’s Days.)
Recently, September 17 has also become the “Confession Day” when young Koreans are encouraged to confess their love. Why September 17 particularly? Because if you can successfully score a relationship on that day, it will be your 100-day anniversary on Christmas Day. You won’t have to count the days yourself and you can even save the money on an extra gift.
What are the downsides to having “too much love”?
People who live outside of Korea might be envious of the monthly loving celebrations. But is this really an appropriate phenomenon?
If we look at this positively, it seems as if Korean society is one that “has love” (정) according to what many Koreans claim. But this a peculiar adjective. What country or society doesn’t have love? The main reason that Korea has a Valentine’s Day every month is most likely because of the sense of distance that pervades social relations, leaving people with a sense of loneliness and even more desperate for love.
If a society is so full of love, perhaps there should also be a monthly “family day.” For instance, we can be obligated to go hiking with our parents in January or to visit a supermarket in February. The holidays that we spend with our family allow us to express other emotions like gratitude. Not to mention other holidays that celebrate national culture, sports, education — these should be equally important.
But this is not the case in Korea. The monthly holidays that emphasize “love and relationships” are stressful for both singles and couples alike. If someone is single, there’s societal pressure to find a partner through blind dates or speed dating. Love then becomes dispensible like fast food.
For those who are already in a relationship, they might be subject to extra expenses ranging from something as small as a snack to expensive silver rings and restaurant dates. To fulfill the expectations of the monthly lover’s days, couples would have to work even harder to earn enough money. This phenomenon has resulted in a term called “weekend lovers” (주말애인), referring to the couples who can only meet on weekends or during holidays.
But singles in Korea are not exempt from being manipulated by a capitalist society reliant on consumption. One of the catalysts for this spending is the endless commercialized Valentine’s Days. Eating zhajiangmian on Black Day and yellow curry on Yellow Day would also cost money. No one can escape Valentine’s Day.
Whether Koreans are single or dating, the monthly Valentine’s Days are a real chore.
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TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee, Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)
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