In South Korea, November 11 is Pepero Day, named for the eponymous chocolate-dipped cookie stick (called it Pocky, much like one could call the East Sea the Sea of Japan, and prepare to be seethed at). It is, apparently, an actual thing, and was reportedly started by a teeming horde of Korean middle school girls somewhere. They began gifting each other Pepero sticks on November 11 (11/11, because that’s four Peperos together) so that they might one day grow up to be tall and slender, like the candy. And, one presumes, slathered in chocolate syrup of moderate quality. (The irony of giving fattening sweets in order to hope to become skinny and Amazonian is apparently lost on middle schoolers).
What does this day entail? Apparently it’s taken on a sort of pseudo-Valentine’s day artifice, and couples are thus expected to buy gifts for one another, ranging from a box of cookie sticks to lavish dinners and expensive foreign treats (one of my co-teachers, remarking how much shit he got in when he forgot White Day, sheepishly said he would be taking his girlfriend our for Pepero day that night. As a courtesy and because I would have only then had to explain the meaning and context, I did not make an ostentatious whipping motion, nor say “whhh-ch!”). Kids here do as many Western kids do on Valentine’s or Halloween back home: they get their parents to splurge on a pile of candy and treats and spend all day giving them to one another.
I was thus chased about the halls all day, students alternately handing me full boxes of candy or charging at me and trying to shake me down for any loose Pepero. (I told the little urchins that it was their turn to fork over candy: I had given them abundant sweets on my regional holiday, and it was time for them to return the favour). I received all kinds: individually wrapped mega-sticks, full boxes or packets, special flavours, individual sticks covetously handed over to me, as though only through coercion. They offered them happily, but their eyes bespoke more: take only ONE, you white devil, and don’t you even try to get all grabby with my stash.
It’s a peculiar holiday. It would be as though Canada began KitKat day, where everyone bought KitKats and similar products for one another to show affection. Which, I guess, makes it pretty much exactly like Valentine’s Day, but just with a lot more specific and targeted marketing, and absolutely bare brand loyalty. Is it shameful? Sort of. Is it crass consumerism? Sure. Does it invite a day of really terrible eating and dental health choices? Certainly. But you guys: Peperos are pretty delicious. So, really, balls to all that. If November 11th weren’t occupied by a significantly more important holiday in my home country, I would try bringing it back for sure. Viva Pepero Day.