January 4, 2006
The burden of a S.Korean calendar laden with love
By Jon Herskovitz and Lee Jin-joo
SEOUL (Reuters) - Love comes at a hefty price in South Korea.
There are up to 21 anniversaries, special days and celebrations a year for couples to shower each other with affection and gifts, and as a result some relationships are crushed under the weight of festivities.
South Korean companies looked at the wild success of Valentine's Day celebrations in their country and found ways to sell their goods and services through a tie-up with love, marketing officials say.
Thanks to shrewd marketing in a society focused on commerce as well as love and matrimony, there is a special day on the 14th of each month for lovers to celebrate as well as a few other goodies along the way.
For example, January 14 is Diary Day in South Korea when sweethearts are encouraged to buy gifts such as planners and mark all their red-letter days of love.
Next on the calendar is February 14 and Valentine's Day, where South Korean women buy chocolates for their boyfriends.
Army trucks are regularly deployed to deliver chocolates from women whose boyfriends are in uniform as part of South Korea's mandatory military service.
March 14 is White Day. This celebration was born in Japan, imported to South Korea and is marked by South Korean men returning the favor of their Valentine's chocolates with candies for their girlfriends.
April 14 is Black Day and is purely Korean. This is a day where those who have not found love mark their status as lonely hearts by eating black food.
The dish for the day is Chinese noodles topped with a thick black sauce. Single students at universities order scores of bowls and eat them together in the hope of finding a soul mate over noodles.
May 15 is Yellow Day-Rose Day. Lonely hearts gather for curry and companionship. Those who find love by this day exchange roses. Dressing in yellow is also recommended.
LOVE AND LIQUOR IN THE PARK
The rest of the celebrations that come each month on the 14th have yet to gain a strong following.
Some of the little-known days for lovers include August 14 Green Day when couples are supposed to dress in green, walk in the woods and drink cheap liquor that comes in green bottles.
On Silver Day, couples can freely ask their friends to give them money to pay for a date while couples are supposed to exchange gifts made of silver.
A new day that has taken off in South Korea is a festivity that combines feelings of affection with chocolate on a stick.
Nov 11. is Pepero Day and is named after a pencil-shaped cookie stick covered in chocolate that is purchased in abundance on the day and exchanged mostly by young South Koreans as an expression of their affection.
Oh Mi-kyeong, an adviser at Duo, a matchmaking company, said all the attention on love and special days makes singles focus on their status and can strain relationships.
"Singles feel lonely on those days and the atmosphere drives them to make a new girlfriend or boyfriend," Oh said. "Many couples fight on those days because they feel hurt if their lover doesn't do enough to celebrate the special days together."
ROMANCE OF SNOW
Many couples celebrate the milestone of 100, 200, 300 and 1,000 days since the first time they met or went on their first date. Since calculating the milestones is quite difficult, many couples in the world's most wired country turn to the Internet for help.
There are sites that calculate the special days for a person and send notice of an upcoming milestone with an e-mail or a text message over a mobile phone.
"It must be so difficult for young people to keep their relationships going with so many special days," said Yoko Tagami, a Japanese essayist living in Seoul who has written on the subject. "It could even scare single men away from marrying."
Newspapers and lifestyle magazines often get into the act, especially for "First Snow Day." Lovers are supposed to mark the first snow of the winter season with a romantic date.
Several media sources are awash with recommended spots and activities that will make young lovers' hearts flutter as they enjoy the sprinkling of snow.
Christmas Eve is one of the biggest date nights of the year. It also marks the season of high prices as many businesses try to make a few extra won off lovers.
Restaurants offer pricey Christmas menus, high-end jewelry stores are packed with young lovers purchasing non-discounted goods and even some love hotels raise prices for couples who want to stretch their Christmas Eve date into the morning.
And of course, birthdays and actual one-year anniversaries are also major events on the calendar for couples.
Couples, however, can feel the pinch of too many festivities.
"I gave my boyfriend a gift soon after we went out and that just made his expectations bigger for more expensive gifts. I had to ask my parents for money for gifts, and in the end, we broke up because of the cost," said Kim Mi-yeon, a student.
(With additional reporting by Yoo Hee-doh)