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Korea’s Black Day: When Sad, Single People Get Together And Eat Black Food

Each year on April 14, singles in South Korea drown their sorrows in a bowl of black noodles

On Black Day, single Koreans drown their sorrows in a bowl of jjajang myeon noodles. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

If one day of hearts and lovey-dovey, mushy-gushy isn’t enough, you might want to consider a move to Japan or Korea. Both countries have an interesting adaptation for Valentine’s Day: They celebrate it twice.

Traditionally on February 14, the female buys the male a gift, Sadie Hawkins-style—usually in the form of chocolate. There are two ways the chocolate can be given: giri choko for the men in a woman’s office that she does not have romantic feelings for and honmei choko, for the man she truly cares for. It’s a relatively young tradition: The first advertisement for Valentine’s Day in Japan appeared in 1936 when a chocolate shop, Morozoff Ltd., thought it wise to pitch their sweets as the perfect way to show someone you care. But it wasn’t until 1958 and throughout the ’60s and ’70s—long after World War II—that the westernized, commercial selling of chocolate would reappear in Japan. During this boom of Hallmark holidays, Japan’s obsession with Kentucky Fried Chicken on Christmas also took off from a similar marketing campaign.

But on March 14, called “White Day” the male returns the favor with chocolates and other gifts to prove his requited love. The holiday originated in 1978 when a Japanese confectionary company declared it “Marshmallow Day” for men as a response to the chocolate gifts received a month prior (which explains the “white” part of the celebration’s current namesake and the convenient boost in confectionary sales). It’s popular for men to present their special someone with expensive white chocolates, marshmallows or even white lingerie, sometimes spending up to $250.

But Korea, which adopted the two-day  Valentine’s Day celebration around the same time as Japan, has taken the event to another level: And it’s specifically for single people. On April 14th, known as Black Day, sorry singles in Korea who did not receive presents on Valentine’s Day or White Day, gather, dressed in black—black nail polish, black accessories, black shoes—and eat jjajang myeon, noodles covered in black bean paste. (Jjajang translates to black bean paste sauce; myeon, noodles).

The Chinese-style noodle dish is one of South Korea’s national foods, and is considered a comfort food—comparable to the stereotypical image of Ben and Jerry’s eaten straight out of the carton. On Black Day, there are organized, jjajang myeon-eating contests, where dark and devastated loners emerge to eat their weight in starch and bean paste. Sales of black coffee spike, and matchmaking services pounce on the resounding pity for singles lingering in the air.

This interview with Reuters in 2008 just about sums it up:

“I had a miserable time on Valentine’s Day, felt even lonelier on White Day and now I’m crying over a bowl of black noodles,” said a young women who asked only to be identified by her family name Na out of embarrassment. ”Things better be different next year.”

The thick, wheat noodles, similar to pasta, are typically served in a separate bowl from the sauce made with onions meat and/or seafood like shrimp or sea cucumber. The contents are then mixed together at the diner’s discretion. The sauce often leaves a black tint on the teeth—the perfect accessory to an all-black ensemble.

But if you thought kicking it solo on Valentine’s Day was tough, and Black Day perhaps all the more difficult to fathom, in Korea there are roughly 13 holidays devoted to love. Though they aren’t all comparable in participation and importance as Valentine’s Day is in the states, what does one do come June 14th on “Kiss Day” or “Green Day” (August 14th) when couples, dressed in green, skip through the woods drinking the popular cheap, Korean alcohol, soju, from a green bottle?

Though, it seems not everyone is sad on Black Day; not even these yo-yoers (their singledom unconfirmed). And if you can’t find any buddies to celebrate Black Day with you in America, there’s always Singles Awareness Day to look forward to on February 15.

 

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About K. Annabelle Smith
K. Annabelle Smith

K. Annabelle Smith is a writer based in Santa Fe, New Mexico who covers a wide variety of topics for Smithsonian.com. Her work also appears in OutsideOnline.com and Esquire.com.

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