It’s often joked that Valentine’s Day was founded by card companies and chocolate makers. Though it actually salutes the patron saint of lovers, the holiday has indeed gotten a little sugar coated. Now, every February 14th folks go gaga over flowers, fancy dinners and heart-shaped baubles. However, despite its gooey reputation, Valentine’s Day has nothing on the Asian cultural phenomena that is White Day.
White Day: Valentine’s Day, Sadie Hawkins-style
While Western-style Valentine’s Days are a time for couples to show their mutual affection, in Asia this day is all about the guys (thanks to a simple translation glitch in the 1950’s). Each February 14, Asian ladies shower their men with chocolates and other modest gifts. These women aren’t purely selfless, though, they’re just biding their time until March 14; White Day.
White Day is the even more spend-happy answer to V-Day in the West. Imagine Valentine’s Day, subtract the chocolate, multiply the sweets and candies by about 1,000, throw in an extravagant cosmetic set or a designer handbag and you have White Day. This quirky (yet pressure-packed) little holiday is now celebrated by South Korea, Taiwan and Japan – and literally was founded by a candy company.
The marshmallow misses the mark
It all started with a failed 1977 marshmallow campaign. The Japanese National Confectionery Industry Association needed a sales boost, and what better way to give their market a kick in the pants than an invented holiday? The scheme worked… sort of.
The first go – Marshmallow Day – pressured dudes to gift their ladies with the fluffy treats. The Association picked marshmallows as white is the color of purity and innocent love. Despite the swoony set up, Marshmallow Day was DOA. However, thanks to a marketing revamp, the following March 14 saw Japanese women swimming in White Day candies and treats.
By the 1980’s White Day was a full blown cultural phenomenon that had begun to creep its way across Asia – and the ladies were loving it. Now, in the weeks leading up to each holiday, stores are bursting with White Day chocolates, cakes, cookies and sweets.
Pony up, gentlemen
Today men who are showered with chocolates and small gifts on Valentine’s Day are expected to triple their reciprocal White Day gift. Basically, if your lady dropped a chunk of change on a box of handmade chocolates, you at least owe her a fancy designer scarf or a sparkly new accessory – in addition to the requisite candy. While most men spend between $100 and $250 USD, some drop nearly $500 on their White Day surprise.
Enjoy your obligatory chocolate, coworker
Despite the intense focus on romance, Valentine’s Day and White Day aren’t reserved purely for the coupled. Friends, family members and even people you don’t necessarily like but are obligated to honor (think bosses and other higher ups) expect treats on this day. The Japanese word giri choco was even invented to describe this level of gifting. That said, it’s a good rule to keep an emergency stash of sweets on both February 14 and March 14, just in case.
White Day gifts etiquette
White Day newbies, listen up. Fancy, handmade chocolates are reserved only for serious significant others. Handing them out to a casual coworker or friend might send a very wrong signal. When in doubt, stick with a simple candy bar.
Also, if you’re a man looking for an out, surprising your partner a cheapo corner store lollipop is the easiest way to say sayonara, annyeong-hi gyeseyo or tzai chien. If that’s the case, the newly liberated can collectively drown their sorrows in black bean noodles on April 14, appropriately titled Black Day.