When I recently went shopping in one of the large shopping malls, I discovered a large sales stand in the middle of the food department with many colorful, conspicuously packaged, treats. It was clear to me then that it won’t be long before they celebrate one of these many special holidays in Korea. Today is the day. On November 11, people all over Korea celebrate Pepero Day 빼빼로, when they give these special sweets to their friends. Pepero Day is not a holiday, but it was officially recognized as a special day in Korea in 1997.
Pepero is long, thin chocolate-covered cookie sticks. Every year, new varieties and flavors are introduced to the market. So in addition to the classic, Pepero, which is covered with regular chocolate (original), there are also varieties with almonds, green tea, peanut, Yakult yogurt to cheddar cheese. This year Pepero with Dalgona flavor is very trendy. Coincidence or hard-core calculation that currently Dalgona gained a revival through the Netflix series Squid Games?
But why does Pepero Day actually exist? There are different traditions. Some claim that schoolgirls in the Yeongnam region in the 1980s gave Pepro to each other in the hope that eating them would make them tall and slim. The consumption was supposed to be especially effective at 11:11 a.m. on November 11. It is said that there are even people who wait for the 11th second to achieve the best result.
Others claim that the shape of the Pepero resembles the numbers 1, respectively the 11.11. The real origin of the Pepero day is still unclear. The only thing that is certain is that retailers, above all LOTTE (one of the large Korean conglomerates), increase their sales by selling Pepero on November 11.
But one may also rightly ask whether Pepero Day is really a Korean “invention”. In Japan, Pocky Day is celebrated on November 11. There, similar chocolate-covered cookies in the shape of an elongated stick are given as gifts. Glico, a well-known Japanese company, launched Pocky in 1966. Lotte, however, did not sell Pepero in Korea until 1983, which is very similar to the snacks made in Japan. A copyright infringement lawsuit ensued. Lotte was allowed to continue producing its Pepero, and Japan officially recognized the Pocky in 1999.
Although Pepero Day (much like Valentine’s Day) has become very commercialized in recent years, it brings a little happiness and warmth to an otherwise stressful and hectic Korean workday…