Pepero Day in South Korea: A Holiday for Your Sweet Tooth

Gifts from my students for Pepero Day in South Korea
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Pepero Day is an unofficial holiday in South Korea falling on November 11th every year. As you can probably guess, Pepero Day is all about…Pepero.

Despite its prevalence and popularity domestically, Pepero Day isn’t widely known internationally (though that might change with the sustained spread of Korean cultural products!).

So this post is a quick look into Pepero Day in South Korea and what it entails.

[Want to learn about other holidays in South Korea? Read about Chuseok or Buddha’s Birthday!]

What is Pepero?

Created in 1983 by Lotte, Pepero (빼빼로in hangul) is a sweet South Korean snack consisting of a thin, crispy cookie stick dipped in chocolate. Besides the original chocolate, you can buy Pepero in a variety of flavors, including strawberry, “white cookie” (cookies and cream), almond, green tea, and dark chocolate.

You can also buy “nude” Pepero, which is basically an inside-out Pepero. The flavoring is on the inside of the cookie stick instead of the outside. You can buy this particular type of Pepero in chocolate or green tea.

Pepero is a very common snack domestically, with over 98 billion won (~$83 million USD) in sales in 2019. Pepero’s popularity is also growing overseas. In 2020, Pepero’s sales abroad amounted to 35 billion won (~$29 million USD), accounting for over a third of Lotte’s total international sales (100 billion won).

It costs around 1,500 won (~$1.25 USD) for one box of Pepero.

If you’re familiar with Japanese snacks, you have probably seen or eaten Pocky, a sweet Japanese snack created in 1966. If Pocky and Pepero seem similar to you, well, you’re not the only one. There have been controversies and lawsuits between the companies that produce these snacks regarding this.

What is Pepero Day?

On Pepero Day in South Korea, you give and receive Pepero. That’s it. It’s also common to exchange other snacks including Pocky, chocolate, and Pretz (a Japanese pretzel snack). People sometimes make homemade Pepero or other sweet treats to give away on Pepero Day. See the photo at the beginning of the post for some examples.

There are no definite origins for Pepero Day. A common origin story posits that the idea for it comes from its date (11/11), which looks like Pepero sticks. But whatever its origins, the holiday is now firmly established in the culture.

Snacks are exchanged between family members, friends, coworkers, and so on. I received snacks from students as a teacher in Korea. But exchanging snacks for Pepero Day is especially popular among couples.

In a way, Pepero Day functions as another Valentine’s Day for couples in Korea. Obviously romantic partners give each other boxes of Pepero, but you can actually buy special Pepero Day products. For instance, snacks may be encased in fancy gift packaging (i.e. wrapped with bows or cellophane decorated with hearts). You can even buy sets of Pepero packaged into a heart shape. You can see some examples of this kind of packaging the photo at the start of the article, as well as the photo below.

Snacks given as gifts for Pepero Day in South Korea

Note the gigantic heart of Pepero and the cutesy packaging for the Lindt chocolate

Adding to the romantic nature of Pepero Day, going out to dinner around Pepero Day is common. There isn’t any obligation to go out on a date for Pepero Day or anything. I think it’s just a little excuse to go have some fun and eat something delicious.

Why Pepero Day?

Obviously, it wouldn’t be hard to argue that Pepero Day promotes consumerism. Lotte must do good business around November 11th every year.

But really, it’s the same for many holidays across the world. Just think about Valentine’s Day or Christmas in the United States. Or even Mother’s Day or Father’s Day.

But with Pepero Day being a chance to give a small, inexpensive gift to someone to show your appreciation and care, it’s easy to see why this holiday has staying power.

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