Every year on November 11th, Koreans up and down the country indulge in the most delicious, chocolatey holiday there is (outside of Easter). That’s because November 11th is Pepero Day in Korea. If you’re wondering what on earth Pepero are, what Pepero Day is, and how Korea came to dedicate a whole day to a snack, keep on reading and you’ll find out. The story is more interesting than you might think.
There’s a lot of debate about how Pepero Day got started. Was it to celebrate being tall and thin? Or to wish others well? Maybe an excuse to eat a chocolate snack that goes perfectly with a cup of hot coffee during the cold Korean winter?
Pepero Day is not just a whimsical holiday about giving sweet gifts to your friends and loved ones, there’s actually a dark side to the history of this day. Find out how this innocent holiday actually masks a deep rivalry with a close neighbour, and a battle between corporate giants from the two countries.
It’s a twisting story that I’ll explain more about in this article, as well as providing a little bit of insight into how to celebrate Pepero Day in Korea and what I do to enjoy this sweet day.
I hope you enjoy this brief introduction to a fun bit of Korean culture. If you’re interested in learning more about Korean culture and etiquette, then you’ll love these guides I’ve put together after years of living in Korea. They’ll definitely help you avoid cultural faux pas and embarrassing mistakes that I’ve learned the hard way to avoid, as well as teach you some interest facts about the country:
Now, grab a coffee and something sweet and let’s get into learning all about Pepero Day in Korea.
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What Is Pepero Day In Korea?
Firstly, if you’re reading this on November 11th, then Happy Pepero Day!
Pepero Day (빼빼로 데이) is on November 11th each year and has been running since the late 1990’s and continues to grow every year. Not to be mistaken for Pocky Day, a very similar holiday in Japan, which I’ll talk about later.
Pepero Day is a kind of crossover between Valentine’s Day, in that people give delicious snacks to their friends or loved ones, and Easter, in that people eat a lot of chocolatey goodies.
Whilst Valentine’s Day and Easter are also celebrated in Korea, this particular day is solely about giving Pepero.
The idea is that it’s a gift giving holiday, but there’s also plenty of self-indulgence going on. I can definitely admit to buying several boxes of Pepero for myself before and after (when they’re discounted) Pepero Day.
People in Korea give Pepero to children, co-workers, friends, and family members. There’s no restriction, really. It’s a cheap snack and giving it as a gift can surely only look good and not cost you that much (unless you have a lot of co-workers or friends!).
If you haven’t worked it out from the pictures so far, you might be wondering what Pepero are…
What Are Pepero?
Pepero are basically chocolate-covered thin biscuit sticks that you can nibble slowly, dunk into a coffee, use to poke your friends, or stick in your mouth to pretend to be a vampire.
They’re very versatile and fun and come in an increasing number of different flavours and styles. Every year there seems to be new Pepero coming out that offer different tastes, shapes, and sizes to the original tall, thin Pepero.
Here’s some of the various flavours of Pepero you can try:
- Chocolate (Original)
- Almond (coated with chocolate)
- Green Tea
- White Chocolate Cookie
- Black Chocolate Cookie
- Tiramisu Cheese
- Black Chocolate
- Blueberry Yogurt
- Cherry double dip
- Mint Choco
- Yakult Yoghurt
- Strawberry double dip
- Cheddar cheese
- Dark chocolate (original)
- Peanut Butter
And here’s the different styles of Pepero you can eat on Pepero Day in Korea.
- Original – Chocolate coated biscuit
- Nude – Chocolate in the centre with a biscuit coating on the outside
- Double “Dip – Two coatings instead of one
- Super Sized – Giant Pepero that are much taller and thicker than the original
Who Makes Pepero?
Pepero are made by the Lotte Corporation – one of Korea’s big conglomerates that seem to make everything (like Samsung & LG). The history of how they came up with the idea for Pepero is more than a little controversial, something I’ll cover in a while about Pepero’s dark history.
As you may have guessed, the real winner of Pepero Day is definitely Lotte and they make most of their money from Pepero on and around November 11th – Pepero Day.
However, let’s not get bogged down by who benefits the most from Pepero Day.
It’s a lighthearted holiday that, yes, is massively commercialised, but one that is all about giving gifts to friends, and receiving delicious snacks that you can enjoy on this special day.
Now it’s time to learn more about the dark history of Pepero and how it fuelled the fight between two East-Asian superpowers…
How Did Pepero Day Get Started?
So how did Koreans end up eating Pepero on November 11th every year? Actually, the truth isn’t that clear, it’s been lost in the folds of time as so many other traditions and superstitions tend to be.
The version from Lotte is that it all started in the 1980s when school girls gave each other Pepero in the hope that they would both become tall and thin like the snack itself.
I’m not sure if they actually wanted to look that tall and thin, nor how a sugary snack is meant to help you become thinner. That’s the story that sounds the nicest for marketing execs and advertisers, though.
Therefore, that’s what Lotte sells everyone – a dream of being tall and thin like a Pepero.
In fact, to become tall and thin, you must eat 11 packets of Pepero at exactly 11 seconds past 11:11 am and 11:11 pm on November 11th.
Are you up for the challenge on Pepero Day in Korea this year?
An alternative explanation is that the Pepero sticks resemble the number 1. There are certainly more 1’s on November 11th (11/11) than any other date, so this must be the time to eat Pocky!
Whatever the truth, Pepero Day in Korea is big business for Lotte. 50% of all Pepero sales occur during this time.
So what makes Pepero’s history so controversial? I’ll explain that right now.
Pepero’s Dark History: Pepero Day Vs Pocky Day
I first knew November 11th as Pocky Day as I lived in Japan before I lived in Korea. Pocky, as you can see from the picture above, are kind of identical to Pepero….
There is actually a bit of controversy surrounding the two products. Glico launched Pocky in 1966, 17 years before Pepero in 1983. When Lotte decided to sell Pepero, Glico tried to stop them, arguing it was a blatant copy of Pocky. Which it certainly was, as you can see.
However, Lotte argued that because Pocky weren’t sold in Korea at that time, there was no copyright infringement. Yeah, not sure that would stick in most countries, but it saved Lotte and they were allowed to keep making Pepero.
There’s another twist here, though… Pepero Day came before Pocky Day!
Pepero Day started in the 1980’s and was officially recognised as a special day in Korea in 1997. Glico saw the massive money this could make and Pocky Day became officially recognised in Japan in 1999 – two years after Pepero Day.
So both companies have benefited from this strange case of copyright infringement and stealing ideas from each other.
Whatever, we all win as now we can celebrate Pepero Day in Korea or Pocky Day in Japan, or whichever you want. Both are on sale in Korea, so choose your side wisely.
Now it’s time to see how to celebrate Pepero Day and embrace some delicious Korean culture.
What Should I Do On Pepero Day In Korea?
If you’re living in or visiting Korea, then why not join in with the gift giving? Pepero are fairly cheap (1,5000 won / $1.30) for a box and are certainly a lot cheaper than a big box of chocolates.
There are many special boxes of Pepero for Pepero Day. There are ones where you can write a secret message for a friend or even a crush! You can even find giant Pepero that will go down well with a loved one, apparently.
It is common to give a box of Pepero to co-workers, friends, teachers, or students. It’s similar to red money envelopes given during Chinese New Year in China, but a lot cheaper.
I’ve received a couple of boxes at work, and also shared some with friends. I look forward to enjoying them with a coffee very soon.
That’s about it. If you want to be a mystery Pepero gifter, sneak some boxes of Pepero onto your co-worker’s desks, place them in front of your neighbour’s door, or leave some giant Pepero for your crush. Or leave a lovely message and confess your feelings on a day with less romantic obligations than Valentine’s Day.
How I Celebrate Pepero Day In Korea
I am a self-confessed coffee addict and I certainly have a bit of a sweet tooth! Therefore, what I love doing on Pepero Day, as I’m actually doing right now, is to have a coffee with a whole box of delicious Pepero all to myself.
One of my co-workers was kind enough to give me a box (my 4th) and I will enjoy that while thinking what to write about next. That’s the wonderful thing about this holiday – it’s all about giving and eating. What could be better?
If you’re in Korea, or have a chance to get some Pepero or Pocky, why not make a hot drink and dunk the Pepero inside for a few seconds so the chocolate melts and creates a heavenly mix of coffee and cacao?
Choose from one of the dozens of flavours that are now available, there’s something for everyone. Be tall and thin like a Pepero, but maybe don’t eat 11 boxes at once or you might regret it!
Why Not Try Some Pepero Yourself?
Feeling hungry and want to try these delicious Korean snacks? You can order them online and eat them whenever you like (no need to wait for Pepero Day). There are two ways to get these thin treats into your life.
The first is through Amazon, where you can buy various flavours and enjoy them as much as you like. Links below:
Secondly, for those who want to know more about the incredible treats that Korea has to offer beyond just Pepero, then I’d recommend trying the Seoul Box from Cratejoy.
The Seoul Box is packed full of Korean snacks for you to try without the hassle of flying all the way over to Korea to sample. There are lots of wonderful Korean snacks besides Pepero which are definitely worth sampling. The box also includes some unique items from Seoul that will add some Korean flavour to your life.
Whilst you’re here and probably hungry, why not check out some of my other mouth-watering articles about Korean food. You’ll find lots of ideas for things to try when you visit Korea, including many dishes you may not even know about.
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Pepero Day FAQs
Here are some FAQs about Pepero Day in Korea.
Did Pocky or Pepero Day come first?
Pepero Day was first officially celebrated in Korea in 1997. Pocky Day was first officially celebrated in Japan 2 years later in 1999. However, Glico, a Japanese company, started producing Pocky in 1966, 17 years before Lotte created Pepero. There is some controversy between Pepero and Pocky, with Glico claiming that Lotte copied Pocky when they created Pepero.
Which company makes Pepero?
Pepero are made by the Lotte Company. Lotte is a large Korean conglomerate that makes many different products and owns hotels, department stores, and many other businesses.
What day is Pepero Day in Korea?
Pepero Day in Korea is on November 11th. The first Pepero Day was officially celebrated in 1997 in Korea. There are many explanations about why this date was chosen, including the idea that the tall, thin Pepero resemble the number 1 and November 11th (11/11) is like four Pepero lined up together. Another story is that Korean schoolgirls ate Pepero to become tall and thin, like the shape of a Pepero.
What country are Pepero from?
Pepero are originally from Korea but are now sold around the world. There are many different types of Pepero for sale in Korea, including the original chocolate coated sticks, ‘nude’ sticks with fillings inside, ‘double-dipped’ sticks with two flavours, and many more.
Can I buy Pocky in Korea?
Yes, you can buy Pocky in Korea at convenience stores and supermarkets. However, as Pocky is a Japanese brand, and Pepero are Korean, you’ll find Pepero for sale in many more places. Both are available and enjoyed during Pepero Day in Korea.
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