This is my first poppy-free November 11th.
Today is not a day of remembrance in Korea. Instead, Novemeber 11th is Pepero Day. What’s Pepero? Pepero is a candy. It’s a bit like a chocolate-covered cracker and a lot like Pocky, the more popular Japanese Candy. November 11th is a day when children and young couples exchange Pepero sticks.
There are conflicting rumours about just how Pepero Day got started. A lot of people believe that it was started by Lotte, the company that produces the candy. The other story is that it was started by a few school girls in Busan who gave each other Pepero on 11/11 because they all wished to grow tall and thin, like Pepero sticks.
Regardless of how it got started, it feels strange that November 11th, a day which I associate with more solemn traditions, is a completely commercial day in Korea. I feels so odd that ceremonies are being held in Canada to honour those who have fallen while fighting for their countries, and for Korea, but in Korea we are eating candy. Weird.
I am not condemning Pepero Day, nor am I condemning commercial holidays. I see no real difference between Pepero Day and modern Halloween celebrations. Also, it would make no sense to celebrate on November 11th, since Korea played no official role in World War I. (Korea observes Memorial Day on June 6th.)
It just feels strange to me. Let’s call it part of culture shock. I cannot begin to understand Korea’s relationship with war. It has been occupied by foreign countries several times and is still technically at war with North Korea. That, and the fact that every Korean male must serve in the military, means that Koreans are generally more connected to their country’s military endeavors than most Canadians. Most Canadians need Remembrance Day as a reminder to pay tribute to the men and women who fought for their country. Who am I to judge if Koreans give each other candy on the same day?
At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month I will have my own personal moment of silence, 12 1/2 hours ahead of any part of Canada. Then I will go to work, without a poppy, and collect boxes and boxes of chocolate-covered crackers. And I guess that’s just life as an expat.