11/11 or November 11th is Pepero Day in Korea and there is a very good chance that you will receive a couple of boxes of these long thin snacks on this day. The classic pepero sold by Lotte is a thin biscuit stick that is dipped in chocolate. Over time these have evolved into thin pretzel wrappers with chocolate inside (called Nude Pepero), Almond Chocolate, Strawberry, Blueberry, Nude Lemon Cheese, and then huge peperos that are the length of an adult’s arm. It is easy to get overwhelmed by the number of these strange thin snacks that swarm the Korea landscape on 11/11. So how did it start?
The Lotte Confectionary Company introduced Pepero to Korea back in the 1980s. Many people believe that the company invented this day to increase their sales. If the Lotte Company did do this then it was a huge success. It sells almost two-thirds of it’s yearly total of these snacks in the two months before November 11th (Source: Lina Yoon Wall Street Journal 2006). The Lotte Company refutes this claim because they say they only started marketing these snacks in the year 2000 after marketing personnel started to notice a yearly jump in sales around the 11th. Koo Ja-ryung, the branding manager of Pepero said “Actually, we didn’t start Pepero day. Some middle school girls in Busan gave Peperos to their friends on November 11th, saying ‘Be tall and thin’ like the number 1, in 1994. (Kim Moon-sun Cauon, 2004)
To me, this idea makes sense for I find many Koreans are obsessed with being thin and they have an unquenchable drive to be number 1. But this story doesn’t make complete sense because the overwhelming number of pepero people receive on the day do not promote thinness. When I worked in the public elementary school I received over 40 boxes of pepero. I ate a couple and then regifted them among my fellow teachers and students.
Regardless of where the holiday originated, it is here to stay. These days people hand out pepero as a sign of friendship. They are fun to eat and fairly delicious. Games have been invented as kids sword fight, conduct music, and cast spells. Couples will each put the end of the thin snacks and eat towards each other for a kiss. The chocolate high is euphoric and the packaging impressive. Some of the pepero are shaped like umbrellas, animals, hearts, and dolls.
While the regular pepero only cost 800-1000 won (about 75 cents to 1 dollar), these days many high-end bakeries and chocolaterias have been getting in on the holiday and have been making gourmet pepero. Some of these pepero include Italian dark chocolate and orange peel, white chocolate macadamia nut, and black and white sesame. The most visually awing is the giant pepero. Sure, they might look impressive but they taste like a bland breadstick covered in chocolate. But that’s not the point. You are giving this giant pepero to someone as a symbol of your love. It says, “You’re number one in my heart.”