For those visiting or newly adjusting to life in Korea, questions may arise why there are walnuts and peanuts galore at shopping stalls about now.
Feb. 14 is St. Valentine's Day. It is also "Jeongwol Daeboreum," or the first full moon day in the lunar calendar. For the first time in 19 years, the two events fall on the same day.
With "jeongwol" meaning first month of the year and "daeboreum" meaning big full moon, the day was celebrated significantly in Korean society with interesting traditions.
In the morning of the full moon day, one would eat "bureom," which refers to the nuts people eat on the day. They would crack nuts with their teeth. They would also eat "ogokbab," or rice with five grains, and "namul," or sauteed and seasoned vegetables. These food traditions are supposed to make up for the nutrients that one lacked during the winter.
"On Jeongwol Daeboreum, we eat namul, ogokbab and bureom. In the agricultural society, you start labor again after the first full moon's day. These foods symbolize physically preparing for the work," said Han Bok-ryo, who heads the Institute of Korean Royal Cuisine and is a registered Intangible Human Cultural Heritage No. 38.
It was believed that by cracking nuts on the full moon day, you will be protected against boils for the year and your teeth will get stronger.
"Nuts have unsaturated fats, which offer many health benefits. You should contain some of the nuts in your diet to prevent chronic diseases," said Yoon Jin-sook, food and nutrition professor at Keimyung University. Walnuts, for instance, have 90 percent of their fat in the form of unsaturated fat. They contains omega 3 which decreases the blood cholesterol level, lowers blood pressure and enhances elasticity of the veins.
Nutritionally, the namul contains diverse vitamins and minerals that are often lacking in winter, and healthful vegetable oil. Ogokbab, which is made of not only rice but also glutinous millet, sorghum, red bean, and black bean, is also a smart choice in terms of nutrition, according to Yoon.
"No ingredient has all nutrients. Diversity in diet is very important to make up for the nutrient that lacks in certain food, but it is burdensome to eat them all separately. Ogokbab offers a convenient way to take the diverse nutrients," she said.
While there are nuts stand for the daeboreum, chocolates are the symbol of the St. Valentine's Day in Korea. Women give chocolates to men on this day, expecting men to return the favor on White Day on March 14. The tradition takes root in a marketing campaign driven by Japanese confectioners, but now has become a huge annual event in Korea.
"It's good to accept new culture, but we shouldn't forget the good traditions. Just like we now think of chocolates on Valentine's Day, I hope the young generation will share nuts or grain cookies with people around, thinking of the full moon and wishing for a good harvest of the year," Han said.
According to Lotte Super, sales increased by on average 15 percent on the day before St. Valentine's Day and by 10 percent ahead of the Daeboreum for the past three years. It expects sales to grow by over 30 percent this year as the two separate events on the same day will draw different customer groups and create a synergetic effect. In case of chocolates, females in their 10s, 20s and 30s are the main consumers, while housewives in their 40s through 60s buy healthful nuts to enjoy on the full moon's day.
To resolve the dilemma for people who want to celebrate both dates, Homeplus will be selling special gift sets comprising of nuts and chocolates in one package at its units around the nation.
Another way to mark the two dates together would be the "night-at-the palaces." The Changyeong Palace will be open through Feb. 16, from 7 p.m. through 10 p.m. Visitors are limited to 1,700 per day. The Gyeongbok Palace will also be open through Feb. 17, from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m. Visitor are limited to 1,280 a day and tickets can be bought via ticket.auction.co.kr.
Not in multitudes, but a few have taken to creating a "fusion" between the first full moon of the lunar New Year with Valentine's Day. The Yongjeon Information Village in Namwon, South Jeolla Province will be selling a "Strawberry Fondue" to wish for abundant strawberry harvest this year as well as sweet Valentine's Day.
Meanwhile, the popularity of the Korean Wave has put forth Korean artists as the most-favored dates for Valentine's Day. Actor Lee Min-ho was voted by the bilingual magazine "The Bridges" as the No. 1 Korean actor, with 22 percent of the votes to go out on a date on Valentine's Day this year. He was followed by Hyun Bin, who garnered 16 percent of the votes. Actors Song Joong-ki, Kim Woo-bin, Jang Geun-suk and Kim Soo-hyun also each received 10 percent or more.