Holidays around the world are one of my favorite parts of traveling — New Year’s Eve in New York City, Saint Paddy’s Day in Boston and 4/20 in Boulder. I spent six years teaching in Korea, so I experienced some completely different celebrations. Koreans mark the holidays you don’t go to work in red, so they’re called Red Days.
My Eastern friends call their fall harvest holiday Chuseok (chew-sock). Similar to our Thanksgiving, everybody visits family, and they play some and eat traditional dishes that are impossible to explain — but no turkey. Turkey isn’t really a popular meat in Korea, so I described it as “a really big chicken.”
New Year’s Eve doesn’t matter, but they celebrate Lunar New Year. Americans call it Chinese New Year, but in Korea, they call it Seolnal (sull-nall).
Hangul Day commemorates King Sejong’s creation of the Korean alphabet. Their alphabet is so easy to learn that most people can read the Korean ABCs in a few hours. Whether or not you can understand these things is another lesson.
Christmas is more like Valentine’s Day — you either go out on a date or you “stay at home with Kevin,” which means you watch “Home Alone” by yourself. For Valentine’s Day, girls buy boys chocolate. White Day is a month later on March 14, when boys buy candy for girls. If you were solo on V Day and White Day, you mourn your singleness on Black Day (April 14) by eating black noodles at a Chinese restaurant.
Chuseok, Seolnal and Hangul Day are all Red Days, which means it’s time to see grandma, sleep in and/or go party.
But something weird happened while I worked as an English-as-a-second-language professor in Seoul. One day, a university student dragged her feet up to me and whispered, “KC Teacher, today is my Red Day. Can I go home?”
I checked my planner. No holidays. And all my other students were in class. What the hell was this girl talking about?
When I asked what she meant by having a Red Day, she winced. She didn’t want to talk about this with her strikingly handsome professor. This girl has showed up to class but then complained about having a holiday. KC Teacher was confused.
“You don’t look sick. Are you having an emergency?”
“Teacher … it’s my Red Day.”
Still no understanding from me.
She wanted to stomp her foot, but groaned, paused and checked her dictionary. She hesitated and then whispered, “KC Teacher, Red Day means I’m menstruating.”
I finally understood and felt terrible for this poor gal. Her period had started and she had to explain her situation in front of class.
I asked no questions and just let her go. This experience surely wasn’t pleasant for her, but hopefully my hilarious jokes in my fascinating class made up for that uncomfortable moment.
Oddly enough, it seemed like some of my female students started suffering from “Red Days” every other week. I grew up with all boys, so my knowledge of ladies’ anatomy is a bit incomplete, but I thought that happened only once a month.