A Flower that Blooms Two days After Valentine’s Day in North Korea

Happy Valentine’s Day! As we all gear up for big plans with lovers and friends or bash yet another commercialized holiday that adds stress to men and create unrealistic expectations for women, some of you may have woken up today wondering, “what do North Koreans do on Valentine’s Day”?

Ok, I’m pretty sure no one woke up thinking that this morning. But I have! As Valentine’s Day is becoming increasingly popular among pockets of young people in Russia and China, this day of “true love” is certainly known among a handful of folks inside North Korea as well (according to defectors).

In this deeply socially conservative society focused on social rank, activities like blind dates and casual dating are not mainstream. Young men and women are introduced to each other by friends, family, and classmates. I’ll have to ask North Korean friends about how they think of Valentine’s Day now that they live in South Korea, where silly holidays are celebrated with gusto (go look up Ppeppero Day, White Day, Black Day — a day that mourns those without a love interest–and Duck Day).

In addition to conservative values, and the fact that Valentine’s Day is a foreign idea, it’s no surprise that there’s not much focus on this day of love on February 14 in North Korea, which is merely two days before one of the country’s biggest national holidays: Kim Jong Il’s birthday.

February 16 is a day of huge celebration across the country, involving massive synchronized swimming performances, wreath-laying ceremonies, bows before Kim Jong Il statues, Kimjongilia exhibitions, and more. Kimjongilia is a flower engineered by Japanese botanist Kamo Mototero in 1988 to bloom annually on February 16 to celebrate Kim Jong Il. Even nature is to bow and praise Kim Jong Il. There’s also a kimilsungia. (But neither flower is the national flower; the magnolia is.)

If you google images and videos for “celebrations of Kim Jong Il’s birthday,” I promise you you’ll be shocked. Only if the government spent those celebratory dollars on something else — anything else — more productive…

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