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Singles’ Day Grows from Humble Beginnings to Massive Shopping Bonanza

Posted: 11/10/2014 10:00 am
singles day youzi baozi

The traditional way to celebrate Singles’ Day is to eat four youzi (fried doughsticks) and a meat bun, which represents the dot between month and day.

David Beckham met with Jack Ma last week to develop a Singles’ Day promotion. Headlines have been flying around about China’s famous “Single’s Day”, with some comparing it to Black Friday for shopping in the United States. But what exactly is Singles’ Day? And why is it so important that Jack Ma is willing to pay David Beckham to promote it?

Singles’ Day” is something of a mash-up of Chinese superstition and Western consumerism. The holiday takes its name from the date, November 11, and is most often represented as 11/11. Visually, the date represents a bunch of sticks in a line, which gives it its Chinese name, “Bare Sticks Festival”, or 光棍节. Although there are many theories explaining the origin of Singles’ Day, the most common one is that it was concocted by lonely university students to celebrate being single and relieve themselves of the pressures of getting married and raising a family.

singles day

Chinese numerology places importance on certain dates that sound like something else. For example, January 3, 2014 (2014/1/3), is significant because it sounds close to, “Love you for the rest of my life, and the end of my years.”

While the holiday was conceived as a celebration of singlehood, November 11 has slowly gained traction as another holiday for couples to celebrate their “couplehood”. It is now commonplace for couples to reserve the date for their weddings.

Singles’ Day was eventually added to the many dates “Chinese Valentine’s Day” is celebrated, including the traditional western Valentine’s Day on February 14, White Day on March 14 when women are expected to give gifts to their partners, Qixi Festival/Girls Day/Seven Sisters Festival on the seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar, and now Singles’ Day.

singles day

Singles’ Day has quickly become a lucrative commercial opportunity for retailers. Although singles have no one to buy gifts for, except presumably themselves, couples have each other. Taobao was the first online retailer to create Singles’ Day promotions, and it was soon copied by several other online retailers who all offer games and the promise of cash rewards or discounts. It has become so popular that many retailers now strategically remove their best selling items on Singles Day to help get rid of unwanted stock.

Photo: Chinaface, nipic, pchouse

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