Hey single ladies (and gents!), you know how this one goes — if you liked it then you should’ve put a ring on it. Beyonce said it best, and now the people of China are cashing in on the sweet freedom of the single life. In China — and now spreading worldwide — November 11 is Singles’ Day, a holiday designed to celebrate the independence enjoyed by those who are not partnered, it’s equal parts tongue-in-cheek, self-deprecating, and self-indulgent.
Basically, it’s a lot of fun and it spells sweet relief for those breaking free from China’s traditional expectations of getting married at a young age. But since its invention, the day has undergone extreme transformations — and even more are on the way. Read all about this unique holiday, its origins, and where it’s headed next with these five fascinating facts.
1. Singles' Day was invented in China in the 1990s.
Like all good things (Nintendo 64! AOL! Seinfeld!), Singles’ Day was invented in the 1990s. A little background: culturally, celebrating your single status was a fairly progressive stance to take in China in the 1990s. The unofficial origin story of Singles’ Day takes us to Nanjing University in 1993, where college students jokingly celebrated their unattached state on November 11 (11/11), because the four ones signified their single status. After all, one is the loneliest number — and the Chinese name Guānggùn Jié (光棍节) literally means “bare sticks day.” If you’re tired of explaining to your grandma that you’re still single, switch things up and tell her you’re a bare stick at the next family party.
2. Singles' Day is currently the world’s biggest shopping day.
Black Friday, meet your match. While Singles’ Day started out as a non-commerical holiday celebrated among friends by eating deep-fried twisted dough sticks (油条, or yóutiáo) and sharing a meal with fellow singles, today it is the world’s biggest shopping day. Every year, Chinese shoppers shatter world records by indulging in extravagant gifts and taking advantage of massive sales across major retailers. In 2009, Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba trademarked the date Double 11 and transformed it into the shopping extravaganza that it is today.
Just how big is Singles’ Day? The numbers alone could make your head spin. In 2016, e-commerce company Alibaba racked up $18 billion in sales in just 24 hours. In comparison, more sales were made in these 24 hours than the U.S.'s Cyber Monday and Black Friday sales combined! We’ve got some catching up to do here in the States. The sales are pretty hard to resist — over 40,000 merchants are slinging more than six million products, with representation from big-name, international brands like Burberry, Zara, and even Cadillac.
3. Celebrities are joining the fun of Singles' Day.
A giant countdown gala is hosted by Alibaba on Singles' Day Eve to ring in the next day of shopping. This year's variety show features Pharrell Williams along with other surprise Chinese and Western famous guests. As Alibaba continues to promote Singles’ Day as the world shopping event of the year, the hoopla and hype around the event only multiplies. And it’s working — last year’s data shows that $1 billion worth of sales was spent in the first five minutes of Singles’ Day.
4. People are using Singles’ Day to mark the end of their single lives.
Despite the massive dent shoppers put in their credit cards, the sentiment behind Singles’ Day hasn’t been entirely lost. Over the years, the holiday’s cultural meaning has evolved for some into an opportunity to say goodbye to the single life once and for all. Now, many young people celebrate Singles’ Day by going on blind dates, attending karaoke dating parties, or attempting to woo a partner by buying the perfect gift. There are also more weddings held on 11/11 than most other days of the year. All in all, if you manage to change your status from single to partnered by the end of Singles’ Day, you’re a success story.
5. Singles' Day is going global.
Were you turning a little green reading about all of those incredible sales in China? Was a chronic case of FOMO ("fear of missing out") kicking into full gear? Fear not, Westerners — Alibaba has been hard at work to extend the Singles’ Day deals beyond China. Start hitting the gym now — your credit card is about to get a serious workout.
You may already be fluent in retail therapy, but how’s your Mandarin? Have you tried one of the lessons yet in our Chinese, Mandarin course? Celebrate Singles’ Day by diving into Chinese language and culture!
Sources: http://time.com/4098542/china-relationships-singles-day-history/, http://time.com/3576381/china-singles-day-history/, https://www.cnbc.com/2017/07/10/alibabas-singles-day-is-amazons-prime-day--on-steroids.html, https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelzakkour/2017/10/31/singles-day-alibabas-vision-for-the-future-of-retail/#515746c868e0, http://cn.hujiang.com/new/p423683/, http://www.bbc.com/news/business-34773940