Singles Day, also known as National Singles Day, is celebrated on September 22th each year. It is considered to be the world’s largest singles celebration day and sales event. Singles Day originated in China in the 1990s as a lighthearted celebration for single people. Since then, it has grown into a major commercial event, similar to Black Friday or Cyber Monday sales in the United States. While it began as a counter-holiday to Valentine’s Day celebrations, Singles Day has now morphed into a major shopping event, not only in China but globally as well.
History and Origin of Singles Day
The idea for Singles Day was started by Chinese students at Nanjing University in the 1990s. Chinese culture at the time emphasized romance and marriage by specific ages. Singles were increasingly feeling marginalized by societal pressures. As a form of protest and lighthearted celebration, four Chinese students came up with the idea of Singles Day on November 11th (11/11) as a day to embrace and celebrate their unmarried status.
The date was chosen because the four ones (1-1-1-1) represent people who are single. Since many Chinese view odd numbers as good luck, the date was deemed perfect for celebrating singleness. The concept caught on in China and over the years grew into an event that gave single people space to celebrate themselves rather than feel left out on Valentine’s Day.
Rise of Singles Day as a Shopping Festival
In the 2000s, e-commerce companies like Alibaba spotted the marketing potential of Singles Day. They began heavily promoting discounts and deals for the day. Alibaba kicked off their first Singles Day sales event in 2009 with $7.8 million in sales. Each year, their annual Singles Day sale has grown exponentially since then. In 2021, Alibaba’s 24-hour Singles Day shopping festival generated a record $84.54 billion in gross merchandise value, cementing its position as the largest shopping event in the world.
The success of Alibaba’s Singles Day sales has led other Chinese retailers and e-commerce sites to join in the celebration with their own deals and discounts. Companies outside of China have also starting trying to capitalize on the spending power and shopping hype around Singles Day. It has become a mid-fall shopping event rivaling Black Friday and Cyber Monday in scale and success. While retaining its roots as a celebration of singleness, Singles Day is now primarily associated with online shopping and spending in China and globally.
Celebrating Singles Day in China
In China, Singles Day is celebrated with gusto across the country. Major concerts and events are held in big cities to mark the occasion. Hotpot dinner gatherings of single friends are a common tradition as it’s considered bad luck for singles to eat alone on Singles Day. Karaoke sessions and bar crawls give single people a chance to socialize and meet others who are also unattached. Discounts and deals abound at restaurants, cafes and shops nationwide. Chinese singles pamper themselves with gifts, travel and leisure activities to feel extra loved and indulged on this special day.
Flowers, chocolates and other gifts related to romance are avoided as reminders of couples. Instead, novelty gifts that play on themes of being single like customized dictionaries defining “single” or metal chopsticks with the words “I’m Single” become top Singles Day presents. Many people post selfies or humorous posts on social media with hashtags like #SingledOut or #ProudToBeSingle. It remains an occasion strictly for celebrating the single life rather than mourning singledom. With its cheerful tone and massive spending momentum, Singles Day has truly become China’s biggest festival for unmarried people.
Global Impact and Cultural Differences
As Singles Day receives growing international attention, other countries have started adopting and adapting the concept to celebrate singleness. However, cultural traditions and mindsets differ when it comes to attitudes towards singledom in the West versus China and Asia. In Western societies that put a premium on coupledom and marriage, Singles Day is less about proud defiance of societal norms. Instead, it tends to be observed more as a lighthearted excuse for singles to socialize and indulge themselves through shopping discounts and entertainment activities.
Unlike China where family pressure on singles is intense, unmarried status faces less stigma in individualistic Western cultures. As a result, Singles Day takes on a gentler, less rebellious tone when celebrated globally outside of Asia. The focus is more on retail promotions than social statements. Nevertheless, Singles Day is increasingly catching on as an global shopping event and singles festival in countries beyond its birthplace of China. Its unique date, origin story and massive scale are irresistible draws for online retailers and unattached consumers worldwide.
Future of Singles Day
With each passing year, Singles Day only grows stronger commercially and symbolically across China and globally. It has well and truly replaced Valentine’s Day as the biggest shopping event of the year in terms of revenue and consumer spend. Major retailers outside of China are becoming increasingly keen on capturing a share of Singles Day spending too. As online cross-border shopping rises, Singles Day deals and discounts are going global to cater to Chinese expats and international shoppers online.
Demographically, the number of singles worldwide continues increasing. China, Japan and South Korea in particular face serious shortage of marriageable males due to gender imbalance issues. This trend ensures Singles Day retains relevance and relatability for a growing number of people in Asia and globally over the long run. In China, Singles Day is here to stay as a glorious celebration of self-care, friendships, entrepreneurship and independent spirit. Its commercial clout and cultural prominence show no signs of waning any time soon. If anything, Singles Day will likely get bigger, better and more beloved every passing year.