Traditional Korean weddings are lovely occasions rich in cultural meaning. It is seen as the fusing of Eum and Yang (Yin/Yang), a theory of opposed or opposing forces that are really complimentary, interwoven and interdependent in the natural world. Many of the ancient rites may be included in contemporary weddings as a way to celebrate this rich tradition, which has a long history.
Korean weddings embrace the concept of harmony and balance, symbolizing the unity of two individuals and their families. From the intricate wedding attire known as the hanbok to the colorful paebaek ceremony, each element of a traditional Korean wedding holds deep symbolic significance.
If you’re attending or planning a Korean wedding, understanding the customs and traditions will enhance your appreciation of the ceremony. Whether it’s the exchange of wedding ducks or the sharing of rice wine, these rituals create a meaningful and unforgettable experience for all involved.
Now and Then
Korean weddings used to be exclusively decided by the families of the bride and groom, like in many traditional societies. This was frequently a tactical alliance between two families as much as the union of two people. Family resistance to marriage, or bandae, is a term that is widely used while discussing marriage and family participation in marriage is still extremely significant today.
In Korea, a unique form of arranged marriage known as seon is still common. Parents typically set up a meeting, but ultimately, the decision to be married rests with the couple. There is significantly less likelihood that the family will object to the marriage because the prospective partners have been carefully chosen by the family.
It is uncommon for a single seon to result in marriage, and many people discover a compatible partner only after several seon meetings with other people. Before getting married, the pair usually dates for many months to a year after their first encounter. Because of this, the lines between planned marriages and “love” marriages are frequently blurred, despite the fact that families are typically more deeply involved in arranged marriages.
Before the Korean Wedding
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In South Korea, professional matchmakers by the name of Joongmae-in are still prevalent. In order to select a marriage partner who is compatible in terms of social position and earning capacity, families offer their son or daughter to a matchmaker who will review their resume and family information.
Since Koreans prefer to retain meticulous family histories, these records are occasionally mentioned on the matchmaker’s resume. These days, it generally corresponds to one’s age, level of education and familial circumstances. The résumé is always accompanied by a photo, which is taken into consideration when matching candidates.
Before a Traditional Korean Wedding: 3 Steps
1. Arranging dates: Eui Hon
The process of locating a potential bride or husband for one’s kid frequently entailed the use of matchmakers who would compile data on local singles and their corresponding social statuses, levels of education and family histories. The parents of the bride would receive a marriage proposal from the groom’s family and they would decide whether or not to accept it on behalf of their daughter.
2. Napchae sets the date
Following the bride’s family’s acceptance of the proposal, the groom’s family would produce a Saju, which included the groom’s birth details according to the lunar calendar, including the year, month, day and precise hour. Sajubo, a wrapping material with red fabric on the inside and blue fabric on the exterior, was then used to wrap the entire item.
The bride’s family sought the advice of a fortune teller to choose the ideal date for the wedding based on the information in the Saju. The groom’s family was then sent a Yeongil from the bride’s family with the wedding date written on it.
3. Napp’ae: Trading Gifts
The bride and her family received gifts in a Haam box from the groom’s family prior to the wedding. The group would attend a modest celebration hosted by the bride’s family, receiving food and beverages in appreciation for their assistance. With the carriers “selling” the contents of the Haam to the bride’s parents, the ritual of presenting the Haam has become a significant event for friends of the groom.
Traditional Korean Wedding Ceremony Steps
1. (Young-seo Rye) The bridegroom arrives with gireok-ahbeom, a servant who is holding a wooden goose. The father of the bride welcomes the groom as gireok-ahbeom presents him with the goose.
2. (Jeon-an Rye) The bride’s parents are now being given the goose by the groom at a tiny table.
3. (Kwan-se Rye) The future couple washes their hands while the helpers cater to them. Hand washing before the ceremony represents the cleansing of the body and psyche.
4. (Kyo-bae Rye): The pair are now facing each other and bowing deeply while placing their palms on the ground. Traditionally, the bride bows six times, while the husband bows twice. Why is the number so skewed? This relates to the Confucian notion of hierarchy, where the husband is placed at the head of the formation and the wife is placed below.
5. (Hap-geun Rye): The pair promises to the gods that they will be devoted to one another and uphold their duties as husband and wife. A cup of wine is hoisted to the heavens and then spilled on the ground to cement the deal. The procedure is carried out twice. The glasses are refilled, the promises are repeated and this time the pair drinks. Both parts of a gourd that has been cut in half and filled with alcohol are also consumed. This represents the merging of two individuals into one.
6. (Seong-hon Rye): The pair then turns to face the guests and bows to the floor once again.
Korean Wedding Customs and Traditions
Korean weddings historically took place at the bride’s house on the designated day and were more akin to a community festival than a personal celebration.
Families, relatives and community members would assemble to honor the pair. Today, it is typical for weddings to have over 500 guests! The bulk of weddings in Korea take place at wedding halls that have many bookings each day, and they are often far less formal than weddings in the US.
Nowadays, Korean weddings frequently incorporate both Eastern and Western customs. There are now several possibilities to rent packages that include attire, food towers, screens and other ceremony-related necessities for individuals who want to include a traditional Korean wedding in their ceremonies.
Even if love matches are now just as frequent — if not more frequent — than the semi-arranged Seon pairings, Korea nevertheless adheres to many of the older customs listed. The examination of Saju to choose an auspicious wedding date and particularly to ensure the couple would be compatible is still highly popular.
Different Korean Wedding Gifts
It is challenging to write about gift-giving traditions since Korea has seen significant cultural change over the past 40 years, and traditions that were formerly widely observed may no longer be the same. For instance, according to Korean customs, the bride’s family is supposed to buy gifts for the groom’s parents, while the groom’s family is supposed to purchase a home for the newlyweds. People who live with their parents far into adulthood and parents who live with their children as they get older are examples of this habit.
Nowadays, however, a lot of young people choose to live independently after they have a job, and a lot of parents do not necessarily want to bear the financial burden of purchasing a whole property for their kids. Therefore, although this custom is still followed today, it is no longer nearly as common as it once was.
The bride’s and groom’s families can still give each other modest presents such as designer watches, jewelry, purses, suits and hanbok. Once more, this is based on the desires of the two families, and ideally, all sides will come to an understanding of what they anticipate in this situation.
Dress Code at a Traditional Korean Wedding
Hanboks, the traditional Korean clothing, may or may not be worn by the bride and groom, their relatives and guests during a traditional Korean wedding ceremony. However, it is quite okay to wear a suit or a lovely dress if you are not a member of the bridal party.
Korean weddings are simple to organize since the whole sector is based on efficiency and ease. Most Korean weddings take place at wedding halls, which are locations created specifically for weddings. If you get into a contract with a wedding hall, they’ll handle practically all of the details, including the flowers, food and entertainment. Finding the ideal chairs, tablecloths or caterer won’t be an issue because everything comes as a package, so what you see is what you receive.
Wedding halls are highly practical locations, but their effectiveness and quickness have certain downsides. Several other brides and grooms who are being married in the rooms next to yours may join you in celebrating your special day. As your ceremony comes to a close, the staff could start cleaning up and escorting you out so they can get ready for the next wedding. There are more premium wedding venues available that cost more money but provide more privacy and time.
In general, celebrities rarely wed in wedding chapels. Instead, they will hold their wedding at a luxurious hotel or a house wedding location. (For celebrities, The Raum is the favorite house wedding location, and The Shilla Hotel is the best hotel.) However, regardless of whether it’s a home, hall or hotel, all three settings will often have a similar mood and layout.
Despite the fact that Christianity is widely practiced in Korea, church weddings aren’t very common, and any other setting (such as Won Bin and Lee Na Young’s outdoor nuptials or Hyori and Lee Sang Soon’s house wedding) is utterly uncommon!
It is customary in Korea for both sets of parents to invite everyone they know to the wedding, regardless of whether the bride and groom even know who they are! This frequently leads to weddings with over 500 guests, which makes the day difficult for the newlyweds because they have to meet and greet everyone.
Younger people are starting to buck tradition in favor of more private weddings, which they could even finance for themselves. Fortunately, wedding venues and hotels provide rooms in various sizes, allowing you to host an elegant celebration whether you have 50 or 500 guests!
If you’ve got that lovely wedding invitation that is cream in color and are searching for the RSVP card, halt! In Korea, RSVPs are not conventional nor required due to the customarily huge guest count; instead, wedding halls would sometimes base their anticipated guest count on a proportion of the total number of invites that have been sent out. Nevertheless, if the couple asks for an RSVP, kindly oblige them!
There are no wedding registers in Korea. The only thing you need to know if you’re attending one is that you should bring a present of cash in an envelope. Your relationship with the bride or groom, as well as your age, may affect how much you pay. Asking around covertly to learn what your peers think about the pair is the greatest method to get an idea.
However, a young individual attending a friend’s wedding would normally be required to pay 30,000 won. Try to collect the crispest, cleanest cash you can. Offer one 50,000 won bill instead of five 10,000 won bills if you’re going to give 50,000 won (for a really close buddy).
You might be shocked to notice a lot of variety in the attire of the attendees at the wedding. In Korea, it is not customary for individuals to wear white, and some guests have even been known to come up in shoes and jeans. To be safe, though, we suggest dressing in something you would generally see at a wedding: skirts, dresses or suits for ladies, and suits for men.
The Wedding… And Reception?
Above all, Korean weddings are brief and simple. In contrast to many other countries where the bride and groom are the center of attention during the wedding, in Korea, the guests’ choices are always prioritized, and very few guests desire to spend a full day at someone else’s wedding. As a result, the ceremony won’t last more than 30 minutes.
It will be overseen by an officiant and an MC, both of whom the couple is likely to know well. They will manage the rites quickly and effectively. Typically, there are no flower girls, ring bearers, groomsmen or bridesmaids. Instead, there is a little musical performance, a speech, the kiss and that’s about it. After the ceremony, a dinner will be provided. In general, you may anticipate leaving the wedding two hours after arriving.
There is not really a reception. There won’t be any dancing, speeches, DJs or live music, with the possible exception of a few very expensive weddings. It is assumed that visitors will finish their meals, congratulate the happy couple and then depart.
Korean Wedding Cuisine and Dishes
Traditionally, basic beef rib soup and noodles were served at Korean wedding celebrations, but nowadays, extravagant buffets and multi-course feasts are more popular.
Typical Korean wedding meals include:
- The noodles are served at wedding feasts, birthday parties and 60th birthday celebrations in Korea. They stand for enduring love and long life.
- Yaksik or yakbap is a sweet Korean delicacy made from rice combined with almonds, honey, sugar and various spices. Its literal translation is “medicinal food” or “medicinal rice.” It is especially well-liked at celebrations and weddings.
- Galbi Jjim, or Korean short ribs, are dishes that Koreans often consume with their families on important occasions like wedding banquets.
- Dok, a sweetened sticky rice cake, is served as a wedding treat in addition to the contemporary wedding cake. By the way, many wedding cakes made in the United States are excessively sugary for Koreans.
The Ceremony of Paebaek
Paebaek is a private Korean wedding rite used to reunite families as one big happy family. It usually happened after the wedding festivities, when the newlyweds traveled to the groom’s house. In Paebaek, just the bridegroom’s family participated. In contemporary Korean weddings, the pair immediately starts the Paebaek festivities.
It happens after the wedding service or reception. In the first scenario, the Paebaek occurs either during cocktail hour or after the ceremony when guests enter the dining area. In the second instance, it takes place following the guests’ receipt of sweets during the reception.
The groom’s parents take their seats at a small table that is set up with special delicacies. The Paebaek table arrangement often consists of three items: a bottle of distilled whiskey, a mound of beef jerky linked with red and blue yarns and a pile of dates joined by a red thread. This dish represents yang, the more advantageous of the two powers in traditional Oriental philosophy. Dishes must add up to an odd number, which will be lucky and prosperous for the couple’s upcoming marriage.
The newlyweds come wearing traditional hanboks and execute a deep bow that starts with them standing and concludes with them kneeling on the floor with their foreheads pressed to their hands. Other relatives are also expected to receive bows.
Following the bow, the bride and groom distribute wine to each pair of parents and family members. The elderly people then impart advice and blessings to the newlyweds. The bride and groom attempt to catch dates and chestnuts thrown by the parents with the bridal skirt of the bride. The dates that were captured represent the future children that the bride will have.
The groom traditionally carries the bride piggyback around the room after the Paebaek wedding ceremony to demonstrate his strength in front of the family.
By recognizing marriage as one of the three most significant rites of passage, traditional and contemporary Korean practices are brought together. (Two others are the 61st birthday and the celebration of the baby’s 100th day of life.) Young couples, particularly mixed-race ones, attempt to blend traditional Korean ceremonies with Western wedding practices. They are able to create a special occasion where both cultural customs are successfully applied.