A wedding where a loving couple begins a new life together with the blessing of many guests is an exciting event in both the East and the West. In Korea, a wedding is also a very important event that follows long held rituals and procedures. In the traditional sense, men and women were considered a true adult only when they got married. As time changed, strictly ensconced rituals and procedures have become simpler; however, a wedding is still considered as the most significant moment in life. The following explains the current culture of Korean weddings that has evolved over time.
Sanggyeonnye refers to the occasion where the parents and relatives of both of the couples’ families meet for the first time to discuss the marriage. It is the first official step towards a marriage. Once a couple decides to get married, the man visits the woman’s parents to receive their permission; then the woman visits the man’s parents to greet them. When both parents agree, the sanggyeonnye is held.
Yedan originally referred to the silk garments that the bride sent to the groom’s home. In the old days, silk was rare and expensive and was considered as a good gift item for showing respect. Traditionally, the groom’s family sent silk to the bride’s family; the bride would personally make clothes for her parents-in-law using the silk and then send it back; then, the groom’s family would send money back in appreciation of the bride’s efforts. Today, however, all gifts sent by the bride to the groom’s home are simply called yedan regardless of content.
Tip: What gifts were used as yedan?
In the old days, only goods were offered as yedan; as the times changed, however, money is also being sent for the purchase of wanted goods. Yedan is usually sent to the groom’s home about a month before the wedding. Together with money, some people also send a set of tableware, silver spoon set, and luxurious beddings.
Wedding Photo (D-50)
With the passage of time, weddings have transcended its strictly ritualistic characteristics but have maintained its place as a memorable and pleasant event. As such, taking wedding photos before the wedding has become a must. Many pictures are taken in a studio, but outdoor photos have also become common. Royal palaces such as Gyeongbokgung, arboretums, theme parks, or other memorable locales are used to take pictures. Wedding dress, tuxedos, hanbok, and comfortable casual clothes are all worn to reflect couples’ different lifestyles.
If yedan is the gift by the bride to the groom’s family, ham(pronounced [ha-am]) is the gift from the groom to the bride’s family. Originally, the hamwas sent the day before the wedding but it has become more common to send it on a pre-determined date prior to the wedding. Inside the ham, which is a gift box, are a carefully prepared proposal letter, blue and red silk, and a list of necessary items. The ham, which is wrapped in a red cloth called bojagi to stem all bad spirits, is sent to the bride’s home by hamjinabi, the male responsible for delivery of the ham to the bride’s home.
Tip: Significance of gifts
- Proposal letter: The letter is personally written by the groom’s father to thank the bride’s parents for sending their precious daughter as their daughter-in-law. This bears the significance of recognizing and blessing the marriage.
- Blue&Red Silk: Also called chaedan, the blue and red silk was originally cloth material for making hanbok. The blue silk is wrapped in red paper and then tied with a blue string; the red silk is wrapped in blue paper and tied in red. This signifies the harmonious union between the man (blue) and the woman (red). The string signifies the binding of two hearts into one for everlasting love.
Wedding Ceremony (D-DAY)
The wedding ceremony is a public ritual to notify the public of the couple’s marriage. In Korea, there are two types of wedding ceremonies. The first and most common is the Western-style wedding held in a wedding hall or church. The other is the traditional Korean wedding, which is becoming more popular among young couples that want to have a unique experience. The traditional wedding involves the bride and the groom bowing to each other in traditional wedding outfits and sharing a cup of liquor in a gourd to vow their full commitment to a happy marriage to heaven and earth. After the actual wedding ceremony, the bride and the groom participate in a pyebaek ceremony to bow to the groom’s parents. During pyebaek, the parents throw chestnuts and jujube fruits to encourage many offspring and bless a happy marriage.
Visit to the Bride’s Home (D+7)
After returning from the honeymoon, the married couple would visit the bride’s home to show their respect to the bride’s parents. That night, the couple stay there to spend the night in the parent’s room. This signifies that the parents commemorate and congratulate their daughter’s return as the wife of a man. The next day, the couple leaves for the groom’s home with ibaji, food carefully prepared by the bride’s mother.
Ibaji Food (D+8)
Ibaji comes from the word ‘ibajihada,’ meaning ‘to contribute’. The bride’s mother usually prepares ibaji right after the couple’s return from the honeymoon. It is prepared with great care to send to the in-laws through the daughter. The food can vary depending on the family style and regions, but commonly consists of galbi, seafood, fruit, and tteok (rice cakes), all made elegantly. In some cases, simpler fare such as with tteok, fruit, and hangwa is prepared. Ibaji food contains the love of the bride’s mother wishing that her daughter would be loved by her parents-in-law and would have a happy marriage. Upon receiving the ibaji food, the groom’s mother also sends back food as a sign of appreciation.
Tip: Regional Difference of Ibaji Food
- Gaeseong in North Korea: The bride prepares the food by herself at the groom’s home. It consists of tteok, noodle, and side dishes.
- Gyeongsang-do Province: One day before the wedding or on wedding day, both families exchange tteok, fruit, galbi, and liquor.
Where to Find Traditional Korean Weddings
There are two places holding traditional Korean weddings in Korea. Usually, the wedding ceremonies are held during the weekends in lieu of weekdays. Weather permitting, they are held outdoors so visitors can witness the ceremony.
For more detailed information about Korean culture, please visit the Official Korea Tourism Website