Have you ever wondered what a South Korean wedding is like? Each country has its traditions regarding the ceremonies for the couple's union. And in South Korea it's no different, it has traditions related to parties, food, clothes, dancing, among others.
And over time not all traditions remain. So let's see what traditional wedding ceremonies were like and what has changed to modern day ones.
1 – Marriage in the Koryo Period
The Koryo Period was from 918 to 1392. During this period, marriage was nothing more than political and economic interests, so it was not common. The founder of the Koryo Dynasty, King T'arejo, had 29 wives and forged alliances with aristocratic families by marrying his daughters to their half-brothers. Successors ended up using the same strategy.
The practice of marrying half-brothers to form alliances ended in the Mongol Empire when the Mongol and Korean royal families exchanged princesses. So cousin marriages were also allowed. But consanguineous marriages were prohibited by preventing children from occupying positions in the bureaucracy. In the Choson period it was common for the couple to live together or close to the groom's parents, while in the Koryo period the couple lived in the same house or close to the bride's parents.
This served to form large families and clans. Marriage usually took place in the woman's adolescence, the groom was usually older. And it was common for aristocrats to marry younger than commoners. At the South Korean wedding there was an exchange of gifts and a banquet with the aim of showing the wealth of the bride's family.
2 – Marriage in the Joseon Period
The Joseon Period was from 1392 to 1910. At that time a man could have more than one wife, so if he distinguished the primary wife from the others, this would facilitate the understanding of the line of succession.
The first wife should fulfill the requirement of being a virgin, not being of lower class descent (in case of marrying someone of good financial condition). But this first wife was not literally the first, but the main one in relation to the others. Classification also took place from the highest class to the lowest class wife.
During this period, marriage between first cousins and people with the same surname was prohibited. In the year 1427 the age of first marriage was set at 15 for men and 14 for women. If the parents were sick or over 50 the age could be reduced to 12 years of age.
3 – Ancient traditions
It was traditional for engagement gifts to be received well in advance. These gifts were most often delivered to the bride's house. The good thing about a South Korean wedding is that part of getting lots of presents!
To receive the gifts, the whole family should join in the game where the groom's friends went to the bride's house with the gifts in a box called "hahm". They painted their faces and shouted: “Hahm for sale! Hahm for sale!". The bride's family, accepting the game, ran to the street and offered a certain amount to the group, simulating a form of negotiation to “buy gifts” from the groom's friends.
4 – South Korean Marriage Laws
South Korean marriage has undergone some changes in law. Before, people from the bourgeoisie got married very early, but now this is no longer allowed. The man must be at least 18 years old and the woman over 16 with parental consent,
Age 19 (Korean age, in this case 20 years) is allowed to marry both male and female without authorization and is also the authorized age for sexual consent.
There is also the “customary law marriage” which refers to marriages that have not been properly registered, but the couple already lives together and is assumed by others. In South Korea same-sex marriage is not recognized.
5 – Pre-ceremony at the South Korean wedding
The South Korean marriage is based on the Confucian teachings, who cherishes the family above all. So marriage is a very important time in the couple's life and also to maintain social status.
The first part of the tradition is called the Eui Hon or matchmaking when the families of the couple discuss the possibility of marriage. So after the discussion the groom sends a letter with the proposal to the bride and she returns with the answer. If the bride accepts, the wedding date is already set.
Then the Napchae (date setting), the wedding information is written on a piece of paper, then wrapped in bamboo branches and tied with red and blue threads and wrapped in a red cloth to be sent to the bride's family.
The last step is called Nappae (exchange of valuables). This should be done as soon as the wedding date is set. The groom must send a box to the bride, known as ham. This ritual is for the bride to marry only one husband. These papers stay with her until her death and must be buried with her. And there's Honsu, which are gifts sent to the bride's family.
6 – Ceremony
The South Korean wedding is very colorful without leaving aside the traditional part. There isn't much of a dress code, but it's common for brides to wear hanbok a traditional silk garment and groom a hanbok or suit.
The colors most used during the wedding and for the clothes themselves are red and blue (yin and yang, meaning balance of cosmic forces). And it is common for the wedding to take place in the late afternoon. The most common gift for the couple is money in white envelopes and there is an exchange of gifts between families that can be assorted things.
at this party dates, tteok (rice sweets), almonds and walnuts are consumed. There's also Jeonanyrye, which is the “wild goose performance”. The groom gives wooden ducks to the bride's family, but before it was common to be the animal itself in terms of loyalty.
Hapgeunrye is the name given to when the bride and groom drink from the same copper cup to represent the couple's relationship with each other. And then there's Paebaek, which is the part of the ceremony where the newlyweds bow. The bride often presents Korean dates and chestnuts to the bridegroom's parents to symbolize children. The bride offers the cup to the father and the groom offers it to the mother.
The older couple gives advice regarding marriage. Then the dates and chestnuts are thrown back to the bride, who must try to catch them with her wedding skirt – the more they get, the more prosperity the couple will have. Couples usually follow the traditions to the letter so that they can have a good marriage.
7 – Current South Korean Wedding
Currently not all couples are concerned with making the traditions or at least part of them. But the idea of having “good luck” in following the standards still exists. But the average age of first marriage has doubled from 2020 data from the Korean National Bureau of Statistics from around 15 to 33, for women.
For men it went from 18 years old to 30 years old now. And to have a South Korean wedding with everything a traditional couple wants it costs an average of 50 million won. But many are opting for weddings with fewer and more common traditions, such as the good white dress, with veil and wreath, and the suit.
8 – Marriage in drama
If you are a dorameira or dorameira you may have already noticed that wedding parties are not so common to appear, not even in the "happy ending". Dorama they don't put much emphasis on the wedding ceremony, they are more focused on family life. In South Korean wedding some superstitions that are common to us as the groom does not see the bride with the dress, they choose together.
9 – 2 South Korean wedding drama suggestions
because this is my first life (2017) This drama is about a woman who is unhappy with his profession and a methodical man with his habits. She is 30 years old and has given up on her love life because her finances are bad. So she becomes the methodical man's tenant and at the same time housemates. In the course of everything they end up making a fake marriage just for the sake of both of them, but they end up arousing a certain interest in each other.
What Happened to Secretary Kim? (2018) The narcissistic president of a large corporation has a secretary named Kim who is very efficient. But at a certain point, after 9 years of work for her boss, she decides to resign her position. There's a mid-season wedding scene that shows a little of what was read here in the text.
What caught your attention most about the South Korean wedding?