Monday, April 8, 2013

Anatomy of a Typical Korean Wedding

Korean weddings are somewhat of an enigma to the average foreigner here. On the outside, they look kind of like a western wedding, but, on the inside, there's a lot to understand. This is a guide for those who are planning on going to a typical Korean (western style) wedding to understand it a little better.

Upon entering the building, you may have to navigate your way to the particular wedding that you're attending. Most wedding halls have many weddings going on in a day, sometimes at the same time, so you'll have to keep a look out for the bride and groom's name written on a plaque indicating where they are located (Hopefully, for your sake, you can read their names in Korean).

Once you've found the correct wedding hall, it's time to greet the groom and the bride and groom's family. After walking through the line of formal greetings, it is then appropriate to approach the table where you are expected to give some money. How much you should pay depends on a lot of things like how close you are and if you have a guest, but for a co-worker or an acquaintance to I would suggest 50,000 or for a couple 100,000. Of course, if it's a close friend you'd probably want to give more, but you can decide for yourself how much to give. But, there is one rule you need to follow. Be sure to give money on a scale like this:
200,000 etc etc
Money should be given in increments of 10 and only on odd numbers (unless it's 100, 200 etc). Therefore, 75,000 is not really acceptable amount, nor is 40,000. Last thing, make sure you put it in a white envelope with your name on it so they can record how much you paid.

After you pay your money, if you're good friends with the bride, you may want to go check out the bride's viewing room where she sits before the wedding begins. You can take your photo with her or say hello and congratulations.

Then it's time to find a seat in the wedding hall. Some places have seating around tables and they may serve the meal during the ceremony which leads to lots of talking and drinking while couples take their vows. The presider of the wedding may shush the audience and the audience may hush for a moment before continuing their conversation. Other places are a little more respectful and have chairs set up for viewing the ceremony as a westerner may expect, though the presider may still need to hush people even when there is no food and spirits to distract the audience.

First, the mothers of the bride will walk up to the altar first and light some candles. You'll notice here that the mothers are wearing pink and purple. Pink is the typical color for the mothers of the bride and groom to wear for the ceremony.

Next the groom will walk down the aisle, and then it's time for the bride to make her appearance. At this particular wedding, they had a screen showing the bride as she walked from her viewing room to the hall, then she joined her father to walk her down the aisle.  

Then it's time for the presider to give a speech about love and marriage. Usually, if it's not a church wedding, the presider will be a member of the community like a college professor. However, I am only guessing that they talk about love as marriage, because as I mentioned earlier, Koreans tend to ignore this part of the ceremony entirely and chit chat with the people around them.

Here comes the actual Korean traditional part of the ceremony. The bride and groom show their respect to the parents and bow before each of them. Fortunately, since bowing is so low, the cameramen generally capture all this on film and display it on a screen so all can watch.

Then comes the part of the ceremony which I don't understand at all , the cutting of the cake. Here, our groom has a giant sword like apparatus to cut the cake and photographers zoom around to capture the important moment where the cake is cut. And then the sword knife is taken away, as is the cake, before anyone gets any ideas of eating the silly thing. It goes into a box and I'm still not sure where it goes as it's not with the bride and groom since they usually jump into their wedding car and zoom off for the airport for their honeymoon after the service, just like the olden-days. I'm sorry, but if you're going to put a cake in front of everyone I think it should be eaten. I hate that this ceremony is only about photo ops and not about tradition and meaning. Sorry, rant over.

Then the ceremony ends and the bride and groom walk down the aisle as husband and wife.

But it's not over yet, now it's photo time! First there are photos taken with the family and extended family. Then after that, it's photo time with friends. If you're a friend of the bride or groom, you can get in the photo too!

The bride throws the bouquet at the wedding too, but the tradition here is a little different. In America all the single women line up trying to catch the bouquet, because it means that you will be the next to get married. In Korea, if you catch the bouquet and you don't get married within a year, they will not get married for the next 10 years. So.. usually since no one wants to risk this bad luck they choose a friend who is already engaged to catch the bouquet.

And then there is the food. Most weddings will have a buffet. If you are served at your table by a waiter it means that they probably paid a whole lot of money for the event. The buffet is usually after the ceremony, but once you give your money you get a meal ticket to enter, so theoretically you could go straight up to eat. Fortunately they show video feeds of all the weddings going on (since all the various wedding parties going on for the day eat together in the same hall) so that you can eat your meal and watch the wedding without missing a thing. It seems as though as long as you leave your money, no one really minds if you're in a rush and can't stay for the ceremony and just grab your meal and run.

After the ceremony the couple changes, usually into couple shirts, and jumps into their wedding car and heads for the airport to leave for their honeymoon. The bride and groom usually leaves the same evening or the next morning for their trip and will often stay at an airport hotel if they do leave the next day. If you don't believe this, just take a drive to the airport on a Saturday afternoon and count how many of these decked out cars you see!

Koreans do not generally: 
Have bridal showers
Have bachelor/Bachelorette parties
Give gifts besides money
Dance at the wedding
Have bridesmaids/ groomsmen
Exchange rings during the ceremony


  1. The ones I've been to have used a fake styrofoam cake. I've also been to ones where they pour fake champagne into a champagne glass pyramid. Again, all done just for show. No one can drink any of it because the glasses are glued together.

  2. Not surprising at all... however, extremely depressing...

  3. I've found the best part of Korean weddings to be the food - assuming the wedding house sports a decent kitchen that is.

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