Korean Wedding Traditions
With the popularity of K-dramas across the world and their often romantic content, there has become more and more interest in Korean wedding traditions and culture.
Modern Korean couples often exchange jewellery early on in relationships, with promise rings and couple rings given prior to any engagement. These tend to be fairly simple rings without expensive stones or too much embellishment. The 100-day mark is when many couples decide to get a ring. It is thought that when you’ve weathered 100 days together it means that you’re able to commit and this is celebrated with special rings which are often engraved. A couple’s ring is traditionally worn on the ring finger. Whether it’s on the right or left-hand is not important. A ring on the ring finger is a sign of love and commitment. A ring on your index finger represents friendship. Many older couples don’t wear wedding bands and it is usually the younger couples who choose to wear couple, engagement, or wedding rings.
Diamonds were not traditionally used in Korean jewellery. However, with western influence from the mid-20th century onwards, many Korean couples opt for diamond engagement rings over the rubies, jade, and emeralds that were used in the past. There is a jewellery district in Seoul where many domestic and international couples go to buy their rings. There is an enormous selection of wholesalers and retail jewellery stores in this district, spread throughout Jongno 3(sam)-ga and 4(sa)-ga. The Jongno 3(sam)-ga Jewelry district has shops flooding the alleyways all along the main street and stretches for a length of one kilometer. It is estimated to house between 2,000 and 4,000 jewelry stores of every size. The jewellery street in its current form has existed since the 1960s.
A traditional Korean wedding ceremony incorporates many highly symbolic elements. The bride will most likely wear hanbok, or Korean traditional formal clothing, historically made of silk, while the groom may wear hanbok or a suit. The colours of these have particular significance. The colors that the bride and groom wear is symbolic of the “taeguk,” or “eumyang” (also known as yin and yang). The bride dons a red hanbok, while the groom wears blue—together, the two colors, like the circle at the center of the Korean flag, represent the balance of complementary
entities. The more formal groom wears a samogwandae, the court attire of the Chosun Dynasty. His attire consists of a long, elaborate robe-like vestment on top of pants and a jacket, along with a belt and a headpiece called a samo, a black cap with wings on the sides. Colour is very important in a Korean wedding. Traditionally, the marriage would occur at dusk, representing the balance between light and dark as well. The mother of the bride will wear warm tones, including pink, purple, or orange, while the groom’s mother will wear cool tones like blue, gray, or green.
During the ceremony itself, the bride and groom will drink from the same copper cup. Either the bride and groom will drink from two separate halves of a gourd connected by a thread, from the same cup, or from a combination of both. The halves of the gourd symbolize that the bride and groom are becoming one whole entity. In one tradition, the first sip from the copper cup represents the couple’s relationship with one another. The second sip is taken from the gourd cups, which are switched between the bride and groom after the second sip to represent an interchange. Finally, the groom and the bride bow together to show respect—to their parents, their ancestors, and their wedding guests. At Korean weddings, the guests are expected to give congratulatory money or cash wedding gifts. Money, in an envelope, is offered as a gift for the couple as opposed to having a wedding registry or gifts of any other kind. The money is put in a white envelope which is signed by the guest. This is then given to the bride and groom’s party before entering the celebration hall. The money is counted and the amount recorded in a visitor’s book. The idea is to help the newlyweds start an independent life and also to contribute to the cost of the wedding ceremony. This cash gift is then supposed ‘to be returned’. Newlyweds get money when they get married, but at other weddings where they are guests, they should gift the same amount as they were given.
Modern Korean weddings often have a less formal feeling and are shorter than western weddings. In recent years many couples opt to wear a white wedding dress and suit for part of the wedding and for wedding or pre-wedding photoshoots. Traditional Korean rituals and modern trends are increasingly being blended. In Korean culture, the wedding ceremony is considered one of the three most important rites of passage in life the others being the 100th Day Celebration after a baby is born and the 61st birthday.
Article by Sarah Michelle