We were recently invited to attend a wedding, which took place last Sunday. Interestingly, neither of us know the bride and groom. The entire 교담실 (teacher’s room – pronounced “gyo-dam-shil”) at Tamara’s school, and most likely all school staff, were invited to attend the wedding of the second grade teacher’s son. It is normal to invite all co-workers to these events, so the guest lists are usually huge. One of Tamara’s office mates was kind enough to offer to take us to the wedding hall and stay with us throughout so we would have some idea about what was going on. Although we had hoped to have an opportunity to take photos, Tamara’s co-worker suggested that usually, it is only appropriate for close family and friends to do so. Sadly, that means no original photos to go with this post.
We arrived at the wedding hall to find it pretty much a zoo. Or so we thought. There was only one wedding happening at the time and the hall had the capacity to hold at least four at once. We can’t even imagine how many people that would involve. The parking lot and lobby were packed as it was! Once we had greeted the father of the groom and the groom himself, we slipped inside the room to find seats. It was immediately apparent that there was no way that everyone in the lobby was going to fit in this room to watch the ceremony. But at a Korean wedding they don’t have to! If you are invited by one of the parents and don’t know the bride or groom (a very common situation), you don’t generally watch the ceremony. Instead, you greet the parents, leave your gift, and hit the buffet while the ceremony is in progress. Not a bad deal if you are a regular wedding attendee.
Our escort did know the groom so we were able to watch the entire ceremony, or at least the “western” part. It was super interesting and combined elements of the reception and ceremony from western weddings. The entire thing was very much orchestrated by the wedding hall staff. The mothers of the bride and groom were carefully guided down the aisle by attendants in lavender and white uniforms, and then sent to their respective positions after lighting candles. The candles, we’re told, symbolize the burning of oneself before the guests.
Following the mothers, the groom walked to the front of the room. In keeping with many western weddings, he wore a black tuxedo. The emcee asked the crowd if he was handsome, to which most replied affirmatively, and more or less in unison.
Next, two ADORABLE little kids (a nephew of the groom and a niece of the bride) walked up the aisle, each carrying a bouquet of flowers. The girl, in her cute fancy dress, might have been 6 in international age, and the boy, in his rhinestone-trimmed little suit, was about 4. The little girl remained composed throughout the entire ceremony, but the boy lasted maybe ten minutes. At that point, he began to lay crosswise on his chair, tip his chair back on the one behind him, cross and uncross his feet in the air, and pick fake flowers out of the aisle border. His antics were a treat to watch. As in western weddings, the bride, in a white wedding dress, and her father were last to walk up the aisle. The father of the bride then passed his daughter over to the groom, before sitting down with his wife at the front of the audience.
Speeches came next, and then the father of the bride performed a fairly short marriage ceremony. We’re told this was a little different from most weddings, as evidently there is usually an officiant who completes this task. As part of the speeches given to their respective parents and in laws, the bride and groom offered several deep bows. The groom actually got down on his hands and knees and lowered his head all the way to the floor. This is the most respectful form of a bow.
After the bride and groom kissed three times, the emcee issued some interesting directives, much like he might at a western reception. First, he asked the groom and bride to shout some cheers, which, roughly translated, meant that they had won the lottery in marrying each other. Then the bride was asked to say “I love you” in a cute voice (which to our ears sounds very much like a whine – “I love youuuuuuuuu…”) The emcee then told the groom to kiss his bride three times if she was the love of his life (he did so). Finally, the emcee suggested that the groom kiss his wife if she was his first love, but do three push-ups if she was not. He did push-ups!
A few little performances came next. As the bride is a middle school teacher, a few of her students came to the ceremony and sang a cute little song (albeit not perfectly, but they were pretty adorable). Then, a friend of the groom performed a little song and dance number.
The last portion of the ceremony was a huge photo-op, first with family, and then with friends. Interestingly, the mothers of the bride and groom, as well as sisters, aunts, and female grandparents wore hanbok (one form of traditional Korean dress) but only if they were married.
When the bride and groom had retreated down the aisle, we headed downstairs to the buffet lunch. There must have been fifty to a hundred different food options. It was impressive, not to mention delicious!
While we ate, the bride and groom attended the traditional portion of the Korean wedding ceremony. We’re told this is only for the bride and groom, and the groom’s father, mother, and uncles on his father’s side. It involves some traditional foods, as well as a great deal of bowing on the part of the bride and groom, the giving of a large monetary gift to the bride and groom, and the observance of a few other customs. For a glimpse of this ceremony at another wedding (although only partly traditional as the groom is Caucasian, and both mothers are in attendance, as well as a number of other female relatives), check out the following website:
Here are a few other details you might be interested to know:
- Wedding rings are not a big thing here, nor are engagement rings. In fact, we did not see the bride and groom exchange rings during the portion of the ceremony we attended. Some brides and grooms exchange them, and some don’t. Some have them and rarely wear them!
- Few weddings involve what we think of as a bridal party (bridesmaids and groomsmen). The “fixing” of the bride’s dress and other housekeeping items during the ceremony are taken care of by someone who works for the rented wedding hall.
- Brides rent their wedding dresses here! Some of my co-workers have suggested that only some celebrities purchase their dresses, as they cost upwards of five or ten thousand dollars!
- Also, the couple goes dress shopping together!
- In Korea, couples typically take wedding photos about three months before their wedding date. The bride will usually wear several different types of wedding dresses, and they will have photographs taken in front of a variety of backdrops. This is all orchestrated by the photography company, which then puts the photos into a slide show (or presents the photos in some other form) to be displayed at the wedding ceremony.
- Whereas back home, brides choose wedding colours and plan many minute details about their weddings, in South Korea, couples simply check out a few wedding halls, decide which one has the sort of ceremony hall and banquet option they are looking for, and then the hall does the rest of the work. There is no choosing of colours, meal options, etc. In fact, the hall even provides the wedding bouquets (usually consisting of fake flowers)!
- We’re told that, essentially, all Korean weddings look almost exactly the same. Hence, weddings are not really considered exciting events here. People often describe them as boring, and many people exit the ceremony hall while the wedding is in progress to indulge in the buffet lunch (which, apparently, does not amount to a breach of etiquette).
- In Korea, people usually live with their parents right up until they are married. This can mean that individuals might live with their parents well into their twenties or thirties. From what we’re told, a bride will often feel rather sad and anxious at the prospect of moving out of her family’s home, as this is usually the first time she has been away from her family for any significant period of time. Further, a bride-to-be often worries about her prospective mother-in-law. Apparently, while the western tradition suggests that the father of the bride might feel a little bitterness toward their son-in-law for “taking away” his daughter, a Korean mother-in-law can be very hostile towards her daughter-in-law for essentially the same reason. Therefore, brides in Korea tend to stress about their weddings for quite different reasons than western brides.
- When a couple gets married, it is appropriate to say 축하합니다, pronounced “chuk-ha-hamnida” (congratulations), to both the bride and groom, as well as their parents.
If you’re interested, check out the following website, which offers a bit more information about Korean wedding traditions.