To begin with, even Koreans don’t really know the answer to the question. Korea was under Japanese domination for many, many years. They were forced to give up the old Korean ways and accept the Japanese ways. Many were not even allowed to speak Korean, but had to learn to speak Japanese. Many forgot what it meant to be Korean, and hence, forgot their traditions. After that, America threw Japan out of S. Korea, and S. Korea became enthralled with all things American. America never ruled Korea like Japan did, but America has had an enormous amount of influence on S. Korea. The influence as well as the lack of understanding of Korean and American traditions show in the weddings. Every Korean wedding you attend will be slightly different, according to that person’s interpretation of the American wedding, their understanding of Korean traditions, and their personalities.
One thing most of the wedding have is the place of the wedding being in what they call a wedding hall. Many wedding halls look like a castle from Europe when you see it from outside. However, not all of them. Some of them are just nice, big, pretty buildings. The wedding hall where my daughter and son in law got married was at Korea University because my son in law graduated from there, and that wedding hall was just a big brick building. I have attended a wedding in a church building here, but those weddings are in the minority. My daughter attended a wedding once that was held at Gyeonbuk Palace, the place where the emperor of Korea used to live and tourists go through everyday down in Guangwhamun dong by the American embassy and the Blue House, the Korean White House. The wedding my daughter went to yesterday was in a wedding hall in the basement of a shopping center, and that is the first I have heard of a wedding hall in a shopping center.
Inside these wedding halls is usually extremely lavish. I have seen aisles where the bride and groom walk between the crowd that were made of glass boxes full of flowers. They really like to decorate the place up, much more than we do in America. Usually, the reception and the wedding ceremony are in two different rooms, but I have been to weddings where there are tables in the main auditorium, and everyone watches the couple get married and eats in the same room. When you go to the reception, they give you a ticket to get in because they are serving food and there are usually several different weddings in a wedding hall at the same time. At times, at a reception, you realize that there may be several different wedding parties having a reception at the same time in the same room.
Before the wedding, there is always a place at the entrance where you can give a gift to the bride or the groom. You never bring an actual gift, but you bring a large amount of money, according to how well you know the bride and groom. I have learned to give about 100,000 won (about $100), and that usually satisfies everyone. You sign the guest book, and they write how much money you brought and whether or not you are friends with the bride or the groom. Also before the wedding, the bride is usually positioned in a small fancy room where the guests can go in one by one and visit with her and have their picture taken with her in her wedding dress. At the wedding where my daughter went yesterday, there was no bride’s room, but that is very unusual. Even the wedding at the church building I attended had a bride’s room for everyone to go see how pretty the bride was before the ceremony. For many weddings, many of the pictures are taken even before the wedding day and staged by a photographer, but there are also many pictures at the wedding.
As for the ceremony, there are usually two ceremonies, one their approximation of the American ceremony where the groom wears a tuxedo or a suit and the bride wears the traditional white wedding dress from the west, and another smaller ceremony that is supposed to be the Korean traditional ceremony where the bride and groom change clothes and wear traditional Korean clothing, but many don’t know what they are supposed to do in either one and just wing it. Sometimes, they just take the smaller Korean style ceremony as just another opportunity to take photos.
During the western style ceremony, they do all kinds of different things. A constant in all of them is that the parents of the couples are put up front, one set of parents on each side of the aisle. Since my daughter is an American who married a Korean, someone from my family came and walked my daughter down the aisle to give her away. However, often, here in Korea, the bride and groom walk down the aisle together. Sometimes there is a preacher, and sometimes there isn’t. In my daughter’s wedding, her father in law is a preacher, and he delivered a sermon and conducted the vows part of the wedding ceremony. In the wedding my daughter went to yesterday, they were Christians, and the preacher preached, but there weren’t even any vows. Some time during the ceremony, the children bow to their parents. The mother in laws go to the front and bow to one another and bow to the audience. I went to a wedding where the husband was a Christian, but the wife wasn’t, so they decided to opt out of having a preacher at all. There was no sermon, but the couple just stood at the front and vowed to stay together forever.
Often during the ceremony, there is a video of the couple. They show each, the bride and the groom, from the time they are small growing up until the wedding day.
The wedding ceremony yesterday ended with the groom yelling.
There is also always music during the ceremony. Often, a group of friends or one or two of the friends sing for the bridge and groom. Sometimes they are love songs, and sometimes religious songs. At my daughter’s wedding, she got a surprise because her Korean husband sang to her during the wedding ceremony. My daughter went to a wedding yesterday, and she said there was a guy performing beat boxing which is basically using a microphone to make music with your mouth. We went to a wedding once where the music and the atmosphere was more like a night club than a wedding. Koreans love to put on airs and make everything as fancy as possible. In the wedding my daughter went to yesterday, they actually had the wedding march, but the bride didn’t come down the aisle and meet the groom in front to the wedding march. The bride and groom exited to the wedding march after the ceremony.
Usually, after the approximation of an American wedding, the bride and groom go off to a small room and either just take pictures in Korean traditional clothing or go through another wedding ceremony while the guests go to the reception. Since my daughter’s family were brought from China many generations ago as teachers in the emperor’s palace and were considered noble men, they chose to put my daughter in a Korean princess’ dress and head gear and my son in law in a noble man’s clothing and head gear. Many just wear the regular hanboks, but my daughter’s Korean mother and father in law are really big on the old fancy Korean ways. At my daughter’s wedding, the aunts and uncles were throwing dates while my daughter and her husband were holding a big cloth at either end. The number of dates they caught were supposed to tell how many kids they would have. They caught seven, but my daughter does not plan on having seven kids. Also, during this ceremony, they often have the husband give the wife a piggy back ride, and the husband is supposed to walk around the table with her on his back three times. I asked at one of the weddings what kind of symbolism this has, and no one could tell me. My daughter is about 5’6″. She isn’t overweight at all. My son in law is about 5’10”. He is a very skinny, but not weak or undernourished. He had a hard time trying to carry her on his back, so they weren’t very successful with this part of the ceremony. Every Korean wedding I have been to have had the Korean part of the ceremony, but they didn’t have the Korean part at the wedding my daughter went to yesterday. At some Korean weddings, they do this part of the wedding in a small private room, and about 99% of the guests just go on to the reception while the bride and groom put on the hanboks for special pictures.
The Korean reception is also different from the reception in America. The bride and groom usually change into traditional Korean hanboks for the reception. The color for the bride’s hanbok is always red. My daughter took off the princess’ hanbok at her wedding and put on a regular red and yellow hanbok. Her husband took off the nobleman’s hanbok and put on a regular blue man’s hanbok. I had to wear a hanbok for the wedding ceremony and the reception, but I didn’t have to change my clothes half way between. My hanbok was purple with a short pink blouse. Purple is considered a mother in law’s color. During the reception, the bride and groom and the parents of the bride and groom are supposed to go around from table to table greeting the people as they eat. At the wedding that my daughter went to yesterday, there were no hanboks which is very unusual for a Korean wedding.
Usually, the big white wedding cake doesn’t exist at the Korean wedding receptions. When my daughter got married, I used to decorate cakes, so I made her a big white wedding cake, but it was unusual in Korea. If they have cake, it is small, traditional rice cakes. Usually, there are many rice cakes, enough for all the guests, but at the wedding my daughter went to yesterday, there were only two small rice cakes, one for the groom and one for the bride.
The food varies from wedding to wedding, but every wedding in Korea has a meal. At the one I went to in the church building, there was a big cafeteria in the church building, and we ate what seemed to be cafeteria food. They never serve western style food at a wedding reception. At times, I have been to a wedding and the food was so strange I could hardly bring myself to eat it. I like it better when they have a buffet style because there are many different choices, and I can actually enjoy what I eat. I went to a Korean party once where there was raw pork on the buffet, and I was glad I could just gracefully pass it up. At the wedding my daughter went to yesterday, she said they were serving raw hamburger and raw fish. Yes, sometimes Koreans eat uncooked meat. Most weddings are buffet style, but the wedding my daughter went to yesterday was not buffet style. The raw meat was on her table, but she was able to skip it. She ate soup.
In American weddings, the bride has a bouquet, and sometime during the wedding reception, the bridge throws the bouquet, and the girl who catches it is supposed to be the next one to get married. Korean weddings have bouquets too, but the bridge doesn’t always hold them, and she only sometimes throws them. If she throws the bouquet, it is for a photo, and they have already decided ahead of time who will catch the bouquet. When my daughter threw her bouquet, she is American, and she didn’t like being asked to choose who would catch her bouquet because she likes the American tradition. When she was asked who would catch her bouquet, she threw it to her friend, Hanul, that you have seen on my blog because Hanul and her boyfriend have been together for a long time and plan to marry when the time is right. At the wedding my daughter went to yesterday, they didn’t throw the bouquet. The bride didn’t even hold the bouquet. It just sat on a table.
After you eat during the reception, you are just supposed to get up and leave. There is no rice throwing or sending the bride and groom off. In fact, I went to one Korean wedding where the reception was before the ceremony. Everything is topsy turvy with Korean weddings. I was teaching a class of university students once and we came to a chapter about weddings in our text book. I described a traditional American wedding to them, and then I asked them to describe a traditional Korean wedding to me. Their response was, “We don’t know how we are supposed to get married in Korea.” They were telling the truth. Most of their traditions are lost. They are trying to follow the American traditions, but don’t know them, and they are making everything up as they go along.