Korean Weddings Mix Classic Traditions with Modern Flair

Korean weddings are a different affair from a Western-style wedding.

Based more around the family unit, they often start with a proposal that's completely different than what's typically seen in the West: not a man going down on one knee and asking his sweetheart for her hand, but a meeting of families after a couple has decided to marry (or the marriage has been arranged). In Korea, the determination of a person and what job they can get is still based on hierarchical status, and the person you marry can affect that status. If the two families do not agree or get along, the marriage will probably not proceed.

Long engagements are uncommon, and most weddings proceed with ease as they are streamlined and easy to do. Bridal gowns as well as tuxes are rented, usually from the same shop. It's not unusual for the bride and groom to shop together since it's not considered taboo for the couple to see each other in their wedding attire ahead of time. They will often have photos taken before walking into the ceremony together.

After the ceremony, the bride and groom may change into traditional hanbok before retiring to a smaller room for pyebaek (폐백), a custom in which they seek blessing from their parents. In the original Confucian ceremony during the Joseon Dynasty, the groom would ride over to the bride's home and present a goose to his mother-in-law. Geese are said to mate for life and were a symbol to in-laws that he would protect his new bride and never leave her. A live goose is no longer presented in this ceremony, but a wooden goose is used instead.

Both of these ceremonies are largely symbolic. Until the couple registers the marriage, it is not legal.

At the reception, food is served, and the bride and groom go around to offer personal greetings to their guests. This can take some time because invites can be mailed or verbally-given, and it's not uncommon for a wedding to have over 400 guests. Wedding halls often have many rooms with several ceremonies going on at the same time, and are set up to do the catering and decorating so that the marrying couple does not have to worry on their special day.

Guests do not bring wedding presents for a new home or go online and look for the newlyweds' wedding registry. Instead, the expected gift is a clean unblemished bill in a white envelope. How much you give is dependent on how well you know the bride and groom. Those who are mere acquaintances might give 30,000 won, while someone close might give 100,000 won.

Church weddings are not traditional but are becoming more common as are smaller, more intimate ceremonies as younger couples start to break with the norm. Couples do not take each the last name of the other spouse, and often do not wear a wedding band, though they may exchange matching rings early in their relationship.

Another tradition that is fading away, but may still be expected, is the expectation of the groom's parents to buy a home for the new couple while the bride’s family buys its furnishings. As younger generations have begun to start living together before marriage, this tradition is not always practiced anymore.

If you are lucky enough to attend a Korean wedding, enjoy the food, and see both new and old traditions melding into one!

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