I went to a Korean friend’s wedding today and finally got to experience the cultural collision of the modern Korean wedding. A typical Korean wedding nowadays takes place in a wedding hall which is a huge building with wedding rooms on several floors. Each couple has their photo and wedding information on a big board in the main hall, so you know what floor to head to.
My friend’s ceremony was to start at 2pm but if you arrive before then, you will find the groom and the parents in the main area greeting guests and exchanging greetings. We saw her husband and in-laws and went over to say hello. Then we went to a side room called the “bride’s room” where the bride was seated in a pretty room on a decorative sofa where she greets her guests. As the guests enter, they can sit down with the bride and have a chat and take some pictures. There is professional photographer there to snap shots of all the people who take a turn on the couch. The bride was beautiful in her long white gown, sitting stiffly from the corset woven into her dress.
Once the time hit 2pm, the bride left her sitting room to join her husband and officially present herself and her husband to the crowd. After a pause for photos, they walked down a long elevated runway towards the podium and the waiting officiator.
The officiator made a few statements and the bride and groom did some listen and repeat drills before exchanging rings. All of this was wrapped up by 2:10. Once the official business was sorted, the bride and groom sang a duet together then went to greet the parents of each side of the family and gave each a traditional bow and a hug of support.
Soon after, the ceremony was over and it was time for some pictures. First all of the family members of both sides took the stage for a photo shoot. Next up was all the friends and we were coached on different hand signals and motions to do for the photos. By the time all of this is done, it had only been about half an hour since the wedding started. Then it was off to the big buffet area for a feast fit for a king.
Guests at Korean weddings don’t give gifts, only envelops of money which is to pay for their meal and then some. For younger people, it is expected to give 50,000 won (approx.$50 CAD) and for older people and/or married people, it is expected to give 100,000 won (approx. $100). Once you give your envelope to the front desk, they give you a ticket for the buffet. If you don’t pay, you don’t eat.
While the guests were eating, the bride and groom went off to change into their traditional Korean clothes, called hanboks. Once in their traditional dress, they went into a separate room in the hall to formally “meet” the grooms parents. This tradition is called “paebek” and it used to be the first time the bride was meeting the in-laws for real, back in the day. Nowadays they already know each other well, but most families still perform this tradition. Once they’ve performed paebek they enter the dining hall and go around to all the guests to thank them for coming. It’s a long and busy day for both the bride and groom and they usually don’t get a chance to eat until after they’ve made the rounds in the dining hall.
I asked the friend I was with if Korean style weddings ever do wedding speeches, games or dancing after the ceremony and I was told it’s up to the couple to decide. In their case, it was quite simple and to the point and we were eating within an hour of arriving at the hall. The dining area had no set-up for speeches or a dance area as many are used to in the west. Basically people just ate and went home shortly afterwards. The whole event had us in and out and back home in about 3 hours.
I was telling my friend how western weddings usually work with the evening dinner, speeches and a night of dancing and music and she was surprised a wedding could take so long. Quite a difference in culture for sure, but it was interesting to see the couple doing the main ceremony in western style dress with the western format of exchanging rings in front of an official with no religious overtones. Many Koreans say this modern style of wedding ceremony is like a “factory style” where they just turn over couple after couple all weekend long in one building. To me, it was still beautiful and also refreshing and efficient. For those who don’t like the big to-do that goes on all night, this kind of wedding would be perfect for you :)