Inside the Rituals and Customs Traditionally Included in Korean Weddings

Light [the wedding] up like dynamite.
Traditional Korean wedding ceremony illlustration
Illustration: Aurélia Durand
Hannah Nowack The Knot Senior Weddings Editor
by
Hannah Nowack
Hannah Nowack The Knot Senior Weddings Editor
Hannah Nowack
Senior Editor
  • Hannah writes and edits articles for The Knot Worldwide, with a focus on real wedding coverage.
  • Hannah has a passion for DE&I and plays an integral role in ensuring The Knot content highlights all voices and all love stories.
  • Prior to The Knot Worldwide, Hannah was the Social Media Editor at Martha Stewart Weddings.
Updated Dec 07, 2023

When it comes to personalizing your wedding, choosing to incorporate nods to your heritage is a great idea. For Korean couples, and for guests who are invited to Korean weddings, there are some distinct wedding traditions and rituals that set Korean nuptials apart. From bright colors to the inclusion of chestnuts, there are many meaningful Korean wedding traditions that you can expect to see at a Korean wedding. To help highlight some of the most common customs, we tapped a few industry pros to offer their insight and advice. Below, wedding photographers Bo Shim, owner of Bo Shim, and Sheena Kim, owner of Unique Lapin Photography, open up about everything you need to know when it comes to Korean wedding traditions.

Korean Traditions in This Story: History | Prewedding | Attire | Ceremony | Reception | Food

A Brief History of Korean Wedding Traditions

The history of Korean wedding traditions dates based to the Joseon dynasty which ruled from 1392 to 1910. During this time, Confucianism became the state philosophy and many ceremonial practices, including wedding rituals, were established.

Historically, the Korean wedding venue was the bride's house. However, most modern Korean weddings now take place in rented wedding venues rather than at home. As for who pays for a Korean wedding, historically the groom's family would cover the main expenses while the bride's family would pay for her traditional Korean wedding dress. However, many modern couples don't adhere to this breakdown and instead opt to split the costs.

Prewedding Korean Traditions

Even before the main event rolls around, there are beautiful Korean traditions for weddings that take place. Here are some especially notable Korean wedding customs that happen prior to the nuptials.

Pair Rings/ Couple Rings

Normally in Korea, couples do not exchange engagement rings. However, there is an interesting Korean ring tradition that relates to dating couples. Many South Korean couples will celebrate 100 days of dating by giving each other a ring to wear. The meaning of these rings is very different from Western engagement rings. While dating couples may get engaged down the road, these pair rings are simply a way for a couple to show their commitment to each other in a small way early in the relationship.

Betrothal Gifts

Historically, Korean wedding gifts to honor the betrothal were brought to the bride's home by a band of the groom's closest friends. The gifts were placed in a box called a hahm. As part of this Korean wedding gift tradition, the group would arrive singing at the bride's family home and they would stop just outside the house, chanting, "Hahm for sale, hahm for sale!" The bride's family would rush out and offer money to the group. Through fun negotiation and laughter, the bearers would be bribed until at last the hahm was delivered.

"Hahm is when the groom's friends bring a box of jewels and gifts to the bride's house before the wedding. There's usually a fun negotiation between the bride's family and the groom's friends before Hahm is delivered," explains Shim. Kim concurs, sharing that "hahm is supposed to be a box full of gifts to the new bride. It will be something like jewelry, watches, cash, nice clothing and such. Giving hahm usually happens before the wedding. The groom's friends are supposed to carry these boxes to the bride's house and the bride's family is supposed to offer a gift to these gift-givers before retrieving them. It's a very festive and fun activity before the wedding as a long time ago they used to make the groom wear a dry squid mask during the process of the gift-giving to the friends that help deliver the hahm boxes."

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Korean Wedding Attire

What is considered traditional Korean wedding attire? From specific outfits to special colors, here's what you need to know about Korean wedding outfits and how to dress.

Symbolic Korean Wedding Hanbok

"In Korean wedding ceremonies, the significance of attire is important," explains Shim of traditional Korean wedding attire. "The couple both wear a Korean traditional outfit called Hanbok. The bride has to wear a red Hanbok and the groom has to be in a blue Hanbok. The color represents the balance of the energy between the two. Red dots also get painted on the bride's cheeks as a symbol to protect from evil spirits."

Meaningful Colors

Blue and red are two of the main colors seen in Korean traditional wedding clothing. Traditionally, the bride will wear red and the groom will wear blue. Additionally, "the bride and groom's mothers will also wear specific colors to symbolize their familial relationship with the bride and groom. The groom's mother will wear a light blue hanbok specifically and the bride's mother will wear pink or purple," notes Shim. "Since the mother-of-the-groom wears light blue or green and the mother-of-the-bride wears light pink or purple, guests should avoid wearing colors similar to those," adds Kim.

Korean Wedding Ceremony Traditions

You may be wondering how a modern Korean wedding ceremony is structured. Here is a look at the Korean marriage traditions typically involved in the ceremony. While there are multiple rituals included in the ceremony, Korean wedding ceremonies are usually short affairs that last no longer than 30 minutes.

Processional Parade

To kick off a Korean wedding ceremony, traditional music is played. While, historically, the groom would ride to the bride's home by horse, modern Korean weddings now generally begin with the officiant entering the wedding venue and guiding everyone through the ceremonial sequence of events. As part of the processional parade, both mothers will walk in holding candles. "The ceremony begins when both moms enter and light a candle together and take a seat in the first row together," explains Kim. The mother of the bride traditionally carries a red candle and the mother of the groom enters carrying a blue candle. Once the two mothers make their way to the end of the processional, together they light a single candle to symbolize the beginning of the wedding ceremony. Kim notes that family members are an especially important part of Korean weddings as "Korean weddings are not just about the couple or two people coming together. In Korea, it's more about the two families becoming one."

Jeonan-rye: Wild Goose

Before the wedding, a beautiful tradition known as jeonan-rye takes place. As part of jeon-an-rye, the groom gives the bride's mother a wild goose (traditionally, a live goose was used; today it is often a wooden goose known as won-ang seteu). Wild geese mate for life, so his gift is a promise that he will care for her daughter for life.

"Wild geese mate for life, so as a symbol, a pair of wild geese are brought from the groom as a promise that he will take care of the bride for life," adds Shim. "Before presenting the goose the groom is supposed to bow twice to the mother-in-law as it represents the lifelong promise to his mother-in-law and his lifetime commitment to her daughter," adds Kim. "You can generally find these wood geese on display at the newlywed's home to symbolize their faithfulness for each other and inviolable vows."

Gyo-bae-rye: Respectful Bowing

To show their commitment to each other, the couple ceremonially bows during a part of the traditional Korean wedding ceremony known as gyo-bae-rye. Later, the couple will bow toward their parents during seong-hon-rye as a declaration of their marriage.

Hap-geun-rye: Gourd of Wine

After bowing toward each other, but before bowing to their parents, the couple historically sealed their marriage vows by sipping a special wine poured into a gourd grown by the bride's mother during a tradition known as hap-geun-rye.

"The highlight of the ceremony is when the couple share jung jong (Korean wine) together. The bride and groom sip the wine from their separate cups and then the wine is mixed together, poured once more into the cups and it's sipped again. This is their wedding vow, the kunbere," explains Shim.

Korean Wedding Reception Traditions

Once the knot's been tied, it's time to party with these Korean wedding night traditions.

Pyebaek

Pyebaek is a Korean wedding tradition that celebrates the newlyweds' growing family. The pyebaek is a ceremony in traditional Korean weddings that centers around well-wishes for the couple's future family. The ceremony takes place at a low table (daeryesang) set with anju (snacks). The couple, seated across from their parents, then serves anju with tea or soju (Korean wine) to their elders. The parents offer blessings and wisdom in return, as well as an envelope of money. As a final gesture, they throw dates and chestnuts at the couple, who catch them on fabric that's part of the bride's dress. The chestnuts represent future daughters and the dates represent sons.

"Pyebaek originated as a postwedding ceremony to facilitate a newlywed's introduction to their in-laws. Modern Korean weddings often incorporate pyebaek as part of entertainment amid a more Westernized celebration, usually during cocktail hour. While this tradition isn't practiced as frequently as it once was, it is still a fun ritual to consider."

Korean Music

Calling all BLACKPINK and BTS stans, it's time to let loose and dance the night away. Here are some popular songs to consider for a Korean wedding music playlist:

  • "My Everything," by Lena Park
  • "Beauty," by Crush
  • "Everyday," by Haebin
  • "Nothing Better," by Brown Eyed Soul
  • "Shining on Your Night," by Jinyoung
  • "Magic Shop," by BTS
  • "The Astronaut," by Jin
  • "Serendipity," by Jimin

Traditional Korean Wedding Gifts

Money, called chug ei-geum, given in a white envelope is the most common Korean wedding gift. The amount given usually ranges from $30 to $200, depending on the guest's relationship with the couple.

Traditional Korean Wedding Food, Drinks and Desserts

Are you getting hungry for some Korean wedding food? Here are the dishes traditionally included on a Korean wedding food menu.

Korean Banquet Noodles

Korean wedding banquets can be very simple: Noodle soup is the only required dish. In fact, the wedding banquet is called kook-soo-sang, which means "noodle banquet." This festive dish is sometimes also referred to as Janchi Guksu, literally "party/banquet noodles." Long noodles, symbolizing a wish for a long and happy life, are boiled in beef broth and garnished with vegetables.

"Kook soo means noodles in Korean. Traditionally, noodles get served at weddings, which represent a long and happy marriage," shares Shim. "Kook soo sang is served at every Korean wedding as noodles symbolize a long and happy life together," adds Kim. "Usually a clear beef broth is garnished with vegetables and shredded eggs."

Yaksik

Yaksik, or yakbap, is a sweet Korean wedding food that literally translates to "medicinal food" or "medicinal rice." The rice dish is made with a mix of honey, sugar, nuts and spices and is very popular at traditional Korean wedding dinners.

Dok Korean Wedding Dessert

Dok, a sticky rice cake, is served at most Korean events, especially weddings. It is the most common wedding dessert you can expect to see.

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