Korean Wedding Traditions
There are many aspects of Korean culture that are quite different from the Western perspective, including the wedding traditions. Although proposals down on one knee and engagement rings can be found in wedding preparations, there are plenty of other unique Korean wedding traditions worth exploring.
Wedding “Hahm” (함) and Ancient Tradition
The hahm (함), put simply, is a box of gifts that the groom and his family would present to the bride’s family in exchange for allowing them to have the bride as their daughter-in-law. The gift often contains jewelry, cosmetics, hanbok, and a formal suit of clothes. The box is traditionally decorated in red and blue, the two opposite colors representing the harmony of yin and yang. In ancient times, the groom and his friends would often deliver the box to the bride’s family while shouting “함 사세요!” which translates roughly to “buy a box!” but is much more symbolic in announcing the ritual than to be taken literally. The groom also used to wear a dry squid mask during this ritual, up until about a decade ago. Nowadays one will still see the delivery of a hahm (함), minus the squid.
Until very recently, marriages were also often arranged by families. Due to traditional Confucian values, family is placed above all else, so marriage also signified the joining of two families rather than just a union between two people. After the union was solidified, the bride and groom would then traditionally go to live with the groom’s family. Nowadays many young Koreans have embraced more Western values and weddings take on many familiar traditions, including the typical dress of guests and the ceremony itself. Usually the mother of the bride and groom will wear hanbok, but whether or not any other guests partake in that tradition is up to personal choice.
The “Pyebaek” (폐백), Post-Wedding Ceremony
The pyebaek (폐백) is a long-standing post-wedding tradition that occurs just between the families of the bride and groom. The groom’s parents sit on cushions opposite of the newlyweds, who perform a deep bow that begins standing and ends with the newlyweds pressing their foreheads and palms onto the floor. The newlyweds are usually dressed in traditional special garb for the ceremony. The bride often presents the groom’s family with jujubes (Korean dates) and chestnuts, which symbolize children. The bride then often offers ceremonial wine (usually cheongju) to the father, while the groom presents the same to the mother. The older couple would then share wisdom on marriage to the newlyweds from their own experiences. The ceremony concludes with the jujubes and chestnuts being thrown back at the bride, who will try to catch them in her wedding skirt.
The practice began as a way for the groom’s family to be introduced to their newest family member, the bride. Nowadays, the bride’s side of the family is allowed to hold this ceremony as well, rather than keeping it exclusive to the groom’s side of the family.
The Resurgence of Pyebaek in America
A new trend has brought the tradition of pyebaek (폐백) into the U.S. via Korean-Americans. Many have adopted the tradition whether they are marrying another person of Korean heritage or not as an example of cultural integration, which is defined as adapting to a new culture while maintaining a connection to the native culture. Differing slightly from the original tradition, pyebaek (폐백) in the U.S. is often held a few days before the official ceremony and the bride receives gifts of money. This practice can also be described as reverse acculturation, helping spread different cultural practices to the West, which is not often seen in a world where Western acculturation reigns supreme.