If you'd love to include your Korean heritage in your wedding but aren't sure where to start, look no further. We turned to an expert for a run-down of Korean wedding traditions. Shu Shu Costa, author of Wild Geese and Tea: An Asian-American Wedding Planner (Riverhead Books, 1997), describes a few commonly practiced rituals that are meaningful -- and fun.
Traditionally, Korean betrothal gifts 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
. The group, dressed in costume with blackened faces, would arrive singing at the bride's family home. 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.
Most Korean-American engagement parties are now held in restaurants. Gifts are exchanged -- sometimes worth $30,000 to $40,000! -- and family members are formally introduced. The bride may wear the traditional hanbok
(a special engagement dress). Entertainment is expected, but can range from classical Korean music to family members singing along with a karaoke machine.
A Wild Goose
Before the wedding, a beautiful tradition takes place: The groom gives the bride's mother a wild goose (traditionally, a live goose was used; today it is often a wooden goose). Wild geese mate for life, so his gift is a promise that he will care for her daughter for life.
A Gourd of Wine
The traditional Korean wedding is held at the bride's family home. Vows are taken in a ceremony called kunbere
: Bride and groom bow to each other and seal their vow by sipping a special wine poured into a gourd grown by the bride's mother.
Dates & Chestnuts
A few days after the ceremony, the couple visit the groom's family for another wedding ceremony, the p'ye-baek
. Here the bride offers dates and chestnuts -- symbols of children -- to the groom's parents, while sitting at a low table filled with other symbolic offerings. The parents offer sake in return, and as a final gesture they throw the dates and chestnuts at the bride, who tries to catch them in her large wedding skirt.
In the United States, the p'ye-baek is most often held at the reception, with the bride and groom in full Korean costume. It is usually a family-only affair, hosted by the groom's side. The throwing of dates and chestnuts is the highlight. Family members also offer gifts of money in white envelopes to the bride.
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." Long noodles -- symbolizing a wish for a long and happy life -- are boiled in beef broth and garnished with vegetables. Dok
, a sticky rice cake, is served at most Korean events, especially weddings.