Korean Traditional Wedding Ceremony & Our 5-Year Anniversary
In June, Sunnie and I celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary! We were first married in Korea and did a traditional Korean wedding ceremony at Korea House in Seoul. Korea House was originally the home of one of the most highly regarded subjects of the king during the 1400s (Joseon dynasty). It became the guest house for visiting dignitaries and ambassadors in the 1940s and is now used primarily to introduce Korean culture to foreigners, offering traditional performances, cultural workshops, and royal cuisine.
I had no experience with a traditional wedding and the day was a bit of a whirlwind. One of my older brothers, Ben, his wife and daughter (he now has two more kids), along with my parents were able to make the trip to see the ceremony, and Ben was able to participate. Shortly after arriving, Ben and I were given a very quick five minute walk-through of the ceremony by the ajusshi who would be guiding me through it. He was probably in his late 40s or early 50s, dressed in hanbok, and between my poor (basically non-existent) Korean and his poor English, it was a great experience. He walked me around by the arm, told me “short bow!” and “long bow!” and tapped me with his fan to get my attention. Ben experienced the same and loved getting the blunt treatment from the wise master!
Sunnie’s parents had bought me a beautiful hanbok to wear and then I wore an outer traditional wedding robe on top of that along with a belt and hat and carried a screen that functioned as a sort of veil. Ben also wore hanbok, which he loved. He wanted a sword too, but alas, none were to be found. His primary job was to carry in carved wooden wild goose figures, symbols of life-long fidelity, until we delivered them to Sunnie’s family. We waited up a path in the trees until we were to enter the ceremony.
The ceremony was kind of a blur. I was totally reliant on the ajusshi who would tap me with the fan and tell me “long bow” or “short bow” and I would oblige. Short bows were bowing from the waist, while long bows were getting to my knees and then bending fully over onto the ground. I was primarily focused on trying to do it right and not trip over my robes when I stood back up!
Sunnie’s brother, John, dressed in a suit, greeted Ben and I, and then led me from the courtyard to one of the buildings surrounding it where I greeted Sunnie’s mother and delivered the wooden geese figurines.
Sunnie entered escorted by two of her friends (in Korean weddings, married friends of the bride assist both her and the groom). Sunnie looking absolutely beautiful. In fact, when my niece (then three) Penelope saw her before the ceremony, she breathlessly said “You’re a princess!” We later found her a Korean princess Barbie after returning to the states and gave it to her for Christmas that year.
The ceremony took place under a pavilion set up in the courtyard and around a ceremonial table that stood between Sunnie and I. Sunnie entered using a silk cloth draped over the arms of her hanbok to veil her face, guided by her friends.
Sunnie’s friends helped both of us, starting with a ceremonial cleansing of the hands.
I felt pretty darn lucky looking across the table to see my soon-to-be wife!
Being the scary American come to marry their friend and relative, I think it probably helped that I kind of looked the part of the Korean groom. What do you think, saguek material?
During the ceremony, we did more bowing, ate ceremonial foods, drank ceremonial liquor (I got a few laughs because unbeknownst to me, Sunnie touched the food and liquor to her lips, while I was gobbling and chugging everything down). As a rooster is also set on one of the tables throughout, as a symbol of fertility, Korea house has roosters on their grounds. And one of them was crowing during the ceremony. You can see my niece, Penelope, sitting on her mom’s lap above, and she decided to join in with the crowing, shouting “cock-a-doodle-do” before Megan put her hand over Penny’s mouth to stop her.
I so loved being married in a traditional Korean ceremony. It seemed to go by in a flash, a lot of bowing, and the chanting of the officiant. I was pretty nervous through most of it that I had no idea what I was doing and was going to mess up, but mid-way through, I noticed that Sunnie’s friends were whispering to each other, trying to remember what they were supposed to do, and that helped put me more at ease – I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know what was going on.
After a lengthy oration read from a scroll by the officiant, we were suddenly stood up and were married! We met Sunnie’s friends and family and took pictures with everyone before everyone headed off to a banquet of royal court food. We took off the outer wedding robes and went to eat in our hanbok (layers in June can get pretty hot) with our friends.
It was such a different experience from Western weddings, which is evidently what most in Korea are now doing, and I really loved it. My first kdrama was Dae Jang Geum, so this was right up my alley. 5 years, and here is to another 50 together!