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Korean Traditional Wedding Ceremony & Our 5-Year Anniversary

July 8, 2011

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.

Korea House

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!

My brother & me in the wedding

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.

My brother & I in 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!

Delivering the geese figures to omanim

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.

The ceremony table

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 pavilion

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 cleansing her hands in the ceremony

Sunnie’s friends helped both of us, starting with a ceremonial cleansing of the hands.

Sunnie in traditional Korean wedding attire

I felt pretty darn lucky looking across the table to see my soon-to-be wife!

Bill in Korean traditional wedding ceremony

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?

Traditional Korean wedding ceremony

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.

Sunnie in Korean traditional wedding

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!

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. Julie permalink
    July 8, 2011 6:23 pm

    Hi Bill and Sunnie!
    Congrats on your 5 year wedding anniversary and many more to come! Your traditional Korean wedding looked absolutely wonderful! Thanks for sharing the experience.
    Julie

    • Bill permalink*
      July 9, 2011 6:03 pm

      Thanks, Julie! Hope all is well!

  2. July 12, 2011 10:48 am

    Congratulations and happy anniversary! What a lovely ceremony. You both are so cute. Yes, Bill, you do look like a Korean groom, much more than the other American husbands whose Korean wedding pictures I’ve seen! :) (You are American of Chinese background, right? Forgive me if I got that wrong or stated it insensitively.) Although I’ve noticed some non-Korean people look surprisingly good in Korean wedding garb. Thank you for the pictures and commentary–very enjoyable. :)

    • July 12, 2011 10:50 am

      Oh, I noticed upon rereading that you stated clearly that you’re American. Never mind!

    • Bill permalink*
      July 12, 2011 10:55 am

      Thanks, Lu! No, you’re right, I am Chinese American. My mom’s from China (originally, she grew up in Taiwan) and dad’s an Indiana farm boy! :)
      We’re trying to find excuses to wear our hanbok. It’s a pity to have them and not wear them, but not many occasions fit in Indiana!

      • July 12, 2011 1:23 pm

        Here are some ideas for hanbok-wearing occasions:

        While watching “Dae Jang-Geum.”
        While having a royal midnight snack prepared from the Middle Kitchen.
        While playing Joseon-era games in your back yard (swings, golf, tightrope-walking).
        While attending the 100-day parties of other peoples’ babies, or just any baby birthday party, what the heck.
        Any time, just to confuse the pets! (and don’t you think cats would look cute with little cat-size horsehair hats, or those hats for women that are like American army caps, with a tassel?)

      • Bill permalink*
        July 12, 2011 1:47 pm

        If we only had hanbok for the kitties, I think we’d be inspired to wear them more! Unfortunately, our tightrope walking experience this summer demonstrated this would be the end of our nice hanbok, but good suggestions! ;)

  3. August 19, 2011 12:35 pm

    Wow! Good post and great pictures…

    I also married my Korean wife earlier this year (spring), in a traditional ceremony, in Korea… and we live in Noblesville LOL…… So, I know what you mean about no place to wear our Hanbok ~ perhaps the renaissance fair at Conner Prairie or something??

    Small world!

    • Bill permalink*
      August 20, 2011 9:59 am

      Hi, Chris. Thanks for visiting the blog. It is a small world, how funny! How did you and your wife meet? I hope you enjoyed the wedding ceremony as much as I did. Let us know if you’d ever like to get together for some Korean food!

  4. October 25, 2011 7:49 pm

    Beautiful post and pictures! Congratulations! I like the picture of Sunnie looking down and your comment ‘looking at soon-to-be wife’. Wow! What moment that picture captured.

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