The Complete Guide to Korean Wedding Traditions


This post covers everything you need to know about about Korean wedding traditions.

It includes:

  • what to expect at the ceremony
  • differences between modern and traditional Korean weddings
  • how to have your own Korean wedding 

Let’s dive right in!

The Complete Guide to Korean Wedding Traditions

Traditional Korean weddings are colorful and festive events.

How long are Korean weddings?

Korean wedding ceremonies trace their origin to the Koryo period in 918 AD and used to last 3 days. This fell out of favor during Park Chung-hee’s reign. With the goal of growing the economy, a three-day party seemed like a waste of productivity and resources. So the process was shortened to 30 minutes.

Now, toned-down traditional ceremonies are making a comeback. You can expect the ceremony to last 30 minutes to an hour while the reception can last a few hours.


Who chooses to have a Korean traditional wedding?

Anyone can have a traditional Korean wedding ceremony. But, they’re usually held by international couples or incorporated in weddings overseas.

Koreans don’t often choose traditional wedding ceremonies, as they’re considered somewhat gauche. They prefer modern Korean ceremonies held at wedding halls. As a result, traditional ceremonies are cheaper than those held at modern venues.

Where can I have a South Korean traditional wedding?

Fortunately, there are many places that hold such events. Believe it or not, having a tradtional wedding is cheaper than getting married at a wedding hall. Here are a few of the more popular ones:

What to wear to a traditional Korean wedding ceremony?

What to wear to a traditional Korean wedding ceremony_Groom

For the bride

Brides will wear a colorful hanbok.

For the groom

Grooms will wear hanbok for men.

For the wedding party

Depending on the role, your clothes will differ. Parents will wear hanbok, even at modern weddings. Other family members might also wear hanbok, such as aunts.

For everyone else

If you aren’t in the wedding party, you can wear modern formal clothes. Suits for men and formal dresses for women.

What to bring as a gift to a Korean Wedding?

Gifts are a vital part of Korean culture. Close friends of the bride and groom will give something for the home like a talking rice cooker or TV. Everyone else can bring cash in an envelope. The amount can vary from 30,000 KRW up to 1,000,000 KRW.

What does a Korean traditional wedding dress look like?

What does a Korean traditional wedding dress look like
Source: Blog

Korean traditional wedding dresses are very colorful.

They’re made of blue silk symbolizing men and red silk symbolizing women.

These colors represent harmony between men and women, and the universe of yin and yang.

Why do Korean brides wear red dots?

Why do Korean brides wear red dots

These cute decorations are called 연지곤지 (Yeonji Gonji).

There are several theories behind them.

The first one is that the dots chase away ghosts since they hate red color, and keep the wedding sacred.

The second one is that they’re a symbol of youth or virginity.

Also, during the Han dynasty in China, court ladies applied red rouge made of safflower on their faces to indicate menstruation. Later, it was applied to cheeks, lips and nails for cosmetic purposes.

What’s the Korean traditional wedding procedure?

Before the ceremony

In the past, this was the most important part of the process. Weddings used to be arranged for economic or status reasons. During the Joseon dynasty, brides and grooms wouldn’t meet until the day of the wedding.

함 (Hahm)

There’s a fun tradition of exchanging gifts before the wedding where a group of the groom’s closest friends show up at the bride’s family home wearing dried squids as masks. They chant “hahm for sale” while bearing gifts in a box called “hahm” until the bride’s family meets them outside. There’s usually some light-hearted negotiation until the gifts and money are exchanged. The bride’s parents will sometimes lay down a trail of cash in envelopes to lure the men to their house. It’s a lively and boisterous affair that allows both parties to blow off some steam.

Pre-wedding performance 

As you might have noticed, Koreans love their music and drama. Before the wedding begins, there’s usually a traditional performance (사물놀이, or Samulnori) by a band of 4 musicians who dance and play instruments. They wear colorful costumes and hats with long ribbons attached that they twirl while playing their instruments. 

One plays a small gong (kkwaenggwari) representing thunder, one plays a larger gong (jing) representing wind, one plays an hourglass shaped drum (janggu) representing rain and one place a barrel drum (buk) representing clouds.

Depending on the budget of the wedding, there might be a traditional performance with fans called buchaechum (부채춤). This is usually done by young women in hanboks and traditional makeup. It’s a very graceful and beautiful sight to see. I highly recommend checking it out.

During the ceremony

The ceremony itself is surprisingly short. It can last anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour.

점촉례 (Jeom-chok Rye)

The first part of the ceremony is known as Jeom-chok Rye. The mother of the bride and the mother of the groom light candles to invite the god of Heaven to the ceremony. There’s usually a red and blue candle and the two mothers will bow to each other as a sign of respect. This may appear to be a somber affair, but don’t misinterpret the lack of smiling as a sign of dislike.

영서례 (Young-seo Rye)

Next, the groom enters with an attendant who is carrying a wooden goose. In the past, they would use a real goose. But since everyone lives in an apartment now, there’s not much use for a live one. Then the bride’s father meets the groom. 

전안례 (Jeon-an Rye)

Now the groom presents the goose to the bride’s father at a small table on the ground. Geese symbolize 3 virtues in Confucianism, which Korean culture is partially based on. 

  •  Love – Geese mate for life, and if one dies, the other doesn’t seek another mate. The couple will love each other for life.
  •  Manners –  Geese follow the leader and fly in V formation. When the leader honks, the second one follows out of respect. The couple will be courteous to each other.
  •  Legacy –  Geese tend to leave a trail instead of hiding it. The couple will make their mark and be successful.

친영례 (Chin-young Rye)

The bride walks down the aisle with her attendant and stands next to the groom.

관세례 (Kwan-se Rye)

Now the couple faces each other and take turns bowing deeply with palms on the floor. The groom traditionally bows twice while the bride bows six times. Why the lopsided number? This goes back to the hierarchy portion of Confucianism with the husband positioned at the head of the formation, while the wife follows. 

교배례 (Kyo-bae Rye)

The couple-to-be washes their hands while the assistants attend to them. Hand washing symbolizes the purification of mind and body before the ceremony.

합근례 (Hap-geun Rye)

Alcohol is a big part of Korean culture as evidenced by this next part. The couple pledges to the heavens that they’ll be faithful to each other and fulfill their obligations as husband and wife. This is sealed with a cup of wine that’s first raised to the sky and poured on the ground. The process is repeated twice. The cups are filled once more and the couple repeats their pledges and this time takes a drink. A gourd split in half (표주박)with both halves filled with liquor are also drunk. This symbolizes the uniting of two people as one.

성혼례 (Seong-hon Rye )

Finally, the couple turns and faces the attendees and bows deeply to the ground once more. 

After the ceremony

Pictures!

Now’s the time for the wedding party to get their money’s worth for the photographer. Expect to take various group pics with the bride and groom.

Banquet

Before the wedding reforms in the 1960s, the after ceremony party would last days. Now, it’s usually a 2 hour buffet with open seating. The only mandatory dish is noodle soup (국수). This symbolizes a long, prosperous life. Ddeok (떡) or rice cake will also be present.

What is the Pyebaek ceremony?

폐백 (Pyebaek) is a Korean tradition that’s held after the wedding ceremony.

Originally, it was an opportunity for the bride to formally greet family members at the groom’s house.

Nowadays, the tradition is simplified and any family member can participate as long as they prepare 절값 (pocket money in an envelope to pay for bowing, which usually ranges from 100 to 300 USD).

Even when Korean couples have a modern ceremony while wearing a wedding dress at a wedding hall, they still have Pyebaek with Hanbok right after.

There are 5 essential food/beverages to be on the table for Pyebaek as below:

  • Jujube: Means prosperity of wealth and children given to the daughter-in-law by the father-in-law. Symbolizes a son.
  • Chestnut: Symbolizes a daughter. It also means success like becoming top 3 정승 or ministers (positions during Joseon dynasty) since chestnuts bear three fruits in a cluster.
  • 구절판 or Platter of Nine Delicacies: Wishes for a life full of happiness since 9 means abundance and fullness. It also means prosperity for offspring.
  • Beef Jerky: Wishes for generosity as beef jerky is widely spread out, given to the mother-in-law by the bride.
  • Alcohol: Means a blessing on the important feast.

Also, there’s a custom that newlyweds bite a jujube in half together.

There’s a myth that says the person who gets the jujube seed will have the upper hand.

What are the differences between modern and traditional Korean weddings?

TraditionalModern
Commonlessmore
Pricelowerhigher
Who has themmostly international couplesmostly Korean couples
Length2-3 hours1 hour

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FAQ

What to wear to a Korean wedding?

Wedding guests can wear modern formal clothes such as suits for men and formal dresses for women. Like when attending western weddings, be sure to avoid wearing white.

Females need to show that they put effort into the wedding by dressing nicely, but not dressing up so much as to overshadow the bride. This will be interpreted as 민폐하객 (which roughly translates to a “wedding guest who causes harm”).

When in doubt, search 하객룩 (meaning wedding guest look) on Naver to get some ideas.

Who traditionally pays for a Korean wedding?

The bride and groom usually pay 50/50 for their wedding, guest transportation and honeymoon. Korean wedding ceremonies normally cost about 10,000,000 to 20,000,000 won, depending on the venue and number of guests.

However, the bride and groom’s parents often help pay for the wedding ceremony, since guests are mostly their acquaintances. How much by each side is determined through discussion, but they make their money back and then some in the form of chook-eui-geum (축의금) or congratulatory money given by wedding guests.

What do Korean brides typically wear on their wedding day?

Just like in western weddings, Korean brides wear a white wedding dress. It’s common to rent a wedding dress for the ceremony. As small-sized weddings are trending, more brides buy an affordable and simple wedding dress.

Korean brides also rent a few wedding dresses for their studio photo shoot a few months before the ceremony. This is called 스드메, which is short for 튜디오, 레스 and 이크업 (studio, dress and makeup). The price range of 스드메 is about 2,500,000 to 3,000,000 won on average.

How much cash do you give your wife’s family in a Korean wedding?

You don’t need to give cash.

Traditionally, Korean brides and grooms exchange a wedding gift, called “예물 (ye-mul or wedding gift)”. The groom normally gives a diamond ring or Chanel bag. The bride usually gives a luxury watch.

There’s also something called, “예단 (ye-dan or wedding gift in silk). When the groom and his parents pay for the apartment or house, the bride and her parents give 예단, which is about 10% of the housing price or 10,000,000 won. Then, the groom’s family usually sends half back to the bride’s family.

Since most young Koreans don’t understand why we do this, less people are practicing 예단/예물 culture. But, it’s really up to each family.

What to give as a gift for a Korean wedding?

If you’re very close to a Korean who’s getting married, you can buy them some wedding gifts like a rice cooker, TV or refrigerator depending on your budget. Normally, a group of Korean friends pay for one nice gift together.

In most cases, you can simply give cash at the wedding. As soon as you enter the wedding hall, you’ll see two tables by the door. One is for the bride and another is for the groom. You can give them cash in an envelope and receive a meal ticket.

How much you need to give as chook-eui-geum (축의금) is as below:

Is the bride/groom your BFF?From 200,000 won up to 1,000,000 won
Does the bride/groom’s parents know your name?150,000 won or more
Did you meet the bride/groom on a regular basis as a good friend?100,000 won or more
Is the bride/groom your coworker?50,000 won
Did you meet the bride/groom once a year or less?30,000 won (No need to attend the wedding)
Have you not met the bride/groom for a few years, and did he/she send you a wedding invitation via KakaoTalk?No cash for them. Just congrats message and emoticon ^^ There’s even a joke that goes, “give them 부루마블 money, or board game cash”.

What do you write on a Korean wedding envelope?

You can write “축결혼”, which means “congratulations on your wedding”, and your name on the envelope.

What are common wedding rings in Korean weddings?

Koreans like brand wedding rings, such as Cartier, Tiffany & Co. and Bvlgari. More common ones are gold rings with a diamond, purchased at Jongno Jewelry Shopping Street.

Why do all Korean dramas show western-style weddings?

K-dramas always show western weddings because most Koreans have them that way. Korean traditional wedding ceremonies are mostly held by an international couple getting married in South Korea.

How do you say congratulations at a wedding in Korean?

You can say “결혼 축하드려요 (gyeol-hon chuk-ha-deu-ryeo-yo)” with honorifics, or casually say “결혼 축하해 (gyeol-hon chuk-ha-hae)” to a friend.

Why do Korean women wear pink dots on their cheeks during a traditional wedding?

At a traditional wedding, Korean women wear cute pink/red dots, called 연지곤지 (Yeonji Gonji) on their cheeks to chase away ghosts and keep the wedding sacred. They’re also used as a symbol of youth or virginity.

What does the expression “sokdowebaan” mean at a Korean wedding?

속도위반 (sokdowebaan) literally means “speeding violation”. In this case, it refers to a “shotgun wedding”. It’s an expression used when the bride gets pregnant before the wedding. It used to be a bit of an embarrassing term, but now it’s commonly used.

Who pays for a Korean wedding in the U.S.?

It really depends on the couple.

The bride and groom split the costs 50/50 in Korea. In the states, it’s up to the family and how westernized they are.

Most weddings cost more than they make in the U.S. Whereas Korean weddings tend to end up with more money than they started with due to the tradition of giving cash as wedding gifts.

Which side do Koreans wear wedding rings?

Just like in western culture, Koreans wear wedding rings on their left hand.

What’s a good color to wear to a Korean wedding that brings good luck?

Any color is fine as long as it’s not white or too vivid. Most Koreans choose a calm or pastel tone. Some extremely picky brides will hate a girl wearing light pink or ivory.

How much money should I give at a Korean American wedding?

If they’re very Korean such as 1st generation, cash in a wedding envelope (50-100 dollars) will be fine. If they’re more westernized, use a gift registry if they provide one.

How much does a Korean style wedding photography cost?

A full-scale modern Korean style wedding shoot will cost about 2,500,000 to 3,000,000 won, including photo studio, dress and makeup. This should cover a few photos in traditional Korean attire as well.

You can try a simplified version and get a wedding photography experience for less than 300 USD here.

How to word a wedding invitation in Korean?

You can easily find common templates of 청첩장 (wedding invitation). Two examples by K-pop stars are:

오래전부터 기다려왔던 사람을 드디어 만났습니다.
먼길 힘드시겠지만 꼭 오셔서
여러분들이 걸어오셨던 인생의 지혜와 용기를 저희에게 나눠 주십시요.
여러분들께서 가르쳐 주신 대로 바르게 제대로 걸어가겠습니다.
송중기 & 송혜교

Finally found the right person we have been waiting for a long time.
Please come and share with us on this joyful day your wisdom and courage that you've learned along the journey of your life.
Your enlightenment will guide us to walk through our own adventure.
Song Joong Ki & Song Hye Kyo
오랫동안 기다린 사랑
 눈에 밟혀서
 이야기가 통해서
 시작된 사랑
 잊혀지지 않은
 하나의 꽃이 되고 싶습니다.
 배용준 & 박수진

A love we have been waiting for 
 A love that started 
 from missing each other
 and speaking the same language
 We want to become 
 one unforgettable flower.
 Bae Yong-joon & Park Soo-jin

How to get a Korean wedding experience in Seoul?

You can have a Korean wedding photography experience here for less than 300 USD.

How to survive a long Korean wedding?

Fortunately, modern Korean weddings are short in Korea. The ceremony usually lasts half an hour and some people start having buffet in the middle of the ceremony.

Traditional weddings, on the other hand, can last a bit longer. There’s some beautiful pageantry and ceremonies that should make the time pass quickly. You can always astral project into another dimension if it gets to be too much.

Did we miss anything?

Traditional Korean wedding ceremonies are a fun event that you should experience.

Most of my Korean friends have modern Korean weddings. But I’ve been lucky enough to attend a few traditional ceremonies.

As a Korean, it was nice to see the actual ceremony in person, since I had only heard about them previously. 

Just because you’re not Korean doesn’t mean you can’t have a Korean wedding. It’s a unique tradition that anyone can enjoy.

Feel free to ask a question in the comments or share your experiences.

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