Intangible Cultural Heritage of Asia and the Pacific

Gyobaerye, the bride and groom bow to each other ⓒ Heonkang Seo

Wedding Culture as a Traditional Ritual

The wedding is considered the most important event in one’s lifetime, as the joining of a couple marks the beginning of a family and a household. The first notable characteristic of the Korean wedding is that it is a Korean version of Confucian wedding culture, which originated in China. Koreans modified the Chinese ritual to fit their local situation and created a unique Korean ritual. For example, unlike in China, the wedding is held in the bride’s home according to traditions dating back to the Goguryeo dynasty.

Confucian Traditions

In the Confucian ritual tradition, the wedding is based on rational decision-making processes. Families with children of marrying age find a suitable partner and discuss marriage through a matchmaker. If the matchmaking is successful, the groom’s family proposes through a proposal ritual. If the bride’s family accepts, the groom’s family sends a box containing letter promising marriage. On the wedding day, the groom goes to the bride’s home for the first time and presents a wild goose before the actual wedding ceremony. The wild goose symbolizes faith, order, wisdom, and loyalty, so by presenting the goose, the groom is vowing to stay with his bride for all eternity. Then the bride and groom bow to each other and share wine. Sharing wine means the rejoining of a separated gourd, symbolizing the joining of a match made in heaven. After the ceremony is over, the bride and groom are presented with a ritual feast.

After the wedding night, the couple remains at the bride’s home for about three days before returning to the groom’s home. Upon reaching the groom’s home, the bride greets the groom’s family in a family meeting ritual as a new family member. A year after the wedding, the couple visits the bride’s family for visiting ritual to her family that the newlyweds are doing well. This completes the long process of the traditional wedding.

Other Wedding Traditions and Symbols

Documents, such as the proposal letter, acceptance letter, date setting letter, and letter promising marriage, which are exchanged throughout the process, act as proof of marriage. This led to the tradition of burying a woman with her marriage promise letter. A wedding symbolizes a joining of harmony of yin and yang. The groom represents yang, and the bride symbolizes yin. The symbols of yang and yin are in the blue and red thread decorations in the wedding stage, the red and blue candles of, the wedding dress of red cloth on the outside and blue on the inside and the green top and red skirt that the bride wears after the ceremony, marking her new life as a married woman.

A Korean wedding is more than bringing together a man and woman; it is a joining of families. This can be seen in how all the wedding processes are conducted according to the decisions of the families, not the bride and groom. At the same time, the wedding is also more than a family affair; it is also a village celebration in that invitations are sent to all members of the community, which reinforces the communal nature of a wedding.

Conclusion

The Korean wedding, which has been adapted to suit the situation of Korea, stands apart from its Chinese Confucian roots. Even today, modern wedding halls come equipped with a room to conduct the ceremony to meet the groom’s family. In this way, we can see the acceptance of traditions in modern day life. Korean rituals have always accepted a variety of cultural elements while being fundamentally based in Confucianism. They form an important part of intangible heritage in Korea.