Every country has things that make it unique, its own culture, language, customs and food, among others. Wedding traditions are just another thing that differs hugely from country to country and if you are invited to a wedding when you’re travelling, it should be a no brainer, GO!

We were lucky enough to be invited to a wedding here in South Korea recently and although there are a lot of similarities to wedding ceremonies in Ireland, there were a lot more differences. At home a traditional wedding begins getting spruced up at home and then meeting at the church around midday. The wedding mass will take about another hour or so, followed by a photo shoot (weather permitting of course, it is Ireland!) outside and then it’s into the fancy car and onto a hotel. Often there will be a drinks reception at the hotel and plenty more photos while everyone gets good and hungry in time for the meal. A bell rings and the wedding party move onto the function room, the bride and groom will come in to rapturous applause and dinner kicks off. During dinner speeches are made, drinks are drunk, a three course meal is eaten, kids get chicken nuggets and crayons, the cake is cut and everyone has a stretch before the real party starts. The next order of business is the first dance, a band plays the couples soppiest song and everyone dances (usually badly!) late into the night, first to the band and then to a DJ. So as you can see, In Ireland a wedding is typically a full day of festivities, which for many is now turning into a three day affair with a pre wedding day dinner and a post wedding day after party or a continuation of the wedding day party, whichever way you want to look at it!

In Korean Weddings things are done somewhat differently. First, you should understand that Korea is a country of efficiency and the ‘Pali Pali’ (빨리빨리 – Quickly, Quickly) culture is very much a way of life here. Things should be done correctly and in a timely manner and that translates into wedding ceremonies too. Getting married here is a big deal, the divorce rate is virtually non-existent and so brides get one shot at having the wedding they’ve always wanted, Korean style of course! In keeping with the efficient nature of Korea, weddings are held in ‘wedding halls’ from start to finish. We reached the wedding hall around midday in time for the ceremony and there was another wedding ceremony going on in the wedding hall while we waited with the party for the wedding we were attending in the foyer. For girls, it’s the done thing to get your photo taken with the bride before the ceremony kicks off. Sitting on a stage in a small brightly lit room with glitter on the walls and the ceilings there was a small queue of people waiting to have their photo taken with the bride, also covered in glitter! She was wearing an incredibly elaborate and truly enormous dress that would have put Cinderella to shame!

Noelle with the bride at Korean Wedding

Noelle with the bride at Korean Wedding

After the photo shoot (and the other wedding was over), it was into the wedding hall for the ceremony. On the way we put some money in an envelope and put it with the pile, wedding gift done! KRW30,000 for a couple is the going rate and depending on how well you know the couple that figure may go up but this is how everyone gives their wedding gift, cash in an envelope, nice and practical! The wedding hall had what is best described as a raised black, shiny runway running down the centre of the room. A large flat-screen TV was mounted in one corner of the room where all the videoed footage was being displayed live, an announcer stood at a podium to introduce each stage of the ceremony and the room in general glistened with sparkling lights and bright coloured flowers. Women working for the wedding hall were dressed in what looked like airhostess uniforms assisted with proceedings, making sure nobody stood on the brides dress, telling people where they should be when and generally kept things running smoothly

Korean wedding hall

Korean wedding hall

First, the mothers of the happy couple walked down the aisle, wearing traditional Korean attire, Hanbok, the bride’s mother wearing pink and the grooms wearing blue, as is tradition. Then it was the grooms turn to walk solo down the aisle in his tux, with a stylish white jacket and white gloves and wait at the top of the runway for his bride to be. She, of course was next, walked down by her father and then once she reached the top of the aisle, the ceremony began, rings were exchanged and they were now Mr. and Mrs. While all this was going on the door of the Korean wedding hall was left wide open, with noise coming in from the foyer. Guests came and went as they please, some on their phones and having full volume conversations in the room. We were just standing casually along the back wall with a group of other invitees while the ceremony was taking place but this is the way it is in Korea,very relaxed, no big hats and fine suits, just a casual few hours on a Saturday. Sitting either side of the ceremony are each set of parents, now the ceremony is over, the couple approach the parents and the groom shows his thanks first to his parents and then to the brides by bowing down to their feet, the most respectful bow called keunjeol (큰절 – “big bow”), reserved only for the most formal occasions.

Father walking the bride down the aisle, Korea

Father walking the bride down the aisle, Korea

With the Korean wedding formalities over, it’s time for a photo shoot with all the wedding guests, a few shots of the bride and groom together, the cutting of the cake photo and the throwing the bouquet photo. Strangely the person who will catch the bouquet is nominated before-hand, so there’s no great big surprise when she catches the bouquet. She stands away from the crowd, who on the photographers command clap and cheer as the bride throws the bouquet…..and then they do it again because the first shot wasn’t good enough, it’s important to get those perfect wedding shots!

Bride Throwing The Bouquet, Korea

Bride Throwing The Bouquet, Korea

By now, people are getting hungry and so it’s up to the fourth floor, passing another few weddings on the way and in we go to the banquet hall where a huge buffet meal is laid out. There are no speeches, there’s plenty of drink (but it’s only 2pm), there are no first dances but there’s a lot of food. Circling the room the bride and groom, now dressed in traditional Hanbok clothing, thank everyone for coming out for their special day. Finishing up our food, we get ready to go, the whole event lasted less than three hours, it was glitzy, it was cutesy, it was (too) perfect and all in all was very  Korean but compared with home we didn’t have to go out and buy new clothes to attend, spend ridiculous money on a present from the registry or spend our entire weekend tied up with the event. It was a great experience, we’d definitely go again but being Irish no wedding really feels complete without a few too many pints and some truly terrible dancing!

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Brian Barry
Brian is a travel writer, photographer, blogger, travel addict and adventure junkie. Being outdoors, getting off the beaten track and outside his comfort zone is what makes him tick. Brian's the dreamer in the relationship; when he's not travelling, he's dreaming about it! Keeping fit, cooking, music and red wine take up the rest of his time.
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