People & Inspiration

In Focus: The #SongSongCouple Engagement Got Us Googling About Old-School Korean Weddings!

In Focus: The #SongSongCouple Engagement Got Us Googling About Old-School Korean Weddings!

With the announcement of Descendant of The Sun's stars Song Joong Ki and Song Hye Kyo, every single fan of the series has been over the moon with kilig. After all, this wedding is the perfect antidote to all their dashed hopes when last year's season did not culminate in the wedding of captain Yoo Si Jin and doctor Kang Mo Yeon.

While speculations may fly around about the details of the stars' wedding plans, we thought it would be interesting to map out a timeline of a traditional Korean wedding, as done in the olden days. A country with a medley of Asian influences coalescing into a unique culture, Korea is steeped in beautiful traditions that date back thousands of years. They are a people that value the principle of harmony, notably in their interpersonal relationships. Much of their customs are replete with deep meanings and symbolism.  

Eui Hon
Looking for a life partner often involved the services of a professional matchmaker. From a gathered database of local, unmarried people, matchmakers would pair likely individuals together. The future couple will not meet face to face, with their parents meeting one another to discuss the merits of their couple's partnership and to meet the potential mate of their respective child. If everything is in order, The groom's family would then send a proposal of marriage to the bride's parents, who would either accept or decline the proposal on behalf of their daughter.

If the proposal was accepted, the groom's family would send a Saju, a document which contains the groom's birth details, to the bride's family to help determine the most auspicious date for the wedding. The bride's family then sends back a Yeongil to the groom's family, stating the wedding date.

The groom's family would then send a Ham to the bride and her family, a set of gifts which include the Honseo, or marriage paper, symbolising the wife's devotion to her husband, the Ch'aedan, a collection of red and blue fabrics, used to make clothing, symbolizing the philosophy of Eum/Yang, where seemingly opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary, interconnected, and interdependent to one another, and the Honsu, a collection of valuables for the bride from the groom's parents. The package was then delivered by the Hamjinabi together with a pot of Bongch'i Deok, a red bean rice cake. The bride's family would have a small party for the group, offering them food and drink for their efforts.

Korean customs dictated that weddings took place at the house of the bride's family. The groom's wedding procession would travel to the bride's house, with the groom riding on horseback and his attendants walking alongside him, playing musical instruments to enliven the mood.

The Girukabi or procession leader holds a single wooden kireog (wild goose) which is then given to the groom's future mother-in-law. This gesture is laden with meaning: wild geese mate for life and the statue is an allegory of the groom's promise of lifelong devotion to his bride.

This marks the first moment that the bride and groom lay eyes on each other. Sitting on opposite ends of the wedding table, the bride and groom wash their hands as part of the cleansing ritual for the main ceremony. A series of bows from the couple represents their promise of commitment to each other.


While there are regional variations of this part of the ceremony, the symbolism of Hapgeunrye remains consistent: a toast shared by the bride and groom as a token for their new life together, walking the same path as husband and wife.

Traditionally, P'yebaek was originally intended as a way for the bride to pay her respects to the groom’s family as she is formally accepted into the family. In this tradition, the bride bows to the parents of the groom as a symbol of severing her ties with her family as well as the promise of subservience and allegiance to her new family. Today, this ceremony has evolved to include both the bride and the groom bowing in unison to the elders to pay their respects to them, with the elders offering the couple words of wisdom and blessings.


The bride and groom would retire to one of the rooms of the house specially decorated for the occasion. Servants would assist the couple with removing their jackets, leaving the couple afterwards to finish undressing.

[related: The Six Fix: Korean Dramas To Watch For Every Type Of Love Believer]

After three days, the newlyweds would proceed to the groom's home, with the groom riding the same horse he came in and the bride carried in a Kama, a covered litter for one passenger, consisting of a large box carried on two horizontal poles by four or six bearers. Upon arrival, they would be greeted by a shower of red beans, cotton seeds and salt, both as a blessing of good fortune and as a way to ward away any evil spirits that may have followed the procession.

[related: The Six Fix: 6 K-Drama Bromances We Loved As Much As The Actual Romance]

Hyeon Gurye
This marks the formal introduction of the bride to the groom's family. It is similar to the P'yebaek but is more casual.

ALSO READ: In Focus: Why The #SongSongCouple Is Truly Meant To Be

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Banner image by Jana Jimenez




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