Going to a Traditional Korean Wedding

Programs for this blog post

Arts + Sciences

Authored By:

Emma M.

When I say traditional Korean weddings, I don’t mean the usual ceremony couples have these days. I am talking about a traditional ~Confucian~ Korean wedding in which the bride and groom wear special attire and partake in special rituals and blessings for their life together. I was able to have this opportunity because I was invited to my lovely friend Addie’s wedding which took place in 울산 (Ulsan)--around 4 hours from Seoul. 

All the KTX tickets to 울산 that Saturday morning, to make it there by time for the wedding ceremony, were sold out so I had to get crafty and buy bus tickets in person! (Because I do not have a Korean credit card which makes a lot of online booking essentially impossible…) I left Seoul on a bright and early bus at 6:40 am!! Which is extremely early, but I was able to sleep for a good amount of time and the seats were surprisingly comfy.


I got to 울산역 (Ulsan station) about about an hour or so before the beginning of the wedding and took a short bus ride to the Confucian academy at which the wedding was taking place (rather than a wedding hall where most wedding ceremonies take place nowadays). Apparently, they did not have to pay for their venue too as it is free to use for traditional wedding ceremonies only. 

As I walked up to the institution, I hesitantly made my way up a side entrance as the main one was under construction at the time. I asked one woman (who I later learned was one of the performers, the main singer!) If I was in the right place for the wedding. She said “I think so.” I walked in and by no surprise, only saw Koreans and felt immediately nervous as I had no idea where to sit. I wandered around for a short while until finally I noticed a table with Shada--another fellow friend (of both me and Addie) from our study abroad days during our NSLI-Y academic year program. Did I mention that Addie and I met on a study abroad program several years ago? She has since continued her studies in Korea and found love!! So here I was, celebrating that very same love!


I sat with Shada and the rest of Addie’s school friends from her time at Yonsei for undergrad. I came in at the time of some performances where they were playing traditional Korean music. Before we knew it, it was time for the wedding processional parade. The first part of the wedding ceremony involved the mothers of the bride and groom (both wearing hanbok, Addie’s mother wearing pink and Youngmin’s mother wearing light blue). The colors of the hanbok that the mothers wear is directly related to the color of the hanbok worn by both the bride and groom. It is traditional for the bride to wear red and the groom to wear blue (to symbolize the colors of Yin and Yang)


To be honest, it was hard for me to always keep up with the announcer talking about the historical significance of every single activity/tradition during the wedding. But, I did get some. For one, he told us that in the traditional wedding, the groom would ride to the bride’s house on a horse. Clearly, that wasn’t happening today. He just walked on up to the ceremony room but he was holding a purple screen because, back in the day, the groom was not supposed to be seen by the wife until the ceremony--which meant more back then because arranged marriages occurred more frequently. Every time the announcer talked about a tradition that is not often practiced anymore, he would say the phrase “요즘은 아니죠” (which translates with the added context to “Nowadays, of course not.”)


Addie left the bride’s room looking stunning in her beautiful red--made for a queen--hanbok and she was placed in a palanquin (가마) which the more “modern” version had wheels like a wheelbarrow. The yard of the Confucian school was not that large so they really just pulled her around a very small patch of grass. She told me that she was extremely hot and sweaty in there (no air conditioning of course) which I understand--I was sweating under a tent so I could not even imagine her overheating in that small box-like compartment wearing as many layers as she was.


The ceremony went on with the giving of a goose (fake) and the washing of each other’s hands as some kind of cleansing ritual I believe? The couple also goes on to bow facing each other--a ritual that involves the bride (aka Addie) bowing twice while Youngmin bows once. Addie’s whole getup was extremely heavy so she even had two people to help her bow and get back up to a standing position. She told me that even holding her arms up to her chin was difficult--a whole arm workout indeed. At this point, the announcer made sure to tell us that the “unequal” part of this bowing tradition is “not sexism” and has to do something with the balance of the Yin and Yang forces and what not. Very PC of him. 


The official ceremony ends after about 1 hour? And one of the traditional Korean singers came out to sing. For one of her songs, she tells Youngmin to kiss Addie on the cheek every time she says the word “사랑” (love). Let me tell you, every other lyric of this song seemed to be love. It was such a sweet moment seeing them smiling up there and Youngmin being so expressive in affection in front of all their friends and families.

family photo

After that, we broke for lunch and got a whole buffet with yummy Korean delicacies! I piled my plate up high and ate literally everything. I was very happy by the spread--including fruits and rice cakes for dessert! While food was being eaten, Addie and Youngmin walked around to speak with all their guests. At this point, they had changed into the most beautiful light blue matching hanboks. We took some photos and chatted with Addie’s parents for a little while too. 

I really enjoyed the wedding ceremony and was so thankful for being invited to partake in my friend’s wedding. How lucky was our timing! Afterwards, her other Yonsei Underwood friends invited me to a cafe with them, so we took a tiny village bus to a really cute cafe and chatted for an hour or so until we had to head back to Ulsan station for our receptive KTXs back to Seoul. I had never ridden a KTX train before, so it was super helpful to have some guidance. Apparently, they do not even check your tickets! You just board the right train car and make it to your seat. I guess they wouldn’t know you were not in the right seat until someone else came along with that assigned seat. 


The KTX was a smooth ride and I ended up finishing all of my Korean homework for class the following day. And that was my experience at a traditional Korean wedding! A lot of the Koreans I talked to told me that it was their first traditional wedding so it seems that most people seem to go for a mixed wedding (western + traditional) nowadays.

group photo

One final congratulations to the happy couple!