A Traditional Korean Wedding

I can’t deny it. During my 3.5 months in Canada, I was in the DUMPS. The “my cat died, my passions have left me, my lovelife is on the brink of extinction and my life is a complete failure” kinda dumps. I was in a bad place before I left Korea. I thought coming home to Canada would absolve all my mixed feelings, and yes, I loved Christmas, and seeing family and friends, but something was just…missing.

Amid the maelstrom of an existential crisis (do I still want to be a teacher? should I tough it out back home? does life have any meaning anymore??), I had one solid reason to return to Korea: my friends’ wedding. It was a tangible beacon back to sanity, my mantra, my excuse to come back. I couldn’t admit at the time that I actually missed the place, or seriously considered coming back full-time. That would just be insanity! But…I could come back for the wedding. Yes, that’s totally why I’m coming back. Just to see the wedding. And leave. Then I’ll get an editorial internship and write for magazines and do the whole Western world thing…right?

A whole month chilling in Korea, then the wedding, then 3 weeks gallivanting in Japan later, I find myself back in Wonju, no need for an excuse this time, and happier than I have been in a long time.

But about weddings…

It’s kind of strange living in a group of friends who are significantly older than you. Not by much, just 5-10 years, but it’s enough to feel like you’re living ahead of your time. Back home, being 26 means scrolling through your Facebook feed and finding it bloated with engagement announcements, Masters graduation celebrations, PhD acceptance announcements, and bachelorette party invites. In Korea, most of my friends have already been married for quite some time. When I scroll, I find baby pics and pregnancy shoots galore, or grade school kids doing something so sweet it needs to be shared, teachers moved to Dubai or Taiwan or hiking Mount Everest.

It’s an odd, in-between space to be in. My Facebook feed has become the parallax between East and West, the “life accomplishments timelines” crossing over. And this wedding, between my dear friends Alex and Young, is the first real wedding I’ve ever attended.

Sure, I’d been to relatives’ weddings, even a few Korean weddings of the kind described by Marta in her post, A Korean Happily Ever After. Modern Korean weddings take place on a laser-lighted runway, confetti poppers popping and vows exchanged all within a half hour, so that the wedding hall becomes less a sacred place and more of a marriage factory.

“I do. I do. I do. I do.”

No, this was my first real wedding because it was the first wedding I attended where the newlyweds were true, close friends of mine. Friends I’d known for years and loved together. Knew them as two birds in the same tree, two fish in the same sea. And their wedding was not in a factory hall, but in a dusty courtyard surrounded by cherry blossoms and wood-framed hanok, the ceremony presided by a priest who spoke such old timey Korean that even Koreans had a hard time understanding it. Oh, and there were live chickens. Why? Just ’cause. The traditional wedding doesn’t need chickens, it’s just better with them, don’t you think?

A live rooster and a hen are wrapped in silk, then laid on the ceremonial table. The stubborn hen kept squirming loose and falling to the floor while vows were exchanged. At the end of the ceremony, both fathers of the bride and groom came to release the chickens into the air. (A confused father forgot to unbind the rooster’s wings. It zoomed straight up and plopped back down like a feathered bowling ball!)
Dressed to empress. (Eh? Eh?)
Even us waygooks were in hanbok (traditional Korean dress). Not me, unfortunately!
Embroidery to die for. Is it your wedding day, or photo shoot?
The groom! International love! Ah!
Scott was the “scholar” and ordained to carry the wooden duck in the parade. Three other friends (and the bride’s nephew) were her personal attendants.
Strongmen! Hyurh!!
The bride is escorted into the carriage.
The groom, following the musicians, leads the bridal party in a stately March. He carries a red banner to hide his face for we never found out why. lol.
Red banner, wooden duck, the whole bridal party in a line.
The priest reads his old timey words as the bride and groom smile with their eyes. Attendants kneel with the bride and groom, who drink rice wine from opposite ends of the courtyard, watching each other intensely.
The groom waiting for a physical prod from the attendant to begin the wine-drinking process.
After party! In the Western style. Booze, tacos, and money stuffed in the bride’s dress for good luck.
Friendship and Love ❤

Many drinks were consumed, dances danced, and toasts made before we stumbled back to our hotel rooms right on Gwangalli Beach. People from all over the world flew in to partake in the joy. Never in my life have I experienced such raucous and all-encompassing happiness. I never would have met these people from Oregon, Alabama, Rhode Island, Japan, Australia, South Africa, Canada, if I had never left home and come to Korea. Korea is a home I never thought I’d have, and never could replace.


One thought on “A Traditional Korean Wedding

  1. Truly a wedding of all weddings. Such culture, beauty & pageantry you see only in movies of times past. And it’s so inclusive to see waygooks in hanbok. What a wonderful wedding. Congratulations to Jaeyoung & Alex!


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