Wedding and Marriage in Joseon Part 2: Confucian Style

Continuing from the first part of the Joseon Wedding Series, this second part will be focusing on the steps leading to the wedding ceremony itself. Although the practice did undergo changes throughout the hundreds of years of Joseon and actually varies from one region to another, I will be focusing on the general one to avoid confusion, since this is intended to feed the curious minds of kdrama watchers and not for academical purposes. Still, it will be great if this series could be a stepping stone for people to dig deeper into the culture and spur more discoveries of interesting facts about this topic.

(read Part 1: History of Marriage Practice in Ancient Korea)

Part 2: Wedding Ceremony in Joseon Dynasty, influenced by Confucianism

In Joseon Dynasty, marriage was one of the Five Rites of Nation. The Five Rites of Nation or Gukjeoryeui (국제오례의), according to the National Code of Joseon, Gyeonggukdaejeon (경국대전) are: gilrye (길례) – ancestral worship rites; garye (가례) – royal weddings and congratulatory rites; gunrye (군례) – military rites; binrye (빈례) – reception of foreign envoys; and hyeongrye (형례) – funeral rites. As stated above, the term garye (가례, 嘉禮) was used to refer to royal wedding, whereas the ordinary wedding was referred to as honrye/hollye (혼례, 婚禮). The term honrye/hollye is used widely for things related to the ceremony; for instance, wedding attire or honryebok/hollyebok and the wedding ceremony itself or honryesik/hollyesik.

Joseon’s wedding practice, although having its share from the dynasty’s predecessors, was heavily influenced by the Chinese wedding custom. This is mostly due to the reference used, which was the Confucian practice, that had its roots in Chinese culture. In Confucian teaching, marriage is the basis of the Three Bonds and Five Relationships or Samgang Oryun (삼강오륜). The three bonds are: between husband and wife; father and son; and ruler and subject, while the five relationships are between father and son; older and younger brothers; husband and wife; older and younger friends; and between ruler and subject. Without marriage, these bonds and relationship will not exist.

Since Joseon was a state built on Confucian beliefs, the wedding ceremony also imitated that of traditional Chinese. According to the Book of Rites (Yegi 예기 in Korean), the traditional Chinese pre-wedding customs involved rituals known as Three Letters and Six Rites (三书六礼 san shu liu li or Samseo Yukrye 삼서육례 in Korean).

The three letters are: betrothal letter (pin shu 聘书), the official contract of marriage; gift letter (li shu 礼书), listing the gifts sent with the betrothal letter; and wedding letter (ying qin shu 迎亲书), functioning as a welcoming letter for the bride.

The six rites or etiquettes are:

  • Nacai (纳采): marriage proposal
  • Wenming (问名): finding bride’s name and birth date
  • Naji (纳吉): matching birth dates
  • Nazheng (纳征): betrothal gifts/bride price
  • Qingqi (请期): selecting auspicious day for wedding ceremony
  • Qinying (亲迎): wedding ceremony

The six rites were mentioned in Family Rites of Zhu Xi/Jujagarye (주자가례) or Zhuzi Jiali, also known by the name Chu Tzu’s Family Ritual. Their Korean transliterations are:

  • Napchae (납채, 納采): sending wedding proposal to the bride’s house
  • Munmyeong (문명, 問名): asking the bride’s name and/or about the mother’s family
  • Napgil (납길, 納吉): divination match to choose auspicious day
  • Napjing (납징, 納徵,): exchanging wedding gifts
  • Cheonggi (청기, 請期): sending letter with the wedding date
  • Chinyeong (친영, 親迎): greeting the bride

Some of the steps, such as munmyeong and cheonggi, were deemed complicated and prolonged the process, hence they were gradually excluded from the whole process. Hence, the six steps of wedding were further condensed into four steps in a guide known as Manual of the Four Rites or Saryepyeollam  (사례편람, 四禮便覽) The ‘four rites’ in the title refer to the basic rites in one’s life: capping/coming-of-age rites or gwallye (관례), wedding rites or hollye/garye (혼례/가례), funeral rites or sangrye (상례), and memorial rites or jerye (제례). The manual was a simplified guide to the rites written by Joseon scholar Yi Jae in late Joseon, which served as a guide for formal occasions in the dynasty. The condensed four steps of wedding ceremony in Joseon are:

  • Euihon (의혼): wedding negotiation and discussion
  • Napchae (납채): sending formal proposal and setting the date (combining napchae and munmyeong)
  • Nappye (납폐): sending gifts for the bride (combining napgil, napjing, and cheonggi)
  • Chinyeong (친영): greeting the bride

The four steps leading to wedding ceremony

Euihon 의혼(議婚)

The first step leading to the actual wedding ceremony is Euihon (의혼), which can be translated to marriage negotiation and discussion. There was no exact date when the actual marriage talks started for a potential match, because the talk would be brought up by either the families of both side or when a matchmaker was trying to set up potential families to become in laws.

In early Joseon, the practice of early marriage or johon (조혼) was prevalent, since during Goryeo Dynasty, parents would marry off their daughters before the girls reach 10 years old in order to avoid having their daughters being sent away to Yuan as tributes. However, after the court informed King Sejong that Jujagarye (주자가례) had stated that the age for the groom and bride should be 16 and 14 years old respectively, the king ordered for the age limit to be put into practice at instance. It was included in the National Code of Joseon that the age for the groom and bride should be 15 and 14 years old respectively at the time of the wedding. But there were exceptions allowed, should the parents of the bride or groom be sick or already 50 years old, then their children were allowed to be married at 12 years old in order to let the parents see them getting married and having a family of their own. Hence, the marriage talk could be brought up officially as early as 13 years old for commoners and noblemen, and of course, there were exceptions for royal family, whose marriage could take place as early as 8 years old.

The matchmaker, known as jungmaein (중매인) in Korean, served as a median between the families. Jungmaein went back and forth between the future bride and groom’s families to arrange the marriage, hence the term jungmaehon (중매혼) coined as Korean word for arranged marriage. The matchmaker played an important role in making or breaking the marriage deal, hence the person had to be someone who knew both families well in order to push the deal. Jungmaein – also called with various names such as jungmaejang 중매장, jungmae 중매, jungpa 중파(for male), jungshinaemi 중신애미, and maepa 매파 – was usually relatives of one of the families and someone who was known by both sides. This was important, as jungmaein would act as a spokesperson for both families in the negotiation, hence it was a necessary to find someone trustworthy to become the middleman and ensure that the tie that was about to be formed would not bring both families into jeopardy. Fun fact: although it was common for women to become maepa in other provinces, it was an entirely different case in Jeju Island back then; it was believed that the knots tied by female matchmaker would end badly, so families would opt for jungpa, thus decreasing the number of maepa in the area. Maybe someone’s marriage ended up in tragedy because of a bad matchmaking session, causing him/her to spread a rumour? Who knows..

Although the step was formally known as euihon, the more familiar term hondam (혼담) was commonly used to refer to such discussion, literally meaning ‘change of opinions on marriage’. This was literally where both sides could present all their good cards for the talk to proceed to the next stage, but it was also a chance for others, namely the surrounding people and the rumour, to play the bad cards, should either side had something nasty to hide from their potential match. It was (and still is!) better to be safe than sorry, so all things, rumour or not, need to taken into consideration. Matchmakers would travel back and forth between more prominent families to gain more insights into the prospective bride and groom, while for the humble commoners and middlemen, neighbours, relatives, and even people in the marketplace all played important roles in finding additional information on the prospects. The higher the status of both families, the more complicated the process would be.

Initially, both sides would share details about the prospective bride and groom, from age, education, and job, to personality and traits. This was also the best time to consider others’ opinion, because one would not want to take in a bride or groom with a reputation being the talk of the town. Sometimes, these could seal or break the deal, because families would surely try to sell the good image of their children, sometimes without even realizing that said children were famous for not-so-good things behind their backs. Besides the more personal talks about the couple themselves, family matters would also be discussed as marriage was not only the union of two souls but also two families. Hence, everything, from family wealth, customs, and political alliances to family history, including illnesses, would be taken into consideration. There were families that preferred hiding the skeletons in their closet in order to push through the marriage, so closer relatives to the couple such as mother or aunt would pay a visit to the in-laws to see it for herself instead of leaving everything to the maepa. Some would opt for a little test for the bride-to-be, by choosing a male relative to pose as a wandering traveller, asking for a cup of water at the bride’s house. This male relative had to be someone with discerning eyes to see how the bride would act in front of a stranger, without the presence of anyone she knew. So, being in your best behaviour is the way to go when you’re entering the marriage negotiation, instead of acting up and causing your suitor to back off. Those with history of getting ‘rejected’ would get the reputation for it and thus, making it harder to find another prospect in the nearest future.

Napchae 납채(納采)

After all the talks were done, then came the time to send the formal proposal. This stage, known as Napchae (납채), was where the formal proposal would be sent and the date for the wedding ceremony would be set. One interesting fact is the term itself: waiting anxiously for the answer that is the decision from the bride’s side. Although the deal started from both sides’ initial agreement, the final say would come from the bride’s family.

Since napchae was a formal proposal, the process itself was as formal as it could be. The initial proposal letter napchaeseo 납채서 (納采書), would be one of many marriage letters in Korean wedding custom. Unlike Chinese wedding with only three letters, traditional Korean wedding had a set of six letters which were considered the marriage letters. It had to be written by head of the prospective groom’s household, i.e. the father, grandfather, or the person leading the ancestral worship or jesa ritual, who was usually the most senior male of the household. This person would be honju (婚主) or the person presiding over the marriage in the family. The letter would be addressed to the most senior member of the prospective bride’s family – father, grandfather, or uncle – and sent to the bride’s house. The white letter would be wrapped with red and blue silk, tied with blue and red threads, and sealed with a white paper written with the character geunbong (근봉 謹封) on it, meaning ‘keep off’. Red and blue are important colours in Korean culture because they represents Yang and Yin respectively, and having them coexist together in balance and harmony is a much needed recipe for a happy marriage life of a man and a woman.

The groom’s family would choose a man, usually the groom’s older male relatives like uncle, brother, or cousin, to hold the position of saja 사자 (使者) or representative. Saja would have to don official attire, which was the official samogwandae attire during the visit. Together with the wooden goose or gireogi (기러기), he would bring napchaeseo with him, joined with the matchmaker and several servants in his entourage. Their arrival would be announced by the gatekeepers of the bride’s house, and the bride’s father would change into his official attire as well. The bride’s father greeted the entourage at the gate and tea would be served before the saja presented the napchaeseo and his formal greeting. He would propose formally and waited for the reply outside the gate. If the bride’s side agreed, the saja would bow twice facing north. The father of the bride would report the occasion to the family shrine or altar while food and drinks were served to the groom’s entourage. After they returned home, the bride side would again report it to the family shrine. As for the saja, he would return to groom’s family and presented the dapryeseo 답례서 (答禮書). It was the letter functioning as a formal reply to napchaeseo, at the same time requesting the letter at the bride’s house or saju.

Saju 사주 (四柱) or Four Pillars was actually document detailing hour, date, month and year of birth written using the Stem-and-Branch or ganji 간지(干支) method and compared with Five Elements or Ohaeng (五行) namely Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, by diviner. Also known as saseong (四星), judan (柱單), danja (單子), and sajudanja (四柱單子), saju was to be used for assessing marriage compatibility (gunghap), life fortune (gilhyung), and the auspicious date for the ceremony (taekil). Attached with the saju was a formal letter asking for the bride’s saju. The bride’s family would receive the document and present it to the family altar. The groom representative then brought the acceptance letter or bokseo복서(復書) from the bride, and honju reported it to the family altar. Later, this step of requesting the bride’s saju was omitted and the marriage was considered on if the bride accepted the groom’s saju without returning it. Saju itself was also sent together with napchaeseo in shortcut instances, for example when the two families were already familiar with each other. The formal proposal letter or cheonghonseo 청혼서 (請婚書), written with the intention of asking for a hand in the marriage, was sent together with saju.  The day for sending the saju was usually chosen on the day with no ‘guest’ (손없는 날) aka evil spirits (ghosts) that disturb everyday activities so that the process would run smoothly. The good days would be on the 9th, 10th, 19th, 20th, 29th, 30th of the lunar month. There’s a procession itself to send the saju to the bride’s house, joined by the matchmaker, the groom’s mother, and women in the groom’s household who were deemed lucky to bless the way. After it was received by the bride’s parents themselves or the relatives in the main hall of the house, they would take a look at the groom’s saju to predict the fortune of the prospective match before sending it to a trusted diviner.

As stated before, saju was not only important in determining the marriage compatibility and prosperity, but also the auspicious day for the wedding march. In the process called yeongil (연길),  the saju of both groom and bride-to-be would be compared by the diviner to find an auspicious date for the big day. The selected date, also known as taekil (택일), napgil (납길), and nal badi (날받이), would be written in a document, yeongilseo 연길서 (涓吉書) or taekil danja 택일단자 (擇日單子). The date chosen for the ceremony would avoid bad luck ones, and in some instance, yeongilseo would also include exact hour and date for sending the gifts and greeting the bride. Yeongilseo was sent together with two letters: napgiseo 납기서 (納期書) or divination match letter as a reply to napchaeseo; and heohonseo 허혼서 (許婚書), the letter of approval for the marriage from the bride’s family. Also called cheonggiseo (請期書), heohonseo was the reply received by the groom side, marking the beginning of the conjugal ties between two families and it was time for the wedding gifts.

Nappye납폐 ()

Upon the delivery of the auspicious date, preparation would be made to send the wedding gifts to the bride house. This tradition of nappye 납폐 symbolized the groom family’s gratitude for the permission to marry the house’s daughter. Thus, the groom would send wedding gifts including the blue and red silk, as well as jewelry and other expenses related to the wedding. It was also a form of dowry from the groom’s side. The gifts would be put inside a big chest called ham 함, and the person carrying it was called hamjinaebi 함진애비, chosen among the male servants with many lucks and bore many sons. There were regions that practiced songbok 송복 or sending pre-wedding gifts. Just like the wedding chest, songbok would include various items, for instance clothes for the bride, blanket, silk, cotton, jewelry, liquor, and sticky rice cakes. In the regions where the bride would make clothes for her husband-to-be, the gifts would be sent early to make sure it would be ready for the occasion. The jewelry would be sent in advance together with songbok and not included in the wedding chest, since the ham would only be delivered at later date, either on the day before the ceremony or on the ceremony day itself.

The ham was also called chaedan 채단 (采緞) because of the main content, which were bolts of blue and red silks. Inside the box, a plain white paper would be placed at the bottom. Five Grains pouch or ogokjumeoni 오곡주머니 were placed next, containing various seeds and grains following the respective region’s custom. Each seed and grain had their own symbolization: for instance, cotton seeds wishing for continuity of the family line and prosperity; yellow beans symbolizing the wish for the bride’s soft nature; sticky rice for the couple’s ties to be strengthened with each passing year; incense for auspicious future; pepper seeds to ward off ghosts; and tea, symbolizing a wife’s devotion to serve her husband. Then, blue silk tied with red string and red silk tied with blue string were put inside the box before it was filled with various items: jewelery like hairpins and rings, and clothes for the bride. The box would be wrapped with blue and red cloth before tied with white fabric to be used as shoulder straps to be carried by hamjinaebi.

There were two letters to be sent together with the ham: nappyeseo 납폐서 (納幣書) or the wedding gift letter; and honseoji 혼서지 (婚書紙), the actual wedding letter, also known with other names like yeseoji예서지 (禮書紙) and yejangji예장지(禮狀紙). These two letters would be included with the ham to identify the sender. Honseo particularly would become a prized possession of the bride, who would cherish it as it symbolized her devotion: ilbujongsa (一夫從事), meaning ‘one husband to the last’. Some would bring the promise to the afterlife literally, by bringing the letter with them in their coffins. Since the letter had to be opened before unboxing the ham, it was not put inside the box; instead, the letter would be wrapped inside a red silk cloth and given to the person leading the procession, usually the groom’s male relatives. On the day of sending the ham, the bride’s father would wear durumagi and the bride-to-be yellow jeogori and red chima. The wedding gifts procession would be welcomed with food and drinks served in a feast to celebrate the happy event. According to local custom, the bride’s mother would be the one receiving and opening the ham, and the colour of the silk she took out first was believed to determine the gender of the couple’s future first child: red silk for boy, and blue silk for girl.

Chinyeong 친영 (親)

This was the last and the longest stage of the wedding, which included the grand wedding ceremony itself. Chinyeong 친영 was the stage in which the bride and groom met each other, just like the term suggested: meeting someone closely. The term chinyeong was mostly used for the major wedding like those for the royal family, while the common term for it was daerye or major ceremony, referring to the wedding ritual itself. The stage could be divided into two parts: daerye 대례, which took part at the bride’s house; and hurye 후례, which would take place in the groom’s house. Daerye was the actual wedding ceremony and held between ten days and a few months after the wedding gifts were sent to the bride, as chosen by the diviner after comparing the birth dates of both groom and bride. The wedding ceremony usually took place between the winter and early spring: it was the time when the farmers were resting and the harvest was done, so there was plenty of food for the ceremony. Plus, the cold weather was the best time since there was low possibility of food going bad during the ceremony. This would be the first time the bride and groom see each other and the wedding would be held in the yard or garden of the bride’s house, with guests in attendance. Although it was a happy occasion and the ceremony would be filled with laughter from the guests, the bride and groom were to maintain their serious expression from the beginning until the end.

On the day of the wedding ceremony, both sides of the soon-to-be officially married couple’s family would prepare themselves early in the morning. The bride and groom would be brought to their respective family shrines to pay their respect to the ancestors, at the same time the head of the family would report about the ceremony to the family altar, asking for their blessings and protection over the whole procession. The bride and groom would pay respects in term of full bows to their respective parents. The head of the groom’s family would offer him drinks and give formal instruction for him to go to the bride’s house and fetch the household’s new daughter-in-law. As for the bride, her parents would instruct her to serve her in-laws with devotion and reverence.

Then, came the first of many official steps of the ceremony: the wedding procession. Known as chohaeng 초행 (初行), this was when the groom made his first official journey to the bride’s house. The groom would be wearing the samogwandae attire, which was the standard official attire for those working in government posts. He would ride a horse with the gireogi in his arms, holding a piece of purple cloth veil with sticks on two ends called saseon 사선 to hide his face. He would also bring with him a carriage for the bride, known as sure 수레. The groom’s entourage included a few people: the leader of the entourage or sanggaek 상객, usually the groom’s father or the person who acted as honju; the best man or huhaeng 후행, usually the groom’s best friend or close male relative; the person who carried the wedding chest or hamjinaebi; and the household’s servants, if there was any.

When the groom reached the bride’s village, he would be heading towards the temporary house to refresh himself before meeting his bride. Then, he would continue his journey to the bride’s house. Before encountering the major ceremonies of the wedding or daerye, the groom would have to go through the minor ceremony or sorye 소례 called jeonanrye 전안례 (奠雁礼). Jeonanrye was the ritual in which the groom would present the wooden goose to the bride’s parents. Originated from ancient China, the practice eventually vanished throughout the years and reintroduced in Joseon through the Manual of the Four Rites (Saryepyeollam). During the Three Kingdoms Period of Korea, the groom would bring pork and drinks to the bride’s house, but the custom changed with the influence of neo-Confucianism. Geese was chosen because the bird represented fidelity, as goose was known to be faithful to its mate by not mating with another partner. The live geese were preferred initially but due to the difficulty of getting them, it gradually changed into carved goose made from wood. A spot would be reserved for jeonanrye called jeonancheong and a small table called jeonansang with a red tablecloth was prepared there. The bride’s mother would light candles and the groom would put the gireogi on that table before performing a series of bows and double full bows. As the groom performed his bows, the bride’s mother would carry the gireogi to the bride’s room and threw it onto the floor. If the wooden goose landed on its bottom, the new family would be blessed with a boy as their first child; if it landed on its side, they would welcome a baby girl instead.

Next, came the first official meeting of the bride and groom. the bride would be brought outside to the place where the major ceremony or daerye 대례 would be held. The place was also referred to as choryecheong 초례청, because the rituals held there – gyobaerye and hapgeunrye – were collectively known as chorye 초례, hence the reason why the main table of the wedding ceremony went with different names, including choryesang 초례상, gyobaesang 교배상, daeryesang 대례상, and honryesang 혼례상. The main event was usually held inside the main hall or the house yard, with a tent called chail erected to shield the main table from the weather. The soon-to-be-married couple would stand facing each other behind a table laden with food and delicacies for the ceremony.

There were several things to be put on the huge table: red candle on the east side and blue candle on the west; pine tree and bamboo tree in flower pots tied to each other with red and blue strings, grains and local produce like chestnut, jujube, rice, beans; a pair of gourd halves; live rooster and hen wrapped in red and blue silk; and variety of things according to region and local custom. Smaller pair of tables were placed on the east and west side of the table, each laden with kettle, cup, and plate for wine drinking session. Washbasins and handkerchiefs for bride and groom were also prepared on both sides for handwashing. Live rooster and hen placed on the daeryesang symbolized the couple themselves: the rooster protects and feeds the hen and the chicks, fights the rooster next door to protect his area, and reminds people of the flowing time; the hen receives protection and raise the chicks faithfully.

In case the live chickens were unavailable, wooden mandarin ducks or wonyang 원양 or gireogi would take the chickens’ place on the table. Mandarin ducks and geese symbolized fidelity, and there was another interesting custom around the wooden birds: red and blue strings were tied around one the beaks, symbolizing how a wife should be quiet in assisting her husband.

The groom would stand on the east side of the table while the bride would be on the west side, following the concept of namdongyeoseo 남동여서 南東女西. In the step known as gyobaerye 교배례 (交拜禮), the bride and groom would bow to each other across the table. Previously called sanggyeonrye 상견례 or first meeting, the bows represented the promise to commit to each other for the rest of their lives, growing old together for hundred years like the saying baeknyeonhaero 백년해로 (百年偕老). There would be two attendants or sija 시자 helping the bride and the groom, and the couple would wash their hands, symbolizing the act of cleansing themselves before carrying out the bow. The red and blue candles were lit and the series of bows were carried out, instructed by the wedding officiator or honju. The bride would bow facing east (groom) and the groom bowed towards west (bride) in return. The number of bows differed between regions, with some having four full bows for bride and two for groom, while another version had three full bows plus one half bow for bride, and two full bows with one half bow for the groom.

In some regions and much longer rituals, the couple would swear to the Gods to lead good marriage life and promise to be a good partner to each other. However, the typical ceremony would move to the following step that was hapgeunrye 합근례 (合卺礼). This was the step in which the bride and groom exchange a cup of wine and drink. There were actually variations for this step: one was to have the couple drink from the same cup; the other was to use two cups made from halves of gourd called pyojubakjan 표주박잔; and another one was to use ordinary wine cups for the first two rounds before using the gourd cups for the last one. The usage of gourd symbolized that each of the bride and groom were made as halves and the marriage would bring them together, uniting them as a whole. The bride and groom would sit on the cushions placed on the same spot they did the bows. Wine would be poured and fruit would be served on the plate: date for groom and jujube for bride, symbolizing longevity and fertility. The groom would drink the wine first followed by the bride and this act was repeated according to regional practice: some regions passed the same cup back and forth between the bride and the groom, and there were practice of just touching lips on the cups without actually drinking the wedding wine and holding the cup to one’s chest before drinking it. The step would be concluded with the couple bowing together three times: once to the bride’s parents, once to the ancestors, and once to the guests. This marked the end of daerye.

The first night ritual, known as hapbangrye 합방례 or sinbang 신방, would be held on the night. The groom would greet the bride in the room and they would eat and drink together before going to bed. As for the young couple who was not yet ready for the full ritual, the groom would enter the room and sat together with the bride for a while before going out of the room. On the following day, an intense ice breaking session called dongsangrye 동상례 (東床禮) or sillang darugi 신랑다루기 (which literally translates to ‘handing the groom’) would be held. The family members of the bride or the villagers would come and ask difficult questions to the groom; should he fail to answer, he would be hit on the soles of his feet with a bat/stick/dried pollack, or worse, he would be hanged upside down. He would be rescued by his mother-in-law when she ‘bribed’ them with food and drinks. This was a way for the groom to get to know the bride’s family and neighbours better, and this would come in handy later as they lived in the community.

On the third day of the wedding, the after ceremony or hurye 후례 would be carried out. This involved the bride’s initial journey outside her home to the groom’s house. The first step would be the procession known as woogwi 우귀 to the groom’s village. The groom would ride a horse while the bride would ride a litter or a palanquin, depending on their social status. The procession was also called shinhaeng 신행, literally meaning ‘new journey’ as it marked the first journey for the bride to join her in-laws’ family for the rest of her life. Just like how the groom was provided a short time to refresh himself after the long journey to his bride’s house, the bride was given some time to refresh her makeup and getting some snacks before they continue with the next step. They would be meeting the groom’s parents, in which the bride would be meeting her in-laws for the first time.

Hyeongurye 현구례 (見舅禮), which was the step of introducing the bride to the groom’s family, also included the visit to the family’s shrine in order to introduce the bride to the groom’s ancestors as the newest member to join the family in a formal audience with the ancestors or hyeonsadang 현사당 (見祠堂). The bride would be offering her first greeting to her in-laws in the ceremony known as pyebaek 폐백, which included offering food from her family. The groom’s family members would bless the new bride with gifts and also putting chestnuts and jujubes underneath the bride’s skirt when she performed the bow. Jujubes and chestnuts symbolized fertility and they hoped that the bride would be blessed with many sons to bring prosperity to the family. The words ‘date’ and ‘peanut’ have another meaning to them, as in the Chinese characters are homonyms to the word early and birth, respectively. Hence, blessing the newlyweds with jujubes/dates and nuts present the wishes of the elders to see them with children as soon as possible, early into their marriage. After all, one of the reasons behind marriage is to ensure the continuity of the family name and linage.

After spending some time with her in-laws, the bride would return and make her first visit to her natal home. The visit or geunchin 근친 usually took place after harvest so that the groom’s family would be able to send some grains to the bride’s family. The bride would then stay for a week, a month, or even a year with her natal family before returning to her in-laws, while the groom would travel back and forth between the two families. Wedding ritual would be officially concluded after the wife returned to her husband’s house.

That’s all about the four steps wedding ceremony of traditional Korea, particularly in Joseon. See you in part 3, in which the royal Joseon wedding culture will be discussed in detail.

Sources: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 |

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9 thoughts on “Wedding and Marriage in Joseon Part 2: Confucian Style

  1. Yay! You’re back with the part 2! Two questions.
    1. The bride’s attire worn by future Queen Dankyung in 7DQ was very different from what we see in other Sageuks. Was it because they were in the earlier stage of Joseon dynasty?
    2. You said ” life fortune (gilhyung), and the auspicious date for the ceremony (taekil)”. Side-question. Does a child named Gil-hyung mean “life fortune”? Does the name Dae-gil mean auspicious date, too?

    1. At last, more than two years after Part 1! I hope it doesn’t take another two years for me to publish Part 3 😅

      1- Yes, that was a different bridal coat originated from Chinese Ming Dynasty. I can’t recall what the exact name is in Korean since the notes are at home (I’m at work hehe) but it will be covered in Part 4 😉
      2- The meaning for names, especially for Korean names, depends on the Hanja characters. Unless we know the exact characters, we can’t really determine the exact meaning. But I think Dae-gil means great path..because it’s more logical to name your child as such?

      1. Ok then. If the said name Gil-hyung is written with the characters used for the term Gil-hyung, it means the same right?

  2. And oh, I suddenly had this thought while looking at your screencaps. The blue is supposed to symbolise bride and red is for groom right?
    Now, when the groom happens to wear the BLUE civil servant robes and if the bride’s robes turn out to be red, won’t that be some crisscross meta?

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