Traditions Field Note

Taerye, Korea’s “Great Ceremony”

Abstract: Last weekend, one of my old Korean classmates from my university in Taiwan invited me to join him for a very special celebration in Seoul. He had gathered two families, lots of friends, and a very beautiful girl to join him in this traditional Korean ceremony. Can you guess what it might be?


Almost five years ago, I was a student at National Central University in Taiwan. There were many international students there as well. A few of them were Korean and we became good friends over the course of our semester. After we all graduated, we had to say goodbye and head back home. Once I got to Korea for my semester here, I was overjoyed to meet up with my old friends once again!

Last week, one of those friends gave me a call and asked me if I was free on Saturday. I told him I would have time and that I would like to meet up, but I had no idea what he was planning! He was getting married! He told me that he would hold a traditional Korean wedding ceremony and that I was very welcome to join. I thought that this would be the perfect chance for me to learn about this very unique part of Korean culture! I can’t wait to show you everything I learned!  

What tradition did I learn about?

There are many parts to a Korean wedding and it is full of ancient symbols and rituals. Even when I asked my Korean friends, many of them said they did not understand what most of the actions meant. I have mentioned in my other articles that Korea seems to have two faces. One is its ancient history and culture. The other is its modern, high-tech, high-fashion side. Sadly, the modern side is causing many people to forget about the historical side.

Young people in Korea today often choose to have a western style wedding instead of the traditional Korean style. Many of them feel that the Western wedding is easier and more fashionable. Because of this, fewer and fewer people choose to continue the old traditions. Over two generations, many of the original traditions can be forgotten. Maybe only scholars and historians will remember traditional practices through their texts and studies.

Thankfully, a few of my friends still know about the wedding ritual. They first explained the beautiful clothing the bride and groom were wearing. The style of clothing is called Hanbok which simply means traditional Korean clothing. Both outfits begin with white silk long underwear. Over this, the man will wear a long robe called a Dan-ryeong. He then puts on his black hat, Sa-mo, and belt, Gak-dae.

The bride first puts on a top with long sleeves called a Chogori. The ends of the Chogori are long and white with intricate floral prints. The dress of the bride is called Dae-lan Chi-ma. It is very wide and just long enough to cover the bride’s shoes. I don’t know why she would want to cover them up though. The shoes are made of delicate silk and have a curved toe that makes them look like a cute little boat!

The most interesting thing I noticed about the bride was not a part of her clothes, but her special makeup on her face. The old folk beliefs, like believing in bad spirits, can still be seen in many parts of the wedding ceremony. One example are the bright red dots in three places on the bride’s face. The color red is used because it was believed to scare away evil spirits. Loud music and red beans are also used to scare away ghosts during the wedding.

The Korean need for balance and harmony between people is seen throughout the ceremony. In the beginning of the event, I saw the bride bow to the groom twice and the groom bow once in return. Then they repeated the whole thing over again. My friends told me that the woman bowed twice because it is an even number and the man bowed once because it is an odd number. In this way they represent two opposite sides, man and woman, even and odd, dark and light.

After they bow to each other, they will bow together three more times. First, they bow to their parents, then to their ancestors, then finally to the guests of the wedding. This shows the respect the couple has for the others around them. In the end, they will stand together and slowly walk down the aisle out of the wedding grounds.

Just like the guests at an American wedding like to throw rice, the Korean guests will throw dry red beans and rice on the newly married couple. The rice represents the wealth of having plenty of food and the beans are to ward off bad luck. This combination should give the couple a great start in their new life together!

Why does the community have this tradition?

The Korean traditional wedding ceremony is called Daerye (Tay-Ryay). This word means “Great Ceremony”. The reason the ceremony is so great is because it is not thought of as just an event between two people. It is an event to connect two entire families.

It is easier to understand this when you find out that, in the distant past, many Koreans met their husband or wife for the very first time on the wedding day. The two people could not pick each other simply for their own love. The parents of both families would arrange the marriage for them. Have you heard of any other countries that arrange marriages like this?

Many communities that have arranged marriages do so because the marriage is used to make different groups of people get along. This can be to stop conflict or to enhance power and influence by combining two families. If two kingdoms often foght wars with each other, it was bad for both of them. The prince of one kingdom and the princess of another would be married together to promise harmony between the two kingdoms.

The ceremony itself became full of actions that were created to show the loyalty and strength of the connection being made. This system worked for royalty, regional lords and even regular families. Sometimes a family would even marry their beautiful daughter to a wealthy man so they could share his family’s wealth.

How is this tradition connected to its environment?

There was a table on the stage between the couple during the wedding. This table was covered with fruits and foods of all kinds that show the diverse bounty of Korean agriculture. Sitting with the food were two very colorful wooden ducks. I found out that the ducks are meant to look like a very special species of duck that that used to be very common in Korea. These ducks were known to pick a single mate for life. Because the Koreans noticed the natural loyalty of the ducks, they began to use them as a symbol for the permanent connection the wedding creates between the couple. Do you know of any other animals they could use that pick a partner for life?


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