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Marriage

Similar to the hwan-gap is the 60th wedding anniversary celebration. Not only does this anniversary mark the successful achievement of a long and productive life, it also celebrates that achievement with great fanfare because this longevity was shared by two people. One might wonder how it was possible that a couple live to see their 60th anniversary, but in the past, people usually married at an early age. During the Choson period, marriage at the age of 12 was not uncommon; women, however, generally married at the age of 16. The wife tended to be a couple of years older than the husband, especially among upper-class families. For financial reasons, males of the lower classes tended to marry at a later age. Nevertheless, people usually were married before the age of 20.

Boys and girls, from the age of seven, traditionally were not even allowed to sit in the same room. This left little chance for love to develop and, if by some chance, there was the igniting of a romantic spark, it was never allowed to be expressed. In Confucian society, the ability to repress one's emotions was regarded as a sign of good upbringing and education.

In the past, affection or love played no part in the choice of a spouse. The young couple had little or nothing to say in the matter since marriage usually was arranged by the parents with the aid of a matchmaker. The couple generally did not meet until the day of the wedding. Times have changed, however, and there are now two paths leading to marriage. The first, yonae, or a love match, involves the meeting, falling in love, and marriage of two people without the involvement of third party. The second, chungmae, or arranged marriage, involves the arranged meeting of two people by a go-between and leads, upon agreement of the two parties, to marriage.

As the year, month, day and hour of birth is thought to influence one's destiny, they require careful investigation. These critical times are referred to as the four pillars, saju. For example, if the four pillars are all deemed lucky, it is determined that the person in question will become a successful government official. If the four pillars are proved to be unlucky, however, it is believed that a person will be poor, die young, or suffer some other miserable misfortune.

After a thorough examination of the four pillars, it will further be determined if the couple can live harmoniously together as a married couple. Referred to as kunghap divination, the future fortunes of a couple's life together is divined by a fortuneteller, an event which is considered an essential part of the marriage process. Even though the four pillars of the couple in question are good, if the kunghap predicts difficulty or misfortunes, the two parties may lose interest and cancel plans for marriage.

When the four pillars and kunghap are considered acceptable, the couple becomes engaged. At the engagement ceremony, the two families get together at the girl's house or sometimes at a hotel or restaurant, but never at the boy's house. The two young people exchange gifts, and a piece of hand-made white paper on which the man's four pillars have been written is ceremoniously presented to the girl's family. A discussion follows and the marriage date is selected.

A few days before the scheduled marriage ceremony, the man's family usually sends a box (ham) containing gifts or yemul for the bride. These normally are yards of red and blue fabric for a traditional dress and jewelry. In the past, a servant usually carried the box, but nowadays friends of the bridegroom generally perform the honor.

The box was usually delivered at night and upon approaching the house, the carrier, with much frolicking and joking, would shout, "Buy a ham! Ham for sale." The ham would not be given to the parents of the bride until wine and food and a sum of money had been given in return. Upon receiving the money, the carrier would then present the ham to the bride's mother. For his services the carrier would be treated to a feast at which time the bride's mother would open the ham and examine the contents.

The traditional wedding ceremony normally was held at the bride's house, either in the front room or in the courtyard. It began with the bride and groom exchanging bows and drinks. This was done facing each other with the wedding table between them. On the table were red and blue threads, burning candles, red beans, rice, jujubes, chestnuts, dried persimmons, rice cakes and a pair of ducks which symbolize lasting conjugal affection. During the bowing ritual, the bride was usually assisted by an elderly female servant or one or two women well versed in wedding procedures.

With the approach of night, the newly married couple would retire to their prepared room. It was considered great sport for relatives to peep into the room by making holes in the paper doors. The bridegroom would first take off the bride's headpiece, undo her coat string, and remove only one of her socks. He would then put out the candle, being careful not to blow it out as it was thought to do so would bring bad luck. He would extinguish it with a stick prepared for this purpose. Once they entered the room, they could not leave until sunrise, when the young husband would then visit with his in-laws.

The newly married couple, accompanied by the bride's father or uncle and a small procession carrying various articles and gifts would travel to the bridegroom's home. The bride usually rode in a palanquin, while the bridegroom led the procession (shinhaeng) on horseback. The shinhaeng was followed by another ceremony called p'yebaek. This was the bride's first greeting to her parents-in-law and the other members of her husband's family. During this ceremony, the bride would bow to her husband's parents who were seated before a table of cooked chicken, jujubes, chestnuts, and fruits. Also at this time the bride would present the groom's parents with gifts of silk, and greetings were exchanged between them.

After staying a few days at the groom's house, the couple would again travel to the bride's home to report to her parents. At such a time there would be a large party to familiarize the groom with the bride's family, especially with the young men of the bride's clan group. This was characterized by much boisterousness and rough handling of the groom. Often times, the husband was encouraged to drink beyond his capacity; he was also playfully hit with dried fish or sticks.

Nowadays, weddings are usually held in public wedding halls. With the accompaniment of piano music, the bridegroom, wearing a Western-style suit, enters the hall where guests are seated and stands before the presiding person. The bride, dressed in a Western wedding gown, then enters the hall and escorted by her father, takes her place by the groom. Facing each other before the officiator, the bride and groom exchange vows and gifts. The officiator usually gives a lengthy sermon about love, marriage and the new social responsibilities involved in married life. The bride and groom then bow to the guests; photo sessions usually follow the ceremony in addition to a large feast.

Although the marriage ceremony itself has changed, many of the traditional practices and ceremonies leading to the marriage ceremony are still observed, although modified for today's modern lifestyle.

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Information provided by the Korean Embassy


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