Both traditional and contemporary Korean weddings involve many gift-giving customs, starting from the day of the betrothal to a few days after the actual wedding ceremony takes place. The bride and groom give gifts to their respective in-laws, the families give gifts to the bride and groom, and wedding guests typically contribute some small monetary gift to the newlyweds as well.
Betrothal and Engagement
At betrothal, Korean custom held that the groom's family would send a chest called a "hahm" filled with marriage gifts, like gold or jewelry, and a marriage letter for the bride, though a piece of luggage typically replaces the chest where the tradition still continues today. The groom's friends carry the hahm to the bride's family and chant "Hahm for sale, hahm for sale" until the bride's family rushes out and engages the group in humorous negotiations. Contemporary Korean-American engagement parties take place in restaurants. Family members make formal introductions and exchange gifts, sometimes worth up to $30,000 to $40,000 depending on the degree of closeness or familiarity.
Gifts from the Groom
Prior to the wedding ceremony, the groom traditionally presents his soon-to-be mother-in-law with a wild goose. Wild geese only have one mate throughout their entire lives. By presenting his bride's mother with a wild goose, the groom pledges his fidelity to his bride and promises his future mother-in-law to care for her daughter for the rest of their lives. The old tradition used a live goose, but when repeated today, the groom brings a wooden goose called a "kirogi" instead.
Gifts from the Bride
A few days after the actual wedding ceremony takes place, the new bride and her groom visit the groom's family for a family-only ceremony called the "pyebaek" in which the bride offers dried dates and chestnuts, or jujubes, to the groom's parents. These symbols represent children. The bride's new in-laws offer her tea in return and at the end of the ceremony, toss the dates at chestnuts to her for her to catch with her skirt. For Korean-American newlyweds in the United States, the ceremony sometimes occurs at the reception.
Gifts from Guests
Korean weddings traditionally include hundreds of guests whom the bride and groom may barely know. Most guests simply hand the parents, who pay for most of the costs, an envelope with a monetary gift of $30 to $100. These gifts typically offset most of the high costs of the wedding, sometimes even leaving a small amount to help start the newlywed couple's future. Close friends of the bride and groom often hand their monetary gift directly to the couple, and very close friends may give personal gifts like sleepwear.
Caitlynn Lowe has been writing since 2006 and has been a contributing writer for Huntington University's "Mnemosyne" and "Huntingtonian." Her writing has also been in "Ictus" and "Struggle Creek: A Novel Story." Lowe earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Huntington University.