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Posted : 2013-06-25 17:00
Updated : 2013-06-25 17:00

Couples prefer simpler weddings

A bride and groom exchange a wedding vow during the ceremony held without an officiator. Some young couples have their fathers preside over the ceremony for a simpler wedding. / Korea Times file

By Kwon Ji-youn, Yoon Sung-won, Park Jin-hai

Although many Korean couples still prefer the traditional extravagant wedding attended by several hundred guests, more Koreans have become open to holding a simpler ceremony.

This gradual shift suggests younger generations are placing more importance on the meaning of marriage rather than to the vanity and formality.

The continuing economic slump and a changing view about marriage among young Koreans have played their parts.

The simpler, the better

According to a survey conducted earlier this year by the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs, 40.4 percent of men and 19.4 percent of women replied that economic instability was holding them back from tying the knot.

And when couples do get married, they have opted for custom weddings that are simpler and less expensive. They try to minimize costs by taking alternatives regarding wedding photos, dresses, and make-up, which are said to be the three most pricy wedding preparations.

"We select what procedures we find important to our celebration and skip unnecessary ones," said 32-year-old bride-to-be Jang Bo-bae. "For instance, to me, it is important that I have an exquisite dress and a beautiful photograph to hang in our bedroom."

But instead of having their portraits done by a professional photographer in a studio, Jang and her fiance decided to take wedding photographs in their own way.

"My fiance and I had a variety of choices from asking a friend with great photographic skills to take our wedding photos to hiring a freelance photographer who would take candid photos of us outside a studio," said Nam Bo-hye, a 26-year-old who will get married on Sept. 1. "And both options would cost less than having photographs taken in a studio."

Actor Jang Dong-gun poses with actress Ko So-young in their studio-setting wedding photograph. Other couples prefer to have their wedding photographs taken by friends or freelance photographers, instead of professional ones. / Korea Times file

Some couples wait until their honeymoon to have their wedding photographs taken. That way, they can take more natural photos in a foreign setting.

Brides-to-be also buy well-designed yet less expensive dresses online.

"They are called ‘self-wedding dresses,'" Nam added. "One can even purchase bridesmaid dresses cheap online."

The families of the bride and groom have also changed their preferences for wedding gifts, or "yemul."

Traditionally, Koreans exchanged wedding gifts before the event. Offering yemul means that the newlyweds are paying tribute to their parents' lifetime contribution to raising their children. But a growing number of families are starting to prefer to receive cash instead of presents, so that they can buy what they actually need.

"More brides and grooms tend to prefer cash, along with a letter of gratitude as yemul," Nam said. "My family prepared three of many items that are traditionally included in the yemul as a sign of sincerity."

Young couples are also opting for mobile wedding invitations to make them even simpler.
Written and hand-delivered invitations are still a must for important wedding guests, but mobile invitations are more convenient to send to guests who are more comfortable with doing away with tradition.

"Most importantly, however, parents on both sides need to be okay with skipping certain customs that are traditionally considered important to our parent generation," Nam added. "For us, a simpler wedding was possible because parents on both sides were supportive of our plan to make our wedding as convenient as possible but still significant."

Choi Jong-hak, chief wedding manager at Chuka Club, a wedding consulting agency in Nonhyeon-dong, southern Seoul, said that changes to wedding traditions don't stop there.

"Traditional weddings always had an ordained minister and a host, but recently, couples don't invite ministers to marry them," Choi said. "Instead, the father of either the bride or groom presides over the ceremony."

Choi emphasized that weddings these days are like parties. It is less about the union of families and more about the union of a man and woman in the bond of holy matrimony. "Some weddings are like performances, like musicals," he said.

Necessary traditions

Not all parents are supportive of omitting traditional steps in weddings.

Kim Sung-yeon, a 32-year-old bank teller, thought that her wedding would be a frugal one.
"I thought that if the two of us agreed to have a simple wedding, then our parents would understand why we were skipping the tradition of giving overly expensive wedding gifts to each other's families," said Kim.

"At first they seemed okay with the idea, but as the wedding day approached, they began to mention a list of ‘at leasts,'" she said, referring to a list of minimal preparations their parents suggested to make sure wedding traditions were not completely neglected.

For example, her fiance's mother called her and said she would lose face if basic gifts were not prepared for their relatives.

Thus, Kim registered for a long list of presents from well-known and expensive brands, totaling 10 million won.

Park Eun-jung, another bride-to-be, experienced difficulty preparing wedding gifts for her groom's extended family.

She said that it is difficult to brush off parents' requests for a formal wedding, which requires expensive and often not-so-practical wedding gifts.

But in some unfortunate cases, couples end up arguing about whose family should receive more wedding gifts. Some of them have even called their wedding off because of this.

"I am an office worker with a university degree, and my fiancé works for a bank and graduated from Yonsei University, a prestigious university here in Korea, said a 34-year-old bride-to-be surnamed Son. "Because of his background, his mother expected me to be grateful for his proposal and requested expensive bags and jewelry."

Son said that she did not want to enter into such a demeaning marriage and walked away from the wedding.

"There are many practices that should be made obsolete," Son said. "For instance, the cash present given to the groom's family is total nonsense. Some 10 million won goes to the groom, and then half comes back to the bride to be used to prepare for the wedding. Why the hustle and bustle?"

Customary tributes

In contrast to Son, Park Seung-jin, an office worker in his late 30s, said that it is not a good idea to walk down the aisle having skipped all traditions.

"I feel that doing so would just be ignorance on our part," he said. "We would be ignoring our tradition as well as our parent."

He claims that although traditions such as exchanges of yemul have borne many ill effects, there is nothing wrong with the tradition itself.

Some agree that receiving wedding gifts that otherwise would have been considered extravagant is okay.

"Weddings only happen once in a lifetime," said Jang, a 31-year-old newlywed. "My married friends all advised that I should get what I can."

If such a mentality persists, the ongoing changes have only a limited effect on the wedding culture in general. No one can rule out the possibility of returning to the old tradition of a wedding when the economy shows a full-blown recovery.

However, in the long run, it seems that the tradition will hold water for long on the back of rapid socioeconomic changes. Younger generations today tend to regard marriage as a matter of choice rather than obligation.