KOREAN PAEBAEK CEREMONY WITH LEEHWA WEDDING
The Korean Traditional Paebaek Tea Ceremony was historically a ritual where the groom’s family formally accepted the bride into their home and also allowed the bride to pay her respects to the groom’s family and relatives. It is now popularly performed as a way for the new couple to pay their respects to both sides of the parents and family members, while also receiving blessings for their new union. It is typically performed after the Western wedding ceremony and in front of all family and guests during the cocktail hour, as part of the wedding program for all to view and enjoy!
Preparation & Elements of the Table
The most important and historical part of the Paebaek Tea Ceremony is the table laden with various edibles and tea. The dates on the table symbolize for the couple to rise early and work hard while the chestnuts help ward off evil spirits. (While chestnuts are in season during Fall/Winter, walnuts are used in place of chestnuts during Spring/Summer seasons) Dried meats and sweets on the platter represent for the mother-in-law to take her new son-in-law with kindness and generosity while ginkgo nuts represent the parents’ eternal faith to their sons. There are usually nine food offerings, each a symbol of fullness representing the new couple’s lifelong reunion.
The bride and groom enter together dressed in ceremonial Korean wedding attire while the groom’s parents are already seated in front of the backdrop panel. The bride wears the Korean traditional Paebaek robe over her hanbok and sometimes will also place red dots (stickers / makeup) on the face to represent ruddy cheeks, which symbolizes youth and virginity.
The groom’s Paebaek robe closely resemble those worn by the lowest ranking officials during the Chosun Dynasty. As a marriage represented the most important event in a man’s life, the groom was allowed to wear this royal uniform, even though he did not hold any position in the palace.
Family members, starting with the groom’s parents, then the bride’s parents, and then on to the more distant relatives, will take their turns sitting in front of the table laden with various edibles and tea, to receive their bow from the couple.
The bride will stand, put the back of her hands against her forehead, and holding that position, slowly kneel and bow until the hands touch the ground in front of her. The bride will need help from her bridesmaids to kneel properly.
The groom will just kneel slowly, placing his hands on the ground and lower his head. After the first full bow, the couple will stand up and perform another half bow from the standing position before taking their seats. It is also customary for distant relatives receiving bows to bow in unison while they sit.
Serving the Tea/Wine
The bride and groom serve tea or rice wine to each set of parents and relatives after they bow. Although the bride should hand the tea to the parents, because of her long sleeves, she will have a bridesmaid/aunt to deliver the tea to the parents sitting across from her.
Words of Wisdom/Blessing:
After the parents and relatives drink the tea, in turn, they offer words of wisdom and blessings to the couple. They will also sometimes give them white envelopes filled with money to start the new couple on their way.
Tossing of the Chestnuts & Dates
The parents will throw dates and chestnuts, which the bride and groom will attempt to catch with the bride’s apron. According to legend, the number of dates and chestnuts caught signifies how many girls (chestnuts) and boys (dates) they would bear. Later in the evening, the bride and groom are supposed to eat the dates and chestnuts they caught to make everything come true.
Carrying the Bride
As a public display of strength, the groom carries his new bride on his back around the table. Next, the groom carries his mother-in-law to thank her for raising her daughter so well. Finally, the groom carries his own mother around the table.
These moments as well as the Paebaek Ceremony, in general, offer great photo opportunities and lasting cherished memories. This is the reason why many Korean-American couples incorporate this tradition into their wedding even today.