Have you ever had the pleasure of watching a bride get a piggyback ride from her groom at a Korean wedding? Yep, you read that correctly. It was a new experience for me with Susie and Mike and I am so glad I had the opportunity to photograph this fun day of celebration. I did plenty of research before they said ‘naneunhanda’ (that’s ‘I do’ in Korean) and will share with you everything I discovered about photographing a traditional Korean pyebaek ceremony in NYC in today’s blog post.
First, let me introduce you to Susie and Mike. These two are high school sweethearts, in a roundabout way. They grew up together in Bath Beach, Brooklyn, but didn’t actually get together as a couple until after college. Susie: ‘We were close friends in high school and although we went to different colleges, and we stayed in touch. Before my senior year of college, we went out for dinner to catch-up and it turned into a date. We have been together ever since! June 17th was our 10-year anniversary.’
And how did Mike propose to Susie? ‘We live by the water in Brooklyn and last spring we tried to be more fit and run along the water. We both grew up in the area as well and have many memories playing by the walkway and park there. We went out for a run in late May. Mike said he wasn’t feeling great and I chalked it up to it being a very warm humid day. After about three quarters of a mile, Mike said he wasn’t going to make it and he said he would meet at the end. I get to our endpoint and wait as Mike walks towards me. We hang out by the water and start talking about our future. I didn’t think anything of it because we do this all the time. Mike was into wearing a fanny pack while running at the time and I would make fun of him for it a little. But that day, he pulled out a ring box from that very fanny pack and I said, ‘Wait, are you asking me a question?’ He nodded and I just said yes! I then realized that he was nervous and that was why he ‘wasn’t feeling so great’ earlier. I was in tears, but I was super surprised and very happy! We walked home together all smiles!’
Two Wedding Ceremonies
For their wedding, Susie and Mike decided to celebrate both Susie’s Korean heritage and their shared love of Brooklyn. That’s a lot to pack into one day, so the couple had a traditional Korean pyebaek ceremony on Wednesday, and a City Hall civil ceremony on Friday followed by photos and a family brunch in Brooklyn.
Traditional Korean Pyebaek Ceremony – History
The pyebaek ceremony is the segment of a traditional Korean wedding that celebrates family and bringing future children into the marriage. In the context of a traditional Korean wedding, the pyebaek ceremony normally happens last:
- Jeonanrye ceremony, where the groom presents a gift of a wild goose (now a wooden goose stand in is normally used) to represent the fact that wild geese are said to mate for life
- Kunbere ceremony, during which the bride and groom actually say their vows to one another
- Pyebaek ceremony (also spelled paebaek), in which family members offer dates and chestnuts as symbols of how many children the couple will later produce
Originally the pyebaek ceremony was reserved only for the groom’s side of the family as it was held after the wedding vows in the groom’s home as a way to introduce the bride to his family. Now, however, modern weddings are including the bride’s family into the ceremony and it has now become a wonderful custom to unite both families through tradition.
Traditional Korean Pyebaek Ceremony –
You no doubt will first note the beautiful robes Susie and Mike are wearing, so let’s start with details about their fantastic outfits worn during the pyebaek ceremony. Both the bride and groom wear a very detailed and colorful version of hanbok, or traditional Korean dress. The bride is attired in red while the groom is wearing blue to symbolize the Confucian concept of yin and yang: the bride’s female, red energy to that of her groom’s male, blue energy. Both the bride and groom’s robes are intricately embroidered and similar in style to those worn by queens and noblemen of medieval Korea. The bride’s crown, or jokduri, is designed after the cap worn by Mongolian women whenever they left the house. For the groom’s costume, the clothing is designed to resemble that of the lowest-ranking court officials of the Chosun Dynasty. (To find out more details about each piece of clothing worn in the pyebaek ceremony, check out this great link.)
Traditional Korean Pyebaek Ceremony –
The pyebaek ceremony begins with the parents of the groom sitting opposite the couple. The couple bows to the groom’s parents to show respect. The bride then offers a cup of rice wine or tea to the father, and the groom offers a cup to his mother. The parents then make a small speech. At the end, the groom’s parents throw dates (jujubes) or chestnuts, which the couple try and catch in the bride’s wedding skirt as a symbol of the number of grandchildren soon to come. The ceremony is then repeated for the bride’s parents.
After the traditional rites of respect, the fun really begins. The couple are supposed to eat a date together – one date, two mouths. Whoever gets the seed of the date is supposed to have the power in the relationship going forward. (Needless to say Susie and Mike opted out of this public power play.)
To work off the calories from that shared date, the groom is then supposed to give the bride a piggyback ride around the room to represent the groom’s ability to support his wife – both literally and figuratively – by taking his bride to her new home. In one article I read, even the mother-in-law and grandmothers get piggyback rides too.
Details of Susie and Mike’s
Traditional Korean Pyebaek Ceremony
The ceremony on Wednesday was held at the Forever Together Venue in Flushing (which was previously known as Dae Dong Manor). The venue has been in business for 35 years, and it specializes in having all the attire and traditional accessories necessary for traditional Korean wedding ceremonies. I found the staff at Forever Together to be wonderfully professional and the materials they provided for the couple – from the clothing to the floral displays – were top knotch. In case you don’t have the proper attire or jujubes on hand for your Korean wedding, I can well recommend this venue.
After the pyebaek ceremony, Susie and Mike hosted a dinner for their family in the venue. Traditional Korean dishes were served.
While the majority of the portraits for the ceremony were formal and taken in front of the beautiful painted screen, I couldn’t let that be the only portraits we took that day. In terms of more casual locations at Forever Together, your options are limited. This part of Flushing is quite residential, and the closest park is Bowne Park on 32nd Avenue. Susie and Mike wanted to enjoy dinner with their family, so I couldn’t take them as far as the park. Instead, I spirited them away to the roof of the building for a few photos. It’s an industrial background, but it worked in a pinch.
Susie and Mike’s City Hall ceremony on Friday went by amazingly quick. As you all may remember from my past City Hall wedding blogs, Friday is the day to avoid because of crowds. But Susie and Mike didn’t have to deal with any such hassle. The entire process took about an hour. I was amazed, but not that surprised. If you are ever planning to say ‘I do’ in a civil ceremony in New York City, the Manhattan City Clerk’s office is the most efficient place to go and they have without a doubt the kindest staff. I cannot recommend them enough (especially over Queens Borough Hall).
After they said ‘I do,’ the family and I took a quick ride over to Brooklyn Bridge Park where I concentrated their portraits around St. Ann’s Warehouse and Jane’s Carousel. These parts of the park will give you the most bang for your buck if you don’t have time to visit the Pier 1 section of the park. You can get excellent views of the bridge, and then if you have time (and patience) to wait for your turn, you can take a photo in front of the Manhattan Bridge near the Main Street Park section of the park. Examples from other Brooklyn Bridge Park photo shoots:
So there you have it, a traditional Korean pyebaek ceremony in a chestnut-shell. I adored working with Susie, Mike, and their wonderful friends and family. Their wedding day was a wonderful expression of who they are as a couple. If you are planning a similar wedding day and are wondering how to bring more tradition into your event, drop me a line and let’s chat.
Pyebaek wedding venue – Forever Together Venue (a.k.a., Dae Dong Manor); all attire, accessories, and catering provided by venue
Civil venue – Manhattan City Clerk’s Office
Bride’s dress at civil ceremony – ASOS
If you would like to see more images from my wedding photojournalism portfolio, then please visit my website – KellyWilliamsPhotographer.com