Chickens and Supreme Leader: What Weddings Look Like In North Korea

In Depth

In a series on life inside North Korea, NK News has been asking defectors about the customs and traditions they observed before they fled the country. This week, the questions were all about weddings, receptions, and honeymoons. It’s all predictably grim, but also fascinating. And, if you hate bouquet tosses, the good news is that the practice is verboten in NK.

According to NK News, happy couples in NK must plan their weddings carefully, making sure that their desired dates don’t fall on April 15th or February 16th (the birthdays of former leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il; these days belong only to them) and that they leave plenty of time to visit the statue of Kim Il-sung, where all couples place flowers and many take photos out of a sense of obligation.

Here’s what the actual ceremony looks like:

Most ceremonies are still held in the traditional way, passed down for generations. If you’ve ever watched a Korean drama, most often they depict the bride and groom wearing traditional hanbok dresses, with their neighbours and relatives coming to congratulate them while enjoying food and liquor, which is true to life for most North Koreans.
For the laborers and farmers who can’t afford gifts, borrowing some food from the market is customary. They pay the vendors to rent the goods, have photos taken and return them afterwards.
For more affluent people, money is often given to the happy couple on arrival, with party officials giving US dollars, a sign of their status.

At the reception, guests can expect to be met by a live hen and rooster, the beaks of which will be stuffed with chilis, dates, and flowers. It’s an old tradition that’s still practiced today. And while it may seem like weddings would be utilitarian and small, NK News reports that for people who are higher up in government, the parties are huge, filling out VIP lounges and ballrooms at exclusive hotels. The groom is likely to receive a watch.

What happens the day after a wedding? Well, if you were living in South Korea, you might go abroad or spend a few days at home to honeymoon. In North Korea, however, newlyweds are expected to return to work the next day—the concept of a post-nuptial vacation is as unfathomable as having a wedding on the date of a supreme leader’s birthday.

NK News’ series, which attacks a new topic in North Korean culture every week has also covered the issues of how North Koreans get their news, whether they keep pets, and how women are treated in NK society. You can read the entire collection here.

Contact the author at [email protected].

Image via Clay Gilliland/Flickr (h/t Guardian).

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