One thing I really love about travelling is the little cultural titbits you can learn along the way. On a recent visit to Seoul I saw and bought an adorable pair of wooden ducks. They aren’t just for decor though, as you’re about to discover.
A bird in the hand.
Apparently, the price of love used to be a pair of live ducks or geese. The groom-to-be would purchase the feathery love tokens and bestow them as a gift to his prospective brides family. Eventually this tradition gave way to one that demands less actual upkeep; wooden ducks. The couple used to select a man they considered good and honourable to carve the ducks for them. He also had to be a close friend and meet 5 fortunes. So no pressure. The fortunes were:
- Be wealthy.
- Be healthy.
- Have a good wife.
- No divorces, or relatives with divorces.
- Have many sons.
The reason? It was thought that these great qualities would be etched into the ducks, and that the fortune would be passed on to the newlyweds. whilst carving, the chosen artisan would pray for peace, prosperity, happiness, and abundant offspring.
These days a good man is hard to find, so almost all ducks are now mass produced. The female ducks usually appear red, and the males blue. Often, neither will be coloured but one or both may have a ribbon tied around their beak. A red ribbon around the beak of the female duck is said to symbolise a wife’s position as a quiet support to her husband, a ribbon around each beak is said to show silence as a virtue. They are popular not only as wedding gifts, but souvenirs, and are very common in high-tourist areas across South Korea.
A mate for life.
A specific breed of duck is used in these little love carvings; the Mandarin. Why? Unlike other species of water fowl, Mandarins are said to mate for life, and mourn the loss of their beloved when death parts them, surely a good omen for a happy marriage. Mandarin ducks also represent fertility, peace, and fidelity in South Korean culture.
Modern South Korean weddings.
Sadly, the humble mandarin isn’t as common in wedding ceremonies as they used to be. However, some traditionalists may still include them. If that’s the case, here’s how they are incorporated:
- Prior to the ceremony, the ducks are wrapped in cloth with only the heads and necks exposed.
- Upon arrival of the bride, the ducks are placed on a table where the wedding ceremony will be carried out.
- After the couple are declared husband and wife, the mother in law will throw (!) the female duck at her new daughter-in-law. If she catches it in her apron, it is believed the first born child will be a boy. If she misses, a girl.
Post wedding life.
The ducks’ work is not done. Upon arrival to the matrimonial home, they are to be displayed prominently. When there is harmony in the home, the ducks are oriented to face one another. If there is discourse, one or more duck is turned away, so they are no longer gazing lovingly into one another’s eyes. In some families, wedding ducks (Hangul/ 원앙세트 in Korean) are passed down from mothers to daughters for generations.
Authors own wedding ducks, displaying matrimonial bliss.