THE KOREAN WEDDING DUCKSelecting the man who will carve a daughter's wedding duck is not an easy task. The man chosen must be a pure and honorable man, as well as a good friend. He must be the fortunate possessor of all of the FIVE FORTUNES. Above all, he must be truly willing and happy to perform the task when asked by his friend. The carving of the traditional wedding duck is a custom not taken lightly, for the man selected to carve the wedding duck shares his spirit and his fortunes with the lucky young couple. The personal traits of the carver (not his ability as a carver) are crucial, because it is his spirit, which enters into the symbol as well as his FIVE FORTUNES which are being shared with the bridal couple.
The carver may not accept money for his work, but rather must agree to carve the duck for the honor of the task. On the other hand, a prudent man must be careful nor to carve more than one duck in his lifetime, for with each duck he shares his own FIVE FORTUNES, and he cannot "share his fortunes" away. This may explain the crudeness and folk quality of some of the carvings. The FIVE FORTUNES of the carver are: 1. He must be rich, 2. He must be perfectly healthy, 3. Among his family (including his relatives) there must have been no divorces, 4. He has to have a "good wife" and 5. He must have many sons.
The significance of the sons is in keeping with the Confucian emphasis on family strength and continuity, but this FORTUNE carries an additional condition. For a man to have five children, but have only two watching him when he dies, means he can count only two children as his real children. He cannot count the others. To have all his children watch him die is part of the FIFTH FORTUNE. The duck-maker applies his whole spirit and energy to his task. While working with his knife, he prays in his heart that, generous portions of true happiness, luck and good fortune will bring peace, prosperity and many children (just as the duck has many eggs) to the bride and groom.
A daughter's wedding is a time of festivities whether the wedding occurs in Mexico, the United States, Europe or the Orient. Each country has its own customs, which make it a special time for the entire family. These times are no less exciting in Korea than in other countries. In Korea, though, a family prepares for this day from early childhood, for this is a special day in the daughter's life.
When it is time for the wedding, the duck must be wrapped with different colors of cloths (except the neck of the duck) and it is carried to the ceremony. The duck is placed on the table as soon as the daughter arrives. When the ceremony is over, the bride and groom bow to the groom's mother and father two and a half times. Then the groom's mother throws the duck to the apron of the bride. If the girl catches the duck, she, according to the tradition, will have a boy as the first child. If she missed, the first child will be a girl.
Next, the groom's mother throws several handfuls of jujubes to the outspread apron of the bride. These are good for the health and are used as a medicine. It symbolizes a healthy future. Finally, the mother of the groom throws some chestnuts to the bride. These are hard and strong and are a symbol of the strong sons to be born. The quantity caught is an omen of good health and many sons.
The duck is carried to the new home of the bridal pair and is displayed where they can easily see it. If the couple quarrels, one will point to the duck, which reminds them of the peaceful wedding, and will stop fighting.
The duck will be handed down from mother to daughter through the generations. The wedding duck symbolizes three things: 1. Peace, 2. Many children, and 3. No separations.
I've also heard it told that if the marriage is happy the ducks will remain displayed facing each other, if the marriage is enduring hardships, the ducks will be displayed tail to tail. The blue and red strings tied around the female duck's bill symbolize her submission. It seems the ridiculous concept of mutual submission has affected the duck making tradition as RLB and my ducks came with strings tied around both bills.
While they are cute keepsakes of our time spent in Korea, leave it to the Americans to make light of the tradition. On any given day, this is how you'll find our ducks displayed, courtesy of RLB: