North Koreans throw increasingly lavish wedding celebrations

Hanbok marriage
Korean traditional dress for marriage on display at a North Korean clothing store. / Image: Daily NK

With the growth of the market economy and the middle class in North Korea, wedding expenses have risen dramatically in a short period of time, sources in the country recently told Daily NK.

“Beginning in the 2010s, the lack of any special restrictions on market activities have led to steady incomes for a lot of North Koreans,” a Ryanggang Province-based source told Daily NK on Sunday. “The quality of the feasts for guests at the weddings of their children, their own 60th birthdays, or the first birthdays of babies has greatly improved.”

“Even brides and grooms who host ceremonies in their own homes have started to serve a variety of foods, such as meat and fish, and noodles. We didn’t see that so much in the past,” said the source. 

High-ranking party officials and other moneyed elite in Pyongyang and other major cities have begun to rent out large restaurants to provide guests with feasts. This stands in contrast to the past, when the families of the bride and groom would take turns hosting the wedding guests at their homes, Daily NK sources reported. 

Among business people earning a stable income, expenses for weddings, first-birthday parties, 60th birthday parties and other major family events have recently risen to several times what they used to be. Some North Korean business people spend large sums to host extravagant ceremonies, Daily NK sources also noted. 

The Ryanggang Province-based source told Daily NK about a seller of light industrial products (including clothes and shoes) at a market in Chongjin who recently spent RMB 12,000 (KRW 2 million) for his son’s wedding. That sum is about five or six times higher than the expenses for a North Korean wedding in the mid-2000s. The expenses went towards formal clothes for the wedding, food for the guests, and renting out space at a restaurant. 

“Increasingly the family of the bridegroom will give the bride cash rather than gifts,” the source added. “The cash is for the bride’s formal dress [hanbok] on the first day of the wedding, ordinary clothes for all four seasons, makeup, and wedding flowers. All this alone will cost about RMB 2,000–6,000.” 

RMB 2000 (about KRW 330,000) is equivalent to approximately KPW 2.5 million in the Sino-North Korean border region. RMB 6000 (about KRW one million) is equivalent to about KPW 72 million.

These wedding costs are significant when considering that a seller of light industrial products earns only about RMB 700-2,000 a month. 

The wedding season in North Korea typically begins in late October when the farming season has ended and lasts until February of the next year. The cost of renting a restaurant in the city to host a wedding during this period is relatively higher.

In Chongjin, a first birthday party for a baby will cost RMB 500–1,500, sources in North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK. A wedding can cost anywhere from RMB 2,000–15,000 and vary greatly depending on a family’s income. RMB 2,000–5,000 is sufficient to hold a well-stocked 60th birthday feast in the province. 

“Even up until a few years ago, spending this much to host a banquet was difficult for ordinary North Koreans, except the very wealthy,” the South Hamgyong Province-based source said. “Recently, it has become customary for city families to compete with each other to hold grand celebrations.”

Daily NK previously shed light on the growing disparity seen between weddings held by rich and poor North Koreans and, more recently, reported on the obstacles posed by restrictions on movement in the country that led to the cancellation of one North Korean couple’s wedding.

*Translated by Violet Kim

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@gmail.com.