A Korean housewarming party

Written by on May 30, 2012 in Lifestyle

Question: What do you get when you put a new house, a new couple, lots of food, lots of friends, gifts of detergent and rolled tissue paper, mirth and merriment, all together? Answer: “Jipdeuri” (집들이), i.e. a Korean housewarming party.
In the old days, jipdeuri meant moving itself. After moving, the new tenants would hold a ritual to thank the spirits and pray for good luck and fortune in their new home, and in the evening, hold a feast for invited guests to celebrate this occasion. People would come with gifts of matches or candles so the new home would light up with good fortune and happiness. Sometimes people would bring embers from their old home to continue the fire of prosperity in their new home as well. Traditionally, men would enter through the front door while women would enter in the back.

Matches were once a traditional gift for jipdeuri

Things have changed a bit since then. Unlike the old days when families would live in the same house for generations, families move much more frequently these days; having a party for every move would be quite time-consuming. Also, not many houses can accommodate masses of guests at the same time, so several housewarming parties would have to be done in order to cover all the acquaintances the family has and coordinating the guests’ busy schedules to settle an appropriate date is again a daunting task in itself. So these days, housewarming parties are usually held by newlyweds to celebrate their moving in a new home together and their new start, and to share their happiness with others.

Food set up for a housewarming party

So what’s the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of a housewarming party? Without doubt, it’s food. If you enter “jipdeuri” in a Korean search engine the first related word search that pops up is food. In Korea, the jipdeuri of newlyweds is not only an occasion to show off the new house, but also an occasion to show off the cooking skills of the new bride. Despite women being significant contributors to the working force, it is still considered a virtue for women to be adept at housekeeping, among which cooking is the most important.
However, since many women are spending as much time at the workplace as their husbands and do not have ample time to cook by themselves – unless they enjoy cooking as a hobby, I’ve never heard of husbands cooking for a housewarming party (or any other party for that matter) ever – catering services for housewarming parties are also a huge trend. Sometimes the “catering service” is by the bride’s mother, so people often joke that a housewarming party is to verify the cooking skills of the mother-in-law. There are also many places that specialize in delivery jipdeuri food; all you have to do is reheat or rechill, plate, and set the table.
Since newlyweds usually do not have big dining tables, for a large gathering, they would set up sitting tables in the living room and people would gather around to sit and enjoy the feast, traditional style. The large sitting style table is called gyoja-sang (교자상), and these days they are made with collapsing legs for easy storage. Every Korean family has at least one, and in the need of another, it’s easy to borrow one from the neighbors or rent one.

Housewarming table setting for a cozy group

Not all housewarming parties are for large groups. In Korea, for some reason, friends you make in different situations rarely mingle together. For example, none of my friends from school have met my work colleagues, my friends from club activities have never met my school friends, and nobody really expects to. As a result, you wind up with a variety of groups of people you need to invite to a housewarming party. Starting from family and relatives, and then work colleagues, and then close friends of the groom and bride; all are invited separately. Newlyweds with an active social life usually spend months going through all the housewarming parties.

Japchae and galbijjim are standard dishes

What kind of food is served at jipdeuri? This really is up to the party hosts, although most housewarming parties would include a traditional Korean dish reminiscent of celebration and festivities such as tteok(, Korean rice cakes), galbi jjim (갈비찜, braised short ribs), japchae (채, stir-fried veggies and meat with glass noodles), and janchi guksu (잔치국수, party noodles). Grilling meat at the table such as samgyeopsal (삼겹살, pork belly) and bulgogi (불고기, marinated beef or pork) are popular, and on cold winter nights, jjigae (찌개, stew) is often served. Some opt for a more westernized style; there really is no rule to follow, and most people would just consider the tastes of the guests.

Tissue and roll paper are standard gifts

Because the need for candles and matches are much less, the standard gifts for housewarming parties have changed, too. Practicality wins over luxury for housewarming gifts, so these days people give detergent (for wealth to bubble up like soap suds) or rolls of tissue or kitchen towels (so tied up problems will unravel smoothly). You can literally wind up with a year’s worth of tissue products after a housewarming party. Usually close friends would just ask what the newlyweds need and get them that. A most recent development these days is gift money in an envelope with an accompanying note, most probably started by overworked people who don’t have time to go out and shop for a gift.

Making the newlyweds sing is a must

In addition to the eating and drinking and being merry, one of the staple features in jipdeuri is getting the newlyweds to sing. It’s not known when this custom actually started, but even before the days when TVs came equipped with noraebang functions, mikes and all, people would make the young couple stand and sing together, to see “how well they harmonize together”. This is so common that not only has this scene been featured in many K-dramas but also when you search “jipdeuri”, right next to “food” comes “jipdeuri songs”. Some newlyweds seriously practice to show off their harmonization skills aka their compatibility.
In a way, although jipdeuri is supposed to be a happy occasion, it comes with an even amount of stress, too. I’ve heard newlyweds sigh with relief when their jipdeuri duties are over, “Done with homework!” It’s like Koreans live as students their whole lives. I’ve also heard them confess impishly that if it weren’t for jipdeuri their houses would always be in a mess: “Great excuse to clean the house!” Weighing the good and the bad, it balances out pretty even.
As for the guests? It’s good, all the way. Head on over with a big bundle of tissue paper in hand, enjoy the food and drink, wish all the best for those in that new home. And if you are going to a newlywed’s jipdeuri? Be sure to make them sing. Happy jideuri!

About the Author

Suzy Chung

Multilingual editor, writer, and translator. Coffee addict, bookworm, art junkie, foodie, oenophile, and a billion other things. I tend to talk a lot. @suzyinseoul