Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Helen's Wedding

Yesterday my teammates and I attended our first Chinese wedding (reception).  The actual ceremony occurs throughout the day at the homes of the bride and groom, capped off by an evening banquet, which is what we were invited to.  First, pop over to my teammates' blog HERE for some great photos.  We took most of our pictures on a shared camera, and you can find them there.

Now for the re-cap.  This is one of the few occasions on which I plan to treat this blog as an actual journal.  I want a record of the event for myself, so I'll write it just like I write a real journal entry and invite you along.  If you're looking for the short version, just go to my teammates' blog HERE.

The Ceremony (Ceremonies?)

Every Chinese city seems to have its own wedding traditions, which vary a bit from place to place.  The bride and groom go to get their license a few days in advance, so nothing legally binding happens on the actual wedding day.  Helen and Sean got their official marriage documents on May 27 (527) which is pronounced "wu er qi" in Chinese, which sort of sounds like "wo ai qi," which means "I love my wife."  How romantic!  And this gives you an idea of how much Chinese people like the symbolism of numbers, same-sounding words, and choosing special dates.  Our friend who accompanied us to the wedding said she's never heard of a couple picking their wedding based on the day (Monday, Tuesday, etc.); they just pick a lucky day according to the lunar calendar.

In Qufu, they like to start weddings early in the morning, around 3:00 or 4:00.  The bride gets up earlier to have her make-up and hair done, and she is in for a long day.  The groom comes to the bride's home, where she is waiting with her bridesmaid(s) and friends.  Many times they deny the groom entry until he has paid them lots of envelopes of small cash.  When he finally comes in, sometimes there are additional traditions.  (For example, I've heard that some bridesmaids will hide the bride's shoe and the groom has to find it before they can leave.)  I'm guessing there is some ceremony they do with the bride's parents, who are present only for this part of the wedding day.

Then they go together by car to the groom's family's home.  More traditions await them there, such as bowing to the groom's parents and seeing the groom's friends and relatives, who are gathered there.  I'm not so clear on what else happens; maybe a lunch?  In Helen's case, they went to the new apartment (financed largely by Sean's parents, which is the custom around here).  Sean had to carry her up five flights of stairs, and she had lost a few kilos before the wedding because she was worried about his endurance.  He made it.

I'm sure firecrackers are set off at some point.  We hear them all the time around here, even at 3 or 4 in the morning.

The Banquet

We got to the banquet, held at the Qufu International Hotel, around 6:00 pm.  Helen and her new husband stood outside greeting the guests as they came in.  We knew that Chinese wedding gifts are always money given in red envelopes, which we gave the couple as we went in.  Helen looked beautiful and very made-up.  Her dress was a free loaner from the photography company that did all their photos earlier this month.

The wedding planning company had provided a singer, who was doing some very loud crooning as we sat in the near-empty banquet room waiting for the rest of the guests to filter in.  We gazed at arches of fake flowers and a sentimental slideshow of the couple's cutesy wedding photoes.  The singer finished singing and a re-mix of the Super Mario Brothers theme song came on.  Hmm.

Eventually all the tables were filled.  We learned that the leaders of Sean and Helen's workplaces had their own VIP table on the second floor.  

The MC got on the mic and soon he was shouting and everyone was clapping for the groom's entrance.  After he paraded down the gold carpet, people got even more excited for the entrance of the bride.  Sean got a mic and a bouquet and walked to meet Helen while singing a song.  Then the traditional Western wedding march came on, and they walked down the carpet together.  They were both pretty emotional, and they both cried a bit during the next part.

At this point, there was a series of small happenings with the bride and groom on stage:
1)  They each spoke a few words to each other about their relationship and their love for each other.

2)  One leader from each of their workplaces came to give a short speech.  They bowed to their leaders.

3)  The groom's parents came up and Helen said some kind words to them.  They bowed to the groom's parents.  (I find it sad that the bride's parents and relatives don't even come to this banquet.  I've heard sometimes the bride is not supposed to see her family for several days or even a month after the wedding because it's bad luck, but I don't know if that's a Qufu custom.)  They also lit a unity candle with the groom's parents.

4)  The MC led them through a ring exchange.
5)  The couple filled all the wine glasses.
6)  The couple had a toast together.

Then Helen disappeared to change into a traditional red dress.  When she came back, she and Sean made the rounds, toasting each table.  Meanwhile, we were hard-pressed to get even a single bite of one dish before another would arrive.  By the end of the meal, we were stacking the dishes two high and they still kept coming.  Every table had two chickens, two ducks, and at least a dozen other dishes.

Apparently, after your table has been toasted, you are free to go.  So, two hours after the banquet began, people started streaming out (leaving tables stacked with food that had barely been touched).  Some of the guests started going around filling bags with the food to take home.  One lady, who already had put four whole chickens in her plastic bag, came over to our table to grab one more.

The newlyweds stood outside the door to say goodbye to the guests as we left, and that was our evening.  All in all, I enjoyed it more than I might have expected.  The food was good (not too odd, like some banquet food can be), and the event wasn't too long.  I learned a lot and had a totally new China experience.  It was also fun to see my friend as a bride, and I hope she will be very happy.  Hopefully we can hang out soon so I can get her impressions of the day and fill in the gaps about what actually happens in the home ceremonies.  Please be praying for Helen and Sean as they start their new marriage.

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