Written by Kristin:
Where to start?
Zhang Xuan, our “old Ai-yi” (as Malia calls her), got married. They’ve been officially married since January, but recently had a ceremony (of sorts) with a reception in her husband’s hometown. I’ve been searching for ways to describe Chinese weddings.
- Old traditions mixed with new Western movie influences;
- Centuries of history finding their way in modern expectations;
- Traditionalists versus new generation practical thinkers.
In this specific case it was mountain upbringing versus city stardom. We caught a glimpse of the dynamics when country people and city people are together. One determined to not be looked down on; the other making fun of the outhouse (pictured below).
Personally , the most amusing part has to do with our children’s budding standard of what weddings should be. It is quite different from my own.
No candlelight. No soft music.
No ushers. No bridal party.
No slideshow from baby to engagement.
RATHER every wedding
- must have fireworks,
- must be loud and LOUD,
- must have food, food, food, food, food.
- Wedding procession must have black cars (like a funeral procession…hmmm).
We were invited as part of the bride’s family. Xuan does not have family of her own and the van load of people traveling together contained friends she was raised with and a few classmates. All the years she worked for us I heard her talk about this handful of people. Despite the winding roads, I felt an “awe” moment being part of a group that esteems this young lady enough to go the distance for her wedding. Sounds strange, I know. Through Xuan’s life few people have gone out of their way to accommodate her. It was a special time and she deserved it!!
Chinese weddings are a mix of planned well in advance and leaving to last minute details. The groom’s family provides everything, even the bride’s dresses; plural because the bride wears a white dress for the ceremony and a red dress when greeting the guests and drinking shots with each table. (Xuan never saw the dresses until the day before the wedding.) Providing for everything is their way of welcoming the bride into their family. In most cases the groom’s family pays the mother lots of money so she can live comfortably without her child.
The night before the wedding phone calls were made back and forth between the bride’s passe and the groom’s entourage setting the starting time for the next morning!!
“What time should we be ready?”
“What? That’s too early. Can’t be ready before 10am.”
And the bargaining went on. The final time was agreed for 9:30am.
9:30 came. The kids and I were waiting in the hotel room with the bride and her family. The bride sat elegantly on the bed waiting for her husband. Kevin was outside with the groom and his entourage. Around 9:30 we heard fireworks in the distance and excitement sparked through our group. The groom was on his way!
A few more minutes and more fireworks, we knew the groom was now at the hotel entrance. (The whole incident reminded me of a story in a good book about wedding guests waiting for the bridge groom.) Electric excitement!!
The groom knocked at the door. The bride’s helpers didn’t open the door. It was an ordeal, let me tell you.
“Who is it?”
“What do you want?”
“I’m here to get my wife.”
With the door still closed at some point all of us in the room received a red envelope with money inside; especially the children. The groom and his family were paying us for information. What information? Just a minute, I’ll tell you. Eventually, the groom, and his helpers, and his family, and the camera man, and the MC/host for the ceremony burst into the room. Four men carry four gifts (vodka, cigarettes, tea leaves, and candy) and gave the gifts to four women on the bride’s side. Thankfully, I received the tea leaves and not the vodka!
Next, the groom needed to find the bride’s shoes. (Cute pink shoes that Zhang Xuan picked out herself.) Thus the need for money. He asked all of us in the room to help him find the shoes. No one helped, but we still kept the money. They were well hidden. One darling pink shoe was under her dress. (We didn’t get a good picture of the shoes. Sorry.)
Jump ahead to the actual ceremony. The groom’s family hires a company to MC/host/provide the atmosphere and romance for this event. Complete with glass lit dance floor (no one dances), twinkle lights, music, unity sparkler candle, etc. I say provide romance, because it does feel a little unnatural and fabricated. The company’s marketing line could be:
“Instant wedding ceremony; just add people.” OR
“Your day, our responsibility; just show up” OR
“We provide the lights, the cameras, and the action; please be there.”
Despite the backdrop falling over during the reception (CRASH, Kaboom!!), the van brakes WAY overheating on the way down the mountain (the driver was not well experienced with mountain driving), and getting terribly lost ten minutes from our house (Sigh. Please, next time listen to the foreigner in the back seat when he tells you he knows the way.) it was a memorable experience that we wouldn’t have missed for the world.
Here’s a 8 minute video for you visual learners, only if you’re interested.
My desire the whole time in seeing these people in that place was for an awareness of personal relationship with the Creator to spark in their hearts. That I’m aware of, the five of us plus a friend were the only people the whole weekend who know J-man. The harvest is plentiful…