Tag Archives: marriage

黄历 – The Yellow Calendar

Main piece:

You have to get married on a certain date, and it depends on your birth time, your birth year, your birth hour. There’s a thing called a “huang li,” which literally translates to yellow calendar, and it details for each zodiac person. You research it, and it’s a book that’s like a quarter inch thick and you look up your birth time and dates and you figure out which day is the most auspicious to get married. And it also tells you who to get married to––like, which zodiac animals. And that’s why I got married to to my husband on Saint Patrick’s day.

Background:

The informant, HK, was born in New York but has parents who are from China. She married and has three children. She now lives in texas.

Context:

HK now lives in Texas––I collected this story over a Zoom call. She has been one of my mother’s closest friends since college, and often, they would commiserate together with all of my other Chinese aunties about certain things their Chinese parents would make them do, or general annoyance over Chinese tradition. This was one of those calls.

Thoughts:

I had never heard of the huang li before, and I think it’s interesting because the day which you get married can be so nebulous in American culture––people generally want to get married in June (which we talked about in class), but sometimes it takes years for people to finally work up the energy to get married. I think it goes to show how much more relaxed people are in America not just about the actual wedding day, but just about marriage in general. The divorce rate in this country is something near 50%, whereas when my dad’s parents got divorced (both from China) it was a really big deal and most people couldn’t even believe it. In Chinese culture, usually even if you don’t like the person you’re with, you’re supposed to just stick it out (or at least, that used to be the rhetoric). The huang li is just one example of the traditions that make Chinese marriage more rigid, maybe even more of a commitment, thand American marriage.

Indian Wedding Traditions – Stealing Shoes

Background: 
My informant, NS, is an eighteen year old student at Tufts University. She was born and raised in Southern California. Her mother was born and raised in the Philippines, and her father is Indian but grew up in Scotland and Southern California. While her mother is the only member of her family to have moved away from the Philippines, much of her father’s family, including his father, siblings, and nieces and nephews, are also in Southern California, meaning lots of family time between NS and her extended family, especially her cousins. Her father’s side of the family continues many traditional Indian and Hindu practices in day to day life, and NS is also greatly influenced by her heritage.  (I’ll be referring to myself as SW in the actual performance).

Performance:
NS: At Indian weddings, the youngest bridesmaid..ok so..have you ever been to an Indian wedding?

SW: Nope.

NS: Oh. Well the bride and groom…they do a thing where they walk around a fire 7 times, and each time represents, like, the first one might be commitment, or the second one represents love. They walk around 7 times, and then the youngest bridesmaid will steal the shoes from the groom-

SW: The groom’s shoes?

NS: Yeah, so she steals the groom’s shoes, and it’s always expected, like, Indian men will take out cash, like over $100, before their wedding day because they know they have to pay for their shoes back. And basically, it’s like a sign of wealth. The groom shows that he has the money to buy his shoes back, even if he doesn’t need to. It’s supposed to be, like, a way of showing that he can support his wife and family, financially. 

Thoughts: 
I’ve never been to a wedding before, and talking to NS, my best friend, always makes me want to go to one, especially an Indian wedding. They seem to be a big affair, with hundreds of people there, including extended family and friends. Walking around the fire reminds me of a more symbolic way of reading out your vows, which I like. NS also mentioned that she’s been to a few weddings where her Indian cousins marry someone who is not Indian, and because they’re not Indian, they don’t quite get all the Indian traditions that make up the wedding. So NS, often being the youngest bridesmaid (as she is the youngest cousin), has dealt with the family of the groom being less than understanding. She’s had people she hardly knows get angry with her and tell her to return the shoes, or the groom will give her $10, clearly not understanding the significance of the custom. It makes me sad that so many people won’t even consider trying to understand a culture different from their own. 

Idu uno-Nigerian (Igbo) Marriage Traditions

Context: This is the last step that a man must take in order to get married. My mom learned these from her father and my dad learned the process from his own father. They value this tradition heavily and my dad underwent this process when he married my mom.

  • Idu uno
    • This process is where the father of the bride and his kingsman buy everything that the bride needs in her new household. They will buy her a fridge, stove, furniture, and anything else she will need in her new life as a wife. The father of the bride could also give them land to cultivate or provide them with a home and car to start their lives with. The mother of the bride and her fellow women will also give the bride things for her new life by buying all the things she will need for her kitchen.
    • Young men of the community will then play music and accompany the bride to the husband’s parent’s house. All of the items for the bride will be brought to her new inlaws home. The young men of the community will request compensation from their elders. The parents of the groom must present a specific amount of kola and tobacco before the young men move the items inside their home. The leader of the young men will then break kola for the new bride and will see her into her new home along with other young women of the community.
      • Thoughts: In this final step, family and community are especially highlighted in more elaborate gestures of care. It was really cool listening to this process because it’s not something I have witnessed in American weddings. While in American weddings the bride and groom do receive gifts, it’s not to the extent that a procession is undertaken to not only give the bride everything she needs but also help her move in. When I was in Nigeria last winter, I actually got to see this step of the marriage rights take place. The bride was ushered into the home of her husband’s parents and the men of the community would one by one carry gifts into the house. Gifts ranged from bags of rice to whole fridges and stoves, and even whole plots of land. This was amazing to hear because it highlights how united the family and community are in rallying behind the newlyweds. The community as a whole wants to make sure that the new union is prosperous and wants nothing but the best. I appreciate this gesture because I got to see how happy and warm the newlyweds were. Knowing that the community around them is all in support of them, it is a perfect way to kick off a happy union. 

Bride-price~Nigerian (Igbo) Marriage Traditions

Context: This is the second step that a man must take in order to get married. My mom learned these from her father and my dad learned the process from his own father. They value this tradition heavily and my dad underwent this process when he married my mom.

  • Bride-price
    • The bride price is a token for raising a wonderful young lady and paid by the parents of the prospective groom. Once the bride price is presented the money is divided to the father and his kingsmen[uncles, cousins…etc], the mother[sisters, cousins..etc], the uncle, and the auntie partake in the money. 
      • Thoughts: I found this step to be very interesting to me. When I was listening to my parents explain this my initial thoughts were that it appeared that I was going to be sold off and married when I was old enough, however, my perceptions changed when they told me why this payment was so significant. A bride-price is not a means for which a man pays to marry a person, instead, it is a symbolic gesture paid by the prospective groom to give thanks to the family of the woman he intends to marry. The bride price is an offering of thanks for raising such a well brought up a young woman who the man now wants to marry. It was really interesting learning about this marriage custom, and I hope to witness this process one day or possibly the day that I or a female member of my family will be approached by someone who wants to marry us.

Inyo uno-Nigerian (Igbo) Marriage Tradition

Context: This is the first step that a man must take in order to get married. My mom learned these from her father and my dad learned the process from his own father. They value this tradition heavily and my dad underwent this process when he married my mom.

  • Inyo uno
    • If a man wants to marry a maiden, he must go to the home of the maiden’s father accompanied by his kingsmen[family members]. With them, the man must bring hot drink [alcohol] and kola nuts[object of prayer and goodwill] to tell the parents of the maiden that he wants to marry their daughter. He must break the kola nut with the girl’s family and give them the kola nut and hot drink that he brought for the girl’s parents to keep. The parents of the girl then think over the marriage request and look into the man’s past and his family’s past to check for illness, health issues, and bad qualities like lying or theft. Once the parents are satisfied and they determine the man is good, they will call their family members and will break the kola and drink the hot drink brought by the man in question. Once this has been done, they will call the man’s family and start making arrangements.
      • Thoughts: I found this step interesting because of the process of asking for someone’s hand in marriage. The dialogue between the prospective groom and the parents of the family is very structured and there are specific steps that have to be followed[i.e. bringing your kingsman and bringing kola and hot drink as an offering]. In addition, the prospective groom really has no means of telling whether he has done enough to appease the parents. The man engages in this grand gesture, bringing kola nut and hot drink [symbols of his marriage request] and presenting them to the women’s parents as a sacred offering. What further intrigued me was the full background check undertaken by the parents of the prospective bride, in that they would extensively move through the family history of the man in question and make sure that he presented no bad traits that would make him unfit for marriage. If the prospective groom is found to be unfit for marriage, traditionally the parents will not support the union and their daughter will not be getting married. This a very interesting marriage custom and appears to be the most crucial before any real steps towards a union can take place.

Irish American Wedding Tradition – The Claddagh Ring

Background: The informant is my mother, who is a third generation Irish immigrant from Bridgeport, CT. She learned the tradition from her parents and observed it multiple times at her four brother’s weddings. 

Context: The piece was collected in a casual, in person interview, inside the informant’s home. 

Piece:

The following is a summary of the conversation, rather than a transcription for the sake of brevity and clarity. 

The informant discussed a modification to traditional American wedding ceremonies and the exchange of wedding rings that is practice among some Irish-American groups. Whereas the traditional American ceremonies involve the couple exchanging wedding rings after they profess their vows, in my the informant’s family and community, the bride and groom exchange both wedding rings and Claddagh rings following the exchange of vows. The Claddagh ring is an Irish ring that features two hands holding a heart between them with a crown atop the heart. The wedding ring goes on the left ring finger and the Claddagh ring goes one the right ring finger with the heart pointing toward the individual wearing the ring. The informant relayed that there are multiple interpretations of the symbolism of the Claddagh ring, but that she was taught that, “it’s the hand of Mary and the hand of Joseph holding the heart of Jesus, but a lot people believe it’s Love, Faith, and Hope.” 

Analysis: The practice seems to be a way of integrating Irish heritage into the American wedding ceremony through jewelry. The Claddagh ring has been an important symbol in my family as a celebration of both our Irish heritage and Catholic faith, although I do not believe that the ring is not necessarily widely interpreted as a Catholic symbol. I was surprised to hear that the ring was worn on the right hand of the individuals because I was taught while in Ireland that one wears it on the left hand when married. I was also taught that if one wears the ring with the heart facing outwards on the right ring finger, it signifies that the person is single, whereas pointed in on the right ring finger indicates that the person is currently in a relationship. Similarly, if worn on the left ring finger with the heart pointing outward, the ring indicates that the individual is engaged, whereas pointed in on the left ring finger signifies that one is married. I have worn a Claddagh ring for just over two years that is inscribed with the words, “Faith, Love, and Friendship,” indicating yet another potential interpretation of the symbolism around the ring. It is important to note each interpretation I have heard of, interprets the two hands and heart as a trinity of either virtue or faith.

Knitting Superstition

Text:

Informant: If you are knitting or if you know how to knit, you’re allowed to knit things for your friends and your family, but you can’t knit something for your significant other unless you’re really really sure that they’re the one. When you knit something for your significant other it symbolizes that the relationship will end because there is an end to your knitting that ends in tying a knot. So either you have to tie the knot with your significant other or the relationship is very quickly going to end catastrophically.

Context: I asked a group of friends if they could recall any superstitions they were aware. The informant, and avid knitter, shared this one with me.

Thoughts: I find it odd that this same principal of endings doesn’t apply with friends, but makes sense since our society places a greater importance on marriage than friendship.

Indian Holiday of Karva Chauth

NA: Ok so there is this holiday called Karva Chauth and you have to fast for your husband’s long life all day until you see the moon and then you have to do this weird thing and nobody knows why you do this but like you take a flour sifter and you hold it up to the moon at the end of the day before you break your fast. Nobody knows why the hell you do this, but you have to hold it up to the moon. When you do that, you do it at night, and once you do that you can break the fast.

Interviewer: Okay, and who participates in this?

NA: So it’s is only women and it can be like women that are married, like I can do it for my future husband like I don’t even have to know him. It is just for the long life of my husband. My grandma did it, so my maternal grandma stopped doing it after her husband passed away and my other grandma when her husband passed away she did it for my dad, so she did it for her son. It’s just women and then some men will do it for my long life so I’ll fast with them, um but otherwise men don’t have to do it. They really don’t have to show up until the end of the night when you do that flour sifting thing.

Context

NA is a 20 year old USC buisness student whose family India. She grew up in southern California, but is very conencted with her Sindhi culture. She is also my roommate and I asked her about any folklore she had relating to her Indian background. This information was gathered from an informal interview conducted over Facetime. For further context related to this story she is a single woman who has never been married. 

Thoughts

This holiday emphasizes the importance of the woman’s role as a wife and mother in Indian culture. Although it is not unique to Indian culture, it shows the importance of the role of women while men do not have the same obligation as a husband to bless their wives in the same way. It also shows the power of rituals. NA and her family perform the ritual because they believe in its power. However, that does not mean they know exactly why the particulars of the rituals are there. Thus, showing the level of trust in what has been passed down through the generations and how that can be effective without knowing why. 

Additionally, this ritual shows the connection between femininity and the moon that is seen in many cultures around the world. It seems as though women are using their connection with the moon to bless their husbands, demonstrating the power of that connection. Fasting also is a common symbol of religious observance in the Hindu faith with many religious holidays involving a fast, and many Hindu’s fasting on particular days of the week to show reverence towards the corresponding god. 

Future Son-in-law and Poached Eggs

Context: The collector asked the informant (as MD) for some Shanghainese folklores. The informant is the mother of the collector.

 

MD: You know, when a couple in relationship want to make sure parents from each side agree with their marriage, they will visit the woman’s mother. When it is the first visit for the man, he should bring gifts, such as liquor or cakes or whatever, while the future mother-in-law is supposed to serve him a bowl of 水潽蛋 (Shanghainese in IPA: /sɻ̩ pú de/  Chinese Mandarin in Pinyin: /shuǐ pū dàn/  Literally: water boiled egg, specifically poached egg in Shanghainese), 水煮蛋 (Mandarin in Pinyin: /shuǐ zhǔ dàn/, literally: water boiled egg). The kind of water boiled egg that you break the shell first and then boil it. (The informant was emphasizing the difference between hard boiled eggs and poached eggs)

Collector: Yes, I got it. But why?

MD: I have no idea. It’s just a custom! If the woman’s mother does serve the man a poached egg, that means she recognizes the man as her future son-in-law.

Collector: Is there anything special with poached eggs? Aren’t they just daily matters?

MD: Well you know, life in the past wasn’t like now. Eggs weren’t something you could afford every day!

Collector: But you told me your family had hens when you were young… Okay, okay, I got it. Did Grandma serve Dad poached eggs when he first went to visit?

MD: She did.

Collector: Did she just give him the egg or she told him what that meant? Dad mustn’t know the custom. (The collector’s father is not from Shanghai)

MD: Well, she just served him the egg. Your dad is an outlander. He didn’t know.

Collector: Then did you tell dad what the egg meant?

MD: Yeah after the visit.

Collector: But wasn’t that meaningless for Grandma to do so? Because Dad couldn’t know what she implied.

MD: That doesn’t matter. It was the purpose and the feeling of the mother-in-law that mattered.

Collector: Alright. If CH (the collector’s elder sister) brings her boyfriend to you and you think he is a good man to marry, will you also serve him poached eggs?

MD: Yes, I will, if I like him.

Collector: Even if he is a foreigner?

MD: Yeah. That doesn’t matter.

 

Collector’s thought:

In the past, eggs were valuable food for ordinary people. Even if they had hens, they would probably rather sell eggs for money than consume eggs frequently. Thus, serving future son-in-law eggs is sharing something highly valued with that person, meaning that the man is viewed as a trustworthy husband and is welcomed as a new family member.

It is interesting that the informant values this custom and intends to actively carry it on even though she didn’t really know the background of the custom and in fact, the social context has already changed a lot, which to a certain extent reduces the special value of poached eggs and the meaning of the custom.

The custom might only be a practice in Shanghai, but it’s also possible that the custom is practiced in a larger region, for example, the Yangtze River region.

A Polish Wedding Joke

Main Piece

QJ: “Can it be a dirty joke?”

Collector: “Yes.”

QJ: “A lot of the jokes I grew up with are kind of dirty…most Polish ones are…I think one that my grandfather would say asks what is long and hard that a Polish bride gets on her wedding night?”

Collector: “What?”

QJ: “A new last name.”

Analysis

This joke seems to be fairly popular among Polish people, and I have heard it beyond my informant. In fact, I have heard it outside of the realm of Polish culture, and have seen different ethnic backgrounds attached to it. It seems that many prideful Slavic people make light of their often long and hard to pronounce last names through jokes like these. Given my informant’s background for the joke and explaining that he heard ones like these growing up, I would also assume that his culture and family have more of an openness to tell dirty jokes in front of younger audience. Generally, it would seem that older people have more of a relaxed ability to tell jokes that otherwise would not seem appropriate. This joke also implies a patriarchal society, where a woman would receive something from her husband in any interpretation of the joke, but no jokes suggest the woman giving the man anything.