The informant is a 67-year-old Mexican-American woman who is a reverend. She is known for tailoring wedding receptions to couples from different cultural backgrounds, and in her words “taking old traditions and giving them new meaning.” Many consider her to be the “guru of new wedding traditions.”
While out to breakfast while the informant was visiting me in Los Angeles, I asked her if there were any particular rituals or traditions drawn from Asian cultures that she has incorporated into weddings in the past. She responded by describing tea ceremonies, which she has commonly incorporated in the weddings of individual’s having a Chinese cultural background.
“In a tea ceremony, the parents of the bride and groom are called up to the altar. Together, the bride and groom prepare a cup of tea for each parent. The mothers and fathers then each take three sips of the tea, after which they sit back down. I’m not entirely sure why it is important that they take only three sips, but traditionally that is how it’s done.”
My first question after hearing of this tradition was, “How do they boil water at the altar?” To which the informant responded, “Typically a kettle has been heated somewhere behind the scenes, and it is brought out for the bride and groom. Really all they have to do is pour the tea into a cup and serve it to their parents.” This ceremony seems to represent the newlyweds demonstrating their gratitude to their parents for all that they have done, as a wedding marks the transition at which an individual’s spouse now has more responsibility for taking care of that person than do his or her parents. It is also a way for the bride and groom to let the parents know that they will take care of them in the future as old age approaches. While the informant was unsure of the reason that the parents take only three sips of the tea, examining this tradition with a comparative lens that takes into account a broad range of folklore shows that many folk traditions come in repetitions of threes. This often dates back to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity defined by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It also removes the awkwardness that would arise if one of the parents took a great deal of time to finish drinking the entire cup of tea while the entire audience had to sit and wait for them to be done, as three sips can be taken much more quickly and at the same speed by all parents.
The informant is a 58-year old woman from Trinidad, who has lived in the United States for 45 years. She was raised by her parents in Trinidad and lived in a house with her parents, grandparents, and nine siblings. She attended primary school, and then began working as a housekeeper and nanny. She loves cooking, mainly without recipes or set amounts of any ingredients, having learned her recipes “from my mom and aunts and from trial and error.” The following is what she said when I asked about her step daughter’s wedding a few years ago, of which I was in attendance.
Informant: “Abby’s wedding was a big one. Oh gosh, it feels so long ago now!”
Interviewer: “It was beautiful!”
Informant: “It was…”
Interviewer: “Do you remember going dress shopping with mom and me before? Can you tell me about it?”
Informant: “Yes, yes. Well for a Muslim wedding you need to have the proper dress. It is not like American weddings where anything you wear is fine. Because if you come to the Muslim wedding and you are dressed improperly, you may be asked to leave. And more than that, it is important to the bride and groom that you wear the proper clothes.”
Interviewer: “What would be improper to wear?”
Informant: “Something short, anything that shows a woman’s legs would be improper. Respect—modesty—is very very important in Muslim religion and culture.
Interviewer: “I understand. Can you tell me more about where we went to get the outfits for Abby’s wedding?”
Informant: “We went to Devon Avenue, a whole street of Indian stores, and we went into the best one to buy a saree. You tried on so many! They all looked so cute on you. We picked a colorful one, I can’t remember if it was purple or blue…
Interviewer: “It was purple!”
Informant: “Yes, it was. And then for your mom we got a green and maroon one.”
Interviewer: “Does anyone wear black sarees? Or white ones?”
Informant: “No. Everyone, at weddings is supposed to wear colored sarees. That is what’s done at weddings. The varna—that means color—means something always! Red is for the bride. Abby wore red. Colorful sarees make for a happier, more festive wedding.
It doesn’t say anywhere in the Quraan that guests at a Muslim wedding are required to wear colorful sarees, or sarees at all for that matter. But it is a custom—a rule, almost—that guests do so. This reflects the modesty of the culture that is expected and has continued to be important to the Muslim people, especially in rituals. While all Muslims do not dress modestly all the time, it is expected that they do so when weddings and other religious rituals take place.
The colorfulness of the sarees at the wedding ceremony, aside from making photos beautiful and bright, makes the ceremony a very festive event. Interestingly, my informant told me that red is often the color of the bride in Muslim weddings, versus the Christian and Jewish white-dress custom. Red is bright and bold; it symbolizes fertility. It is fitting that this would be the color a bride wears on her wedding day, if what she wears is to symbolize the step she is embarking on in her life.
The tradition: “At wedding receptions, the guests form 2 lines facing each other, men on one side and women on the other. The 2 at the front of the line dance down the aisle together and go to their sides when they reach the end. Then the next 2 dance all the way down and so on. It’s comes from the 70s and 80s dance show, Soul Train. It’s called the Soul Train Line.”
The informant (my mom) is a black American woman who grew up in Tennessee. Soul Train aired in 1971, and was the first all-black show on national television when it moved from Chicago to Los Angeles. So my mom (and dad) basically grew up watching Soul Train almost everyday after school, learning the dances and watching the various R&B performers through the 70s and 80s, when they were children and teens. The Soul Train line became famous from the TV show, and now it’s a popular practice at African-American weddings; it’s almost a staple. My mom says it happens at basically every black wedding she goes to, in addition to “lots of line dancing: wobble, Cupid Shuffle, 2 stomps…” in her words. Improvisation and line dancing are huge parts of black folk dance in America. The Soul Train line combines both, and emulates the practices done on the show itself. People go down the line in pairs, improvising and feeding off of one another. Every move is choreographed in the moment, feeding off the energy of the crowd. I think the emergence of Soul Train in the 70s was very important for young black children in America, to see their community represented onscreen. It made them excited, and want to imitate the dance practices they saw on TV. That generation (my mom’s generation) is the generation that mostly practices, or starts, these Soul Train lines. I was at my cousin’s wedding last summer, who is in her thirties, and it was the older adults who began chanting to start a Soul Train line. They’re fun and energetic, and a good way to interact with people you may not even know well through dance.
Informant: Something that’s passed down, as far as Assyrian wedding traditions, is that the groom’s family has to go to the bride’s house the morning of the wedding before the church ceremony to “pick her up.” And while the groom and his groomsmen are waiting at the church, his relatives are all at the brides house singing and dancing, waiting to escort her to the church. Also, before they leave the house, a male relative of the bride—it’s usually like a brother or a close cousin—closes the front doors and ask for, or, I guess, demands a payment of some sort for the giving away of his relative (the bride). The payment is usually cash, and they negotiate the final amount at the door. After he—the relative—gets the money, he opens the door and everyone dances outside and gets in their cars and goes to the church.
The informant is a student at the University of Southern California. Aside from learning many Assyrian traditions from her parents, she has attended several weddings of relatives and has witnessed these traditions firsthand.
This particular custom of a male relative of the bride demanding compensation for her hand in marriage seems to be a remnant from the past. The informant acknowledge that, while a bit out of date in the contemporary United States, this aspect of the wedding is extremely important to Assyrians who are in touch with their family’s traditions.
The informant told me about Assyrian weddings while we were discussing the future possibility of marriage, and weddings we had been to in the past. She confirmed that her parents have asked that she marry an Assyrian man and preform these traditions at her own wedding. When I asked her if she would feel comfortable doing it, she nodded and confirmed that she liked the tradition because, as “archaic” as it seems to her, it “makes [her] feel connected to [her] family.”
The informant was born and raised into the American culture and way of life. Her mother’s side of the family is in touch with their Jamaican culture and heritage and as the informant grew older she was able to become more into with the beliefs and customs of Jamaica.
“In the my culture deaths and marriages are often predicted by ones close family members. It is believed that if a family member dreams about someone in their family’s wedding the person being dreamt about will die soon. I think we believe in being able to predict deaths because life and death is a big deal in our culture. Marriage is also an important aspect in my culture as well and is ritualized. When a person dreams about a family member’s death that is consider a prediction of that family member’s wedding.”
I asked the informant if she had ever had a dream like this or known someone who did and it became true. She told me that she didn’t know anyone who had ha a dream like this and she personally has never had one. I asked where she learned this belief from snd she said that she remembers her grandma telling her about it when she was younger before she passed away.
Being able to predict someones death could be a blessing and a curse. Knowing that someone you love is going to die soon has to be difficult to handle. However on the other hand being able to predict a wedding is exciting. Death and Marriage are two major stepping stones in most cultures and they are ritualized because of that. Marriage you are become one with someone else and you are able to start a family, but death is the end of your life and the start of your after life whatever you believe that may be. I think that is why they are both made such such a big deal out of and ritualized with customs and rituals and why cultures have so many beliefs centered around these two major life events.
In Indian weddings in general, Henna is very very important. And it is said that the darker it is, the more your husband loves you.
This belief, while known to be a mere superstition, is still venerated and guarded as paramount to the success of a marriage. So much so, that there are articles and tips in Indian wedding magazines and blogs as to how to obtain a darker stained Mehndi. Some brides, Mayuri mentioned, go so far as to bleach the skin around their upper and nether limbs in order to have the henna stand out more from their skin and appear darker.
Rajasthani Wedding Games and Pranks
1. After the wedding ceremony, the bride goes to her husband’s house where his family will put her intelligence, courage, strength and cooking experience to the test (in a friendly series of games). The exact tests to be performed vary by family, but some that Mayuri listed were:
– The bride enters the house only after kicking a rice-filled pot with her right foot (auspicious one).
– The ring game: a vat is filled with milk and small metallic objects (along with the wedding rings) are thrown in. The bride and groom must reach in together and try and fish out their rings with one hand. The one who does so first will have the upper hand in the marriage!
– The bride must try and hold as many of the gifts that her new family will deposit in her lap. Brides will often use their veils to wrap all her new family’s gifts and carry them around. She must carry as much as she can in her sari (test of her ingenuity and resourcefulness).
– The bride must also pick up every female member of her husband’s family. This is a test of her strength.
Later on, right before the wedding night, the bride and groom will be teased together (especially by the cousins) and pushed and shoved all the way to their highly decorated bedroom.
These rituals are done to ease the liminal period for the bride. Traditionally in India, the bride does not meet her husband or his family before the marriage and so these games are done to ease the transition from her old family home she’s lived in her whole life, to her new home with her husband and his family. In India, families live together and share the same house; therefore, the rituals and games involve the whole family. The bride is also going from an unmarried virgin to a married woman on the wedding night so it is important for the bride to feel comfortable with her husband.
1. The first time the son-in-law comes to his mother-in-law’s house, the women in her family fill his mouth with sweets, and he can’t refuse.
2. The Son-in-law will also have to pick out his new wife from amongst all the women in her family (and servants). They will all cover their faces with their veils and group together. The new husband must recognize his bride by her hands and figure; if he picks her out, he gets to spend the night at her side. Otherwise, he has to sleep outside under the stars.
Just like for the bride, the marriage period is a liminal period of transition that needs to be eased. Teh groom is now responsible for his wife and is joining a new family.Unlike the bride’s experience though, the groom is not being tested like the bride for his courage, strength, intelligence, etc. This is probably a carry over form the dowry tradition, back in old days (and to this day in villages and conservative communities) the bride’s family would pay the groom’s family to marry their daughter. Thus, the groom’s family would put her to the test to make sure she was “worth the money” so to speak. Now, the dowry system is uncommon, but the practice of testing the new wife remains.
Contextual Data: Over Spring Break, my family received an invitation to attend a wedding. I was a bit curious about what it would be like, as I hadn’t been to a wedding — specifically, an Indian wedding — in a really long time and couldn’t remember very much about any wedding traditions. I asked my mother to tell me a bit about Indian weddings and some specific aspects of the weddings that stood out to her. She mentioned the parade that happens when the groom arrives to the venue. The following is an exact transcription of her description.
“The groom is supposed to come… It’s called a barat—B-A-R-A-T — so him and his family are supposed to come to the girl’s house for the wedding. The wedding takes place generally in the girl’s house. And so they come in that procession… The groom is usually on a horseback or something or walking ahead. There’s a band playing in the front first, then the groom is behind—on either a horse or a car or something — and then behind that there are like people dancing. And then… behind that is all — everybody else who…is just walking. It’s usually a short distance. So they set it up such that it’s a short distance from wherever the girl’s family decides to host the wedding. And…uh. That’s what it is. And they come and when they enter the venue (either the house or wherever they’ve set it up) then the groom — the bride’s mother does a pooja, welcoming the groom. And then the bride is supposed to put a… necklace — mala, a flower one — a flower necklace around the groom and the groom does the same I think… Uh. I think so. I think the bride does it… And, at least in our tradition sometimes they make it difficult for the bride to put it, because men are generally taller. So they lift the guy up so it makes it even harder for the girl to do it [Laughs.] That kind of little stuff goes on.”
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When I asked my informant what she thought the significance of these traditions were, she attached no particular symbolic meaning to them. Mainly, she suggested the groom arrives with a parade because he’s essentially coming to take the bride away, and so, he’s arrived with all the accompanying “fanfare” — it’s a way for him to announce himself to the bride’s family.
Additionally, there are certainly symbolic meanings that can be attached to the act of the bride’s family throwing a flower garland around the groom (thinking about concepts of virginity and the term “deflowering”). The fact that the groom’s family might make this difficult by lifting the groom seems to speak to the idea of a wedding as a liminal, transitory state and the importance of being able to complete these rituals properly and wholly in order for the transition to be complete. But beyond this, the parade seems primarily to speak to the fact that weddings are considered special, celebratory, joyous occasions — the parade is what kicks off the wedding with this air of festivity, particularly through the music and the dancing and the fact that it happens in a very public place; this is an important day for the groom and one on which he deserves some attention and which he should be happy for.
Informant Background: The individual was born in Bangkok, Thailand. She grew up there and still has family in Thailand. She said her family origin is Chinese. Her family still performs a lot of Chinese traditions such as: Chinese New Year, Ancestry Day, etc. Being in Thailand her family also practice a lot of the Thai traditions. She does not speak Chinese but she does speak Thai and English. She currently lives in Los Angeles to go to school. She has been travelling back and forth between the United States and Thailand constantly throughout the years because her family still resides in Bangkok.
Weddings in Thailand most of the time happens in one day. But there are different approach es depending on the size of the family.
Okay if you have a small family sometimes you would just go to the government building, you know like city hall here, and just dress semi-nice and get married there. They will sign the paper and then be done with it.
Bigger family usually dedicate the whole day for this event. Oh, way before the wedding day there are usually a lot of stuff the bride and the groom would do. Usually the bride will find her dress…usually people do both traditional Thai clothing in white with the western wedding gown type of thing…The bride and the groom would then have a photo session where they take photos in their wedding clothes in some nice place…some people do it at where they met, or a park, or a photo studio and what not. Some people even do different wedding themes…sometimes even casual clothes…some people even do their old school uniform you know…it really depends on the couple.
On the actual wedding day the day would starts with the groom and his family marching with money, food, and valuables to the bride’s house. Oh, the wedding usually takes place there. The groom and his group of people would sing songs as they march along. The size of the march depends on the groom’s family, friends, and relatives. They would have some Thai musical instruments. It’s like a marching band you know some wind instrument, drums, etc. And then these songs would be songs you only sing on weddings. The songs usually talks about how wedding is this idea of trading between family…the lyrics would be like “if you have lemons, you can trade for lime, if you have a daughter, you can trade for a son”…it’s kind of funny but most people still do it today.
Once the groom arrives he is faced with what we called “gate.” These “gates” are usually made by children of the bride’s family holding a string on two ends prohibiting the groom to see the bride. The groom would then have to give the children envelop with money inside. The number of “gate” depends on the number of children in the bride’s family. Sometimes the friends of the bride would set up the “gate” as a dare for the groom where he has to do jump rope, drink weird stuff, or push-ups to pass. It’s almost like a prank.
After that then the groom can see the bridge and the ceremony will then start. The two will be on their knees in front of the invited guests… And then the bride and the groom put their hands out on top of a small pedestal where the adults of both family pour water into their hands…while pouring the water the adult give consent, advice, and wishes to the bride and the groom…This usually begins with the oldest family members to the youngest. Sometimes close elderly guests participate as well.
After that the bride and the groom can sign the marriage papers stuff. Sometimes you can even book the government officials from your district to be at this event so they can bring you the paper to sign…so you know you don’t have to go to city hall to sign before or after the wedding day…so everything can happen on the same day.
There is also certain district with good names that people want to get married in. The most popular is this district called “Bang-Rak” which translates to something like “area of love” or “place of love” or you know something like that. This district is so popular that people would go there to get married even though they live like an hour away.
Oh, usually after the traditional Thai stuff the bride and the groom would change into the more Western wedding clothes…you known tux and gown…for their wedding reception with dancing, food, and cake.
This is a common Thai marriage tradition observed by the informant. The march with valuables represents the groom’s family size and wealth. It also symbolizes how these valuables is the bride’s price, or how much the groom is paying the bride’s family. The march differs in scale from less than ten people to about a hundred. The “gate” serves the same purpose to present obstacle for the groom and how he must have wealth to get the bride. And that the value of the bride come at a price where the groom must be willing to pay and does to get to her. The adults play an important role as they give consent and pass on wisdom to the next generation. Having the oldest member of the family start the ceremony also reflects the value of the elders in the Thai culture. This is also a ritual where both sides of the family can get to know each other, especially the older generation, to create the joining of two families.
Since there are many religions practiced in Thailand, sometimes the wedding takes place in multiple forms to accommodate different believes. The informant said that since the traditional Thai wedding ceremony ritual stems from Buddhist traditions, those usually occur in the morning with close family. Then the reception will take place at night where all invited guests, family and friends, attend. The reception is then host more similar to the American wedding reception with food and music, and the wedding cake.
This wedding ritual, in my opinion, reflects how the importance of marriage transcends the bride and the groom. The march of the groom singing songs involves a small community. It shows how so many people have to come together for the two people. It also shows wealth and connection within the community. The dare by the bride’s family shows how her strong family ties and emphasizes this idea of trading the bride through money and wealth. The kneeling before adults shows the importance of the older generation to the new and upcoming generation. The ritual shows how the importance of the wedding day focuses as much on the people around the bride and the groom in comparison to the bride and the groom themselves.
Without the traditions the bride and the groom can just go to city hall and get married legally as the informant pointed out some small family would do. But I can see the importance of the wedding becoming an event that is for the micro-community. The legality of the day is much less importance than the traditions performed on the day.
The different traditions also show how the local tradition is infused with the international tradition. Having both shows how the people want to keep on their tradition while being open to new ones.
The photos taken before the wedding seems very strange in my opinion. As seen in many wedding traditions the day is deemed as very exclusive, sacred, and sometimes religious. The clothes that the bride and the groom wear at wedding are also exclusive to the day. I feel that to take photos before the actual day in wedding apparel loses the importance of the actual wedding day.