My informant’s parents immigrated to the United States from Ethiopia. My informant grew up in Washington, D.C., where she says there is a large Ethiopian community. She had so much to say about Ethiopian wedding ceremonies that I decided to include her description of the wedding receptions as a separate entry. This is her account:
“Ethiopian wedding receptions are always the same. They’re always really late. They’re scheduled at like, six or seven, but most people I know call it APT: Abidjan People Time. Abidjan refers to people from like, Ethiopia or Eritrea, which used to be part of Ethiopia. Um… But yeah, way more people always go to the reception than the actual ceremony. Like, two to three times as many people, because of the food. And the food is being prepared all day. So a lot of people who actually don’t go to the ceremony are like, in the kitchen all day preparing food because it can take a long tie. Like, I don’t have any family here, but my mom usually involved in that process. That’s a very social aspect of it. People usually wear… It depends on the family-friend circle that it is, but people can be wearing anything from very generalized Americanized dresses to people who do a hybrid. So it’ll be a dress made out of the same fabric, so it’s all like, cotton with the cross design. But they make it in American silhouettes, kind of, if that makes sense. Or they just wear their traditional habesha-quemis, so I have worn many of those. Usually if you’re at the age of like, fourteen, your mom is usually making you wear that. Guys don’t wear traditional clothing as much as girls do, not even in Ethiopia, because it’s just… I don’t know why. They just don’t. But my brothers definitely did when they were younger, when they were eight and under. So there’s a lot of dancing at the reception. And that’s when the bride gets up. And you’re not supposed to start eating at the reception until the bride gets there, which is really annoying especially when the bride is three hours late, which has happened before. So then… there’s a lot of dancing. It gets really loud and people get really drunk. And there’s just more socializing, and it’ll go to like, two or three in the morning. There’s loud Ethiopian music, which is very fast. I’ve never really heard a slow Ethiopian song unless it’s like, at church, but that’s not what they’re playing at a wedding. There will usually be someone there with a drum that’s basically the size of their body, and it’s strapped on to them, and when they hit the drum they’re completely turning and spinning. They throw their entire body into it. So it’s kind of like a dance ceremony. There’s one part when first all the women go out and dance with the bride, and then all the men go out and dance with the groom, and then everyone dances together. That usually happens a couple hours after the ceremony has been going on.”
Wedding receptions tend to be the time when people can let loose and truly celebrate the wedding ceremony that has just occurred. They have more relaxed environments, and people can freely express the joy of the new marriage. Ethiopian wedding receptions are no exception; they are very celebratory. My informant values and appreciates actual wedding ceremonies, but she admits that the receptions are more fun. As she said, many more people attend the reception than the ceremony for that reason—and for the food. This is another celebration in which food plays an important role, as people spend the entire day preparing food, which is later enjoyed by all of the guests. At Ethiopian wedding receptions, they serve food that the guests all recognize as being traditionally Ethiopian. For the Ethiopians who attend the weddings my informant described, this food is a comforting reminder of their country of origin. Along with the music, the special clothing, and the other Ethiopian elements, the food ties these reception attendees to their home country and to each other.