Every part of Thai wedding has meaning
The Biker's Diary
Monday, November 26, 2012 9:13 AM
The main reason for this quick trip to Thailand was to attend a wedding. In Thai culture, weddings have two parts, the first being the morning ceremony, at which the whole process of proposal, engagement and wedding occurs! This is quite different than the ritual in our culture, where the proposal, which occurs privately between the two people, is the means to start the engagement that could go on for a short time, or for even a year or more! In Thailand, that courtship has already reached the "agreement" stage before the formal proposal.
Traditionally, this morning event would have been held at the groom's family home. However there, like everywhere, things are changing and now many (if not most) such ceremonies are held at a hotel. And, it can be more elaborate because, not surprisingly, the hotels have really gotten into the business of providing all the little extras! Typically a very small gathering, the hotel venues also seem to mean a little larger group convening.
The venue for this one was at the seaside, approximately two hours out of Bangkok. Because it always starts early in the morning, most people came out the day before and stayed overnight. That provided yet another opportunity to socialize, because those already there gathered together the night before for a big seafood dinner right on the beach!
The most auspicious date and even the time for the wedding is set specifically for each couple by the monks; this one was Nov. 4, at 8:39 a.m. sharp, and each part of the ceremony was assigned a very specific time to start, such as 9:39, 10:09 and 11:09. So of course we were all there, ready and waiting for part one: the proposal and engagement.
The father of John, the groom, had passed away two years ago, so a longtime family friend stood in for him and joined his mother and the bride's parents on a sofa in what was called the "pavilion" of the hotel, an open but covered space next to the beach with plenty of seating for viewers. The groom's surrogate father made the proposal to the bride's father; after acceptance, the groom went to bring the bride to the gathering.
After paying proper respects to the parents and to the monks, the couple was seated on the floor in front of the monks - in another room open to the seaside - and, part two, the official ceremony began.
After the chanting and ceremony by the monks, the bridal couple again moved to a different area, this time for the water blessing, part three. The bride and groom sat on chairs facing the guests, with their hands together and extended in front of them on a table. Then, starting with the parents and the eldest guests, we all poured the water - that had been blessed by the monks - over their hands as we gave them our personal blessings.
The couple was united by a braided cotton cord, which was shaped like a crown on each end; one end was looped around the top of each of their heads, demonstrating the new unity of the marriage. An honored family elder then carefully removed the cord and, after folding it "just so," placed it in a bag and presented it to the pair.
After another move for part four, this time back to the place where the rituals had started, the couple sat on the floor facing the sofa on which the parents had begun the event with the proposal. Then we elders again took turns, this time sitting on the couch facing the bride and groom, and again offered our blessings and a gift, and in exchange, received a gift back from the pair. At this point we had time to actually talk to them, so we tried to say something meaningful. For Spouse Roger and I, I started by congratulating them and offering our best wishes (a very Western thing to say!), and then said "Our wish for you is that you listen to each other every day, laugh together often, and love each other deeply and forever."
Spouse Roger followed that by saying he echoed what I had said, and added that he has enjoyed knowing the groom, and watching him grow and mature into the very wonderful adult he is now. And he added an anecdote from the past. I think we were both more teary-eyed than anyone else there!
After this part, the monks were fed and we all enjoyed the picture-taking and talking while they ate; the monks have to be finished eating their only meal of the day before noon. So, after a morning of ceremonies, laughter and tears, and well wishing, we all went to lunch at noon!
As some of the eldest guests, we enjoyed a special part in the ceremonies.
Twice, when giving the blessings, the eldest went first and in a specific order. Leading off was the friend who had seen the groom first after birth, even before his mother. Then were a couple of other important people from his past, and then us: I was his "American mother," now "Auntie Jan." He had come to Minnesota as a high school sophomore, and I was his guardian throughout his school years, including college. When he stayed on to work in Minnesota about another 14 years or so, we were his local family.
For this event, John had a program made out in English just for us so we would know what was going on. That's the kind of thoughtful guy he is! And that thoughtfulness continued at the second scheduled event of the wedding the next weekend.