Napat and Nan got married the other day. It was a grand affair that involved a lot of participants. That was part of the idea, to give people in their lives the honor and fun of being included. The other part of the design of the day was to project a vision, a dream, for the future. Weddings ought to do that. Weddings should reflect the aspirations and identities of the couple.
This wedding was a fusion of traditions. [See pictures A – F]
The day began with a Chinese-Lanna procession of the groom and his kinfolk to the bride’s family who are ethnic Chinese. The bride and groom were dressed in red Chinese costumes. There was a ceremony of the couple offering tea to the parents.
In the afternoon the costumes were “tie and tails” for the groom and a white gown and long lace veil for the bride that took four pages and bride’s maids to handle. Music and ceremony vied for attention for the next two hours. The musicians were former teachers, little children, and musical colleagues of the groom. The bride is a medical doctor whose co-workers were very busy with COVID, but some came as they could. The couple exchanged vows and rings in the traditional way, and then were serenaded (there’s no other word for what came next). One of the enthusiastic performers on a violin was the groom. Equally exuberant was the announcer who seemed intent on getting the bride and groom to break out of their last shreds of solemnity.
Then the festivities moved to an outer courtyard where musicians entertained everyone while they nibbled on snacks, took pictures with the couple, and collected bags of the vegetables that had been decorating the platform. This was the bride’s idea, reflecting her commitment to utility over extravagance.
21st century Thai wedding traditions have changed in several important ways. The ceremony has become increasingly optional; if and when there is a ceremony are left up to the couple. Almost all couples have begun life together tentatively, and then there is acceptance that the friendship has become a relationship, which gradually includes both of the couple’s families. A traditional Thai wedding consists almost entirely of these two families formally agreeing and blessing the couple, signified by tying cords around the couple’s wrists while intoning good wishes. If the families could afford it there was a party, as lavish as possible.
Recently, these receptions/parties have become diverse. They often have a theme. They project aspects of the couple’s life and fantasies. They involve participation and performance. If the event is “themed,” those who attend are told about the theme so they know what to wear. Some of the actors have definite costumes and scripts or opportunities to do something expressing the theme.
The theme for Nan and Napat’s wedding, according to one lady, was “Royal.” Women were invited to wear hats and men to have suits appropriate for a European royal wedding. The royal theme incorporated a Christian service (with four clergy involved who had been friends of the family for decades). The theme was also music, incorporating performances mostly by younger friends.
Exactly 3 years ago Mew and Saw had the most elaborate themed wedding Pramote and I ever attended. [See pictures G – M] It began with an afternoon of Northern Thai and Burmese traditions. There was a procession, a “kong sabat” drum dance, a shaman dancer, and blessing of the couple by all the guests. Costumes were supposed to be ethnic as it was presumed the elite dressed a hundred years ago. The party was at night the next day and it was a circus theme with clowns, acrobats, magicians, side shows, and all. Producing themed events was what the groom’s family did for a living. They did their utmost for this one.
I started out as a clergy officiating at weddings about 800 weddings ago (averaging 50 every year I was a pastor in the USA). At that time only one form of wedding service was available. Only the names of the bride and groom changed, although music varied.
Cathedral-like weddings with hotel or resort receptions are not out of style but there are more choices of themes recently. I predict that themed weddings will become the preference for those who want their wedding day to be extraordinary.
Weddings and funerals are two occasions when customs most clearly differ between ethnic groups, even in this age of cultural melding and overlap. Why are themed weddings coming into vogue here in Thailand? Here are my speculations:
· They make the event unique. The couple and their families are establishing a mark on society.
· They communicate particular ideas. The couple is highlighting their main concerns.
· They infringe on elite territory. Weddings that used to be reserved for special echelons (royalty, military, aristocracy, etc.) can be imitated. This is post-modern democratization in action. In Thailand the middle class is rising.
· They are fun. Themed weddings are much more “play” than traditional ones.
This essay about themed weddings completes my ruminations about weddings.
Previous blog essays have elaborated on weddings. See:
Essays about costumes include:
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.