Friday, December 17, 2010

George is Getting Married!

No, not the George I met at the zoo just last week, and not my friend and co-conspirator George in the States, who is already married to the lovely and charming Chris, my favorite bibliophile. No, this is my friend George who lives in Xi’an. He is a tour guide and part time English teacher; indeed his English is flawless.

When he called me yesterday to tell me his wedding is this Saturday I nearly choked! I had seen him in October when I went to Xi’an for National Holiday. Poor thing! He meant to treat me to a nice dinner at a barbeque restaurant. In fact, the restaurant was wonderful and the food absolutely delicious, but they don’t accept credit cards there and poor George was forced to ask me if I could help pay for the meal. What are friends for? I made up the difference for the cash he was lacking. You would think that, after such a move, he would have told me about his upcoming nuptials… but I don’t think they were planned at that time.

In China there is a difference between getting married and having a wedding. Because there is no recognized religion here, getting married is simply a matter of registering your union with the proper authorities. No church ceremony is required to finalize things.

The wedding is what most people want though: they want to proclaim their new status as husband and wife publicly. And they have a unique way of doing it. Read on…

On the day of the wedding, the bride and her attendants hole up at her parents’ house. Whether she wears white or another color is a matter of conjecture however, here the West is having an influence and more and more, wedding dresses are white.

The groom and his party are to come to the bride’s house and the groom asks permission from the bride’s parents to enter the home. After answering a few questions, the groom is allowed in. This shows respect for the bride’s home and her parents. After that is when the fun and games start. The bride’s attendants do everything they can to keep the groom from reaching the bride: they block his path, they take his jacket, his shoes, his hat if he’s wearing one. The groom’s party is to parry the advances of the bride’s attendants, all the while helping to advance the procession into the inner room where the bride waits. This shows the groom’s determination to win the woman he loves, no matter what befalls him.

Once the groom makes it to the bridal chamber, he will find that she is not ready. Her shoes are not on, her purse is lost, something happened to her flowers. The groom’s party must pay the bride’s attendants to help finish getting the bride ready. Don’t worry, this is all part of the game! This stage simply demonstrates that the groom will be patient with his wife, and will not deprive her of her friends after marriage. Once the bride is finally ready, she and her man head toward the apartment door. Again they are met by the bride’s parents, who give the groom money to take care of her properly. Of course, if the groom does not successfully convince the bride or the attendants to allow the wedding, no money changes hands and the parents keep their cash (and their daughter).

But let’s assume all goes well and the happy couple gets to leave the apartment. They are of course followed by the entire wedding party, and they get in their phalanx of cars. Next stop: the nicest restaurant in town! Now is when the fun really starts.

After eating, the MC calls the bride and groom to the front of the room, and invites the audience to talk about what they know of the bride or the groom. This is when humorous anecdotes are shared and much laughter ensues. This stage demonstrates that the bride and groom are human beings, with follies, shame and mistakes to their name. The longer this session goes on, the bawdier the stories! As the young couple’s moments are highlighted, candy and other sweets are passed around.

To mark the end of the wedding the newlyweds pour champagne for everyone. This symbolizes that, even though they are devoted to one another, they still serve their friends and family… but now, they do it together.

Nowhere during this ritual is God invoked, and there is little in the way of reverence. In fact, the more irreverent this whole affair, the better! There are no vows publicly exchanged and no promises made. It is understood that their commitment is for a lifetime. The purpose of this whole shebang is to celebrate a young couple’s happiness with the ones they love.

George understands that I cannot possibly make it to his village to take part in his wedding, although I sorely wish I could be there to witness his wedding firsthand. We compromised: I will call him at 11:00AM, just after he ‘captures’ his bride and they are on their way to the banquet. I am honored to be a part of my friend’s special day!

Do you think I know too many people named George?

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