Sunday, January 1, 2012

Getting married... Taiwanese style.

I was up early on Christmas Eve to attend a wedding and all the traditional festivities associated with the marriage of two people in love.  My co-teacher, Pei Pei, was there to be my narrator and translator.  First, I should explain that every aspect of the wedding ceremony is planned out by a fortune teller.  After a man and a woman get engaged, they go to a fortune teller to ensure they are compatible.  The fortune teller then decides the date the couple should get married along with the time each event should occur.  12/24/11 was a prosperous day to get married, so there were many weddings throughout the city!  Everything involved in the wedding was in groups of even numbers... two, six, and eight are lucky numbers, four is avoided because it means death.  The groom chooses six of his friends to drive in a procession of cars to pick up his bride from her parents' house on the day of the wedding.  Each car is adorned with a big red bow!

When the groom arrives, the bridesmaids have planned assorted obstacles for him to complete before he's allowed to see his bride.  He had to name five reasons why he wanted to marry her, do physical exercises to prove his strength as a protector, and answer some personal questions about their relationship.  If he gets any of the answers incorrect he must give the bridesmaids red envelopes full of money to pay them off!  (If I were a bridesmaid, I would definitely try to cash in!)  Once he has been satisfactorily tortured, he is allowed to see his bride.  He must propose to her one more time, and if she says yes he must place her shoes on her feet (Cinderella style) and escort her to the living room where her parents are waiting.

The bride and groom must each make a speech to the brides parents (or parent in this case), thanking them for raising her and saying goodbye, as she is about to leave her own family be accepted as part of the groom's.  There were many tears from both the bride and her mother, understandably so!  I don't think I could make it though a speech like that!

The bride joins the groom in one of the fancy cars in the procession, but must wait until it is the appropriate time to leave, as decided by the fortune teller.  When the bride arrives at the groom's parents' house, a bamboo shade is held over her head when she exits the vehicle if she is not pregnant on the day or a black umbrella if she is pregnant.  No baby here!

Upon arrival, she must step over a fire to ward off evil spirits and break a tile with her heel signifying her arrival.  The tile also represents the bride declaring herself as a respected member of the household.

The groom then takes his bride to a room in the house specifically used for religious purposes where he presents her to his ancestors in a short worshipping ceremony.

After the bride is presented to the groom's ancestors, their entourage waits until the appropriate time (as decided by the fortune teller) to start heading to a restaurant.  The Taiwanese do not have a wedding ceremony that westerners are used to.  There is no church, no vows, no "you may kiss the bride"... everyone in the wedding party simply goes to a restaurant for lunch, then on to a reception.

The entire experience was completely fascinating.  I felt so lucky to have been a part of the couple's special day and to be able to experience such a unique aspect of Taiwanese culture.  The day made me reflect on the age-old traditions that have probably been lost over time to the cultural melting pot in America.  There is something so beautiful about the diverse population in the U.S. but at the same time I think we lack the strong traditions that binds us all together.  (We have a few, but nothing in comparison to what I have witnessed!)  As I have experienced, there is something really incredible about connecting with others in your country by carrying on the same traditions practiced by generations upon generations of ancestors.