When the engagement party my husband and I planned for our son was around the corner, I realized I had somewhat of an anxiety attack. Two months earlier, we met the parents of my son’s fiancée, a darling Chinese American. They are much more traditional Chinese than I am; what are their expectations? I wondered.
In the Chinese culture, the groom’s family usually pays for the wedding, and there is a long list of “dos and don’ts tasks” associated with the wedding – the things I know little about. Since the young couple will fund their own wedding, I have decided that we need to thread our way through this big event with highest sensitivity.
Where can I get help in managing the situation? I was worried. My son is 50% Chinese, but realistically speaking, he’s a typical young American. My father is deceased and my mother is mentally incapable of giving me any advice on doing whatever is required for a wedding. From the moment I stepped off the plane in New York from my native Hong Kong as a teenager, I have embraced the American way of life and rarely practiced any of the Chinese customs. And my husband, the O’Neill, offers nothing other than the occasional “throwing his hands in the air” routine. Do I need to say more? My nervousness was evident to a degree that my intended in-laws have recognized that when they proposed to have a whole roast pig for the engagement party in our backyard. They grinned through the discussion.
“What?” My husband flinched as soon as they left our home. “Find an excuse not to have the pig,” he said. I guess the gray fish-eyes and chicken head staring at him at the Chinese banquets were the most he can handle.
Thank God for Google! I subsequently found out that in the old Chinese tradition the gift of a whole roast pig was an engagement gift given by the groom’s family to the bride’s family, not the other way around. So I called my intended in-laws. “I don’t think we’re getting the pig,” I said. “Chicken Parmesan and Veal Marsala are more likely to be in the menu.” And I added that none of my five married brothers had presented a whole pig in their engagement festivities.
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To my surprise, they said, “We don’t follow those rules. Let’s mix-and-match the traditions —the pig is our contribution to the party. Besides, the meat is delicious and it would resemble a bit of the traditional celebration.” Trying our best to be sensitive, we concurred.
The engagement party was a smash and everyone enjoyed the roast pig while my husband kept a distance from the table where the pig sat. When asked to be photographed next to the pig, he said laughing, “Me, sharing the spotlight with Porky? In the pig’s eye I am!”
Now the planning of the wedding is on its way and a “Tea Ceremony” has been discussed. The tea ceremony, symbolizes respect, is considered a significant event in a Chinese wedding. The custom works like this: on the wedding day, the bride serves tea to both her parents at home right before she leaves for the ceremony. This act is in respect and gratitude to her parents for all the years of love and care. Later the bride and groom serve tea to the groom’s family, including uncles and aunts, in the presence of all the guests as a formal introduction. My husband liked the idea initially until he learned that the ceremony requires the young couple serving tea while kneeling down.
“What?” he said, scratching his head. “We’re not in Uganda! No one should kneel down other than in front of the altar or when the queen enters!”
Okay, that’s settled. The young couple will stand and bow while serving tea at the reception, and ONLY to the two set of parents.
Next decision: “Should I wear white or red?” the bride-to-be asked. “Or both?”
Next topic: “What should I do?” my son muttered. “Chinese custom calls for the groom to pick up the bride at her home to head for the ceremony together. Modern custom dictates that the groom not to see the bride before the ceremony.”
I feel a migraine creeping up. Yes, I haven’t been loyal to my heritage and hope my son will get acquainted to the very traditions that I have failed to pass down. It’s a good thing. But for the moment, I would opt for the advice I found on the internet on how to behave as a groom’s mother in America, “Show up, shut up, and wear beige.”
Colts Neck, NJ