Observations of a Chinese wedding in Brooklyn, NY

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Until recently, I was completely clueless about football. I’ve been to a few Super Bowl parties in the last couple of years, and despite the fact I didn’t know what was going on except for when a player made a touchdown, everyone assured me it was okay that I didn’t understand the sport.

All I needed to do was clap and cheer when everyone else jumped up to clap and cheer, they said.

When it came to Sean’s wedding at the end of last month, that’s basically what I did because the entire ceremony was in Mandarin and some other provincial dialect, and I could not understand anything. So when people put their hands together, I put my hands together. When people started spraying silly string on the bridal party, I did the same.

Since I didn’t comprehend exactly what was happening, I spent a lot of time tapping away at my phone so I could accurately describe what the ceremony looked like from my seat.

Before the wedding, some of the things that stood out to me were:
  1. The ceremony took place in a restaurant.
  2. Sean told us guests did not have to be dressed fancy. He said we could arrive in a T-shirt and jeans. His sister told me otherwise. So, some people wore shorts and a shirt, and others wore fancier outfits. There was a wide spectrum of style at the wedding. Haha.
  3. Sean and his wife did not have a registry. I’m almost entirely certain that everyone gave money as a wedding gift.
  4. Money was mostly given in cash.
  5. Money was only accepted in a traditional red envelope. (No white envelopes with cash or checks stuffed inside a card. That’s what I came with, so I had to rip open the envelope, take my gift out, and place it into a red envelope that was [thankfully] provided at the entrance. Phew!)

Inside the venue
, there must have been around 20 tables with 8 to 10 seats each. Each guest was given a 3-liter container of olive oil as a gift to take home. (Not everyone took it, though.) The tables had peanuts, sunflower seeds and red gelatin sprinkled with flour that we were able to snack on. There was also some sort of sesame ball dessert on the table. Sean’s friends and I munched on those a lot (especially the sunflower seeds and peanuts) because we were hungry.

The tables were further decorated with Sprite and Coca-Cola bottles, and clear wine glasses with folded red napkins placed inside. A hot pot of black tea also sat at our round table, although it was warm by the time we got to it since it had been sitting there for a while. It was warm enough that we were able to drink it without blowing on it.

As the ceremony got closer, each table joined the bride and groom up front to take photos.

5 - chinese_wedding_new_yorkI think the ceremony formally began when guests from several tables (including me! 😀 ) were called to stand up in front of the stage and handed party crazy string and confetti poppers (which I’m guessing were about three feet long). A few couples walked down the aisles – I think the parents of the bride and groom, and the best man/maid of honor – and as soon as they got up to where we were standing, we launched party string and tons of confetti at them. We were allowed to aim wherever we wanted, except for their face.

By the end of this part of the ceremony, the floor was covered with a layer of party string and confetti.

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The most notable part of Sean’s wedding, coming from my never-exposed-to-a-Chinese-wedding-before goggles was that the rituals and traditions took place at the same time the food was being served. That made it nearly impossible to keep track of what was happening because it’s challenging to eat while paying attention to what’s happening in Mandarin. (Or, actually, it may have been happening in another Chinese dialect. It was hard to tell.)

I did notice that Sean and his wife bowed a number of times and lightly butt their heads against each other at least three times. His wife also started the evening in a white gown, then changed to a red cheongsam, and concluded the night in a floor-length, strapless, violet taffeta gown.

But more than anything, most attention was focused on the food. There must have been about 10 different entrees for dinner! The ceremony took about two hours, and in that time the guests indulged in prawns, crab, soup, rice, fish and noodles, among what felt like a million other dishes.

In the end, as mentioned in my previous post, Observations of Brooklyn’s Chinatown, language was the largest barrier in being around Sean and his friends for the wedding and the days leading up to it. But at the same time, it wasn’t because it was such an incredible learning experience. And I wasn’t the only person in the room who couldn’t speak or understand Chinese. Yet all of us English-only speakers managed to participate in the ceremony just fine, and eat as much as we possibly could before falling into food comas just like everybody else. Most importantly, it was wonderful to be part of a Chinese celebration of two people starting a lifelong journey together, and one that lent insight into the culture.

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