Weeks after John and I became a legally recognized couple in China on July 26, the pink pastel envelopes of misunderstanding — with return addresses from my parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts — started pouring in:
Congratulations On Your Marriage!
To the Bride and Groom…
On Your Wedding Day…
“It’s not really a wedding,” I had told my father. “They call it dengji, or registering. It’s more symbolic, like an engagement.” I didn’t wear a bridal gown that day. There were no friends present to witness, and no gifts to receive. We didn’t even tell John’s family about it, until afterwards.
But I’d sent photos home to my dad, and they told another story. China’s national seal, flag, and an official podium with the words “Shanghai Marriage Registry Office” adorned the stage where John and I stood side by side. Across from us, a bureaucrat read our wedding vows, asking us to pledge to care for one another, and our parents. The whole thing screamed “wedding at the courthouse or justice of peace.”
So years later, after John and I came to the US, my American friends and relatives just didn’t understand our need to have a wedding. “Didn’t you already get married?” they might ask, as if I was trying to erase how I’d chosen shotgun eloping over a ceremony. Every year, around July 26, we’d find the same well-intentioned pastel envelopes in our mailbox, feeling like another round of votes against our wedding hopes. Sometimes even I wondered if I’d wasted all that time and money getting three wedding dresses, now languishing in the back of our dusty wooden closet.
“My family doesn’t consider us married until we have the wedding ceremony,” John would reassure me. So, by July 2007, it didn’t matter that it was nearly three years after we had “registered.” John’s family welcomed us back home to China, to do the ceremony that I wanted, and they wanted. There was no confusion about it — this was our true wedding.
But I can’t say the same for my family in the US. After all, they still ask me if my anniversary is July 7, or July 26. 😉
Have your family or friends ever gotten confused over the “dengji question” — or other wedding/marriage customs in China?