When a friend told me she didn’t want to have a big wedding banquet in China, I could totally understand why.
After all, I’m the one who wrote about Why I Don’t Like Going to Wedding Banquets in China. I still have a “just say no” policy when it comes to Chinese wedding invitations. Just the mere suggestion of a wedding in China fills me with dread. The last thing I need is more non-vegan food I can’t eat, a room polluted with noxious secondhand smoke, and a raucous atmosphere that will leave me unsettled for the rest of the night.
In short, a good book at home beats a wedding banquet in China any day for me.
And to be sure, there was a time when I once hoped that my own wedding ceremony in China would have been different. Smaller. More intimate. Vegan food. A strict smoking ban. I envisioned this glorious countryside wedding at the family home, a delightful ceremony closer to nature and tradition than anything I’d seen in the cities.
Well, it didn’t happen that way.
Instead, I got a big, red banquet in a hotel with more than 150 guests in attendance. The only vegan dishes were prepared for me, on the side. And as for that smoking ban, as much as we tried enforcing it, it was kind of laughable when there were free cigarettes at every setting (typical for most wedding banquets in China).
In fairness to the family here, I should be clear about one thing – I was enormously grateful for the wedding banquet for a number of reasons.
Having a wedding in the US was pretty much an impossibility for my husband and me. So if we hadn’t had the ceremony in China, we wouldn’t have had anything at all. Furthermore, they shouldered all the costs of the wedding, which was incredibly generous of them. And in the process of planning the banquet, they allowed me and my husband to make a lot of decisions. We chose the décor for the stage/backdrop. We organized the karaoke afterparty. We decided on the flowers. We specifically requested those candid photos shot during the event. We even planned to let me sing “our song” during the ceremony (which would have happened, had I not lost my voice). In short, we were given a lot of leeway to lend a personal touch to the event.
But yes, if I had planned it all according to my wishes, like brides in America do, I would have had a completely different wedding banquet altogether. (And nobody would have gotten those free cigarettes at the table!)
It was my husband who helped me understand the reality in China – that wedding banquets matter not just to the bride and groom, but to the entire family. As I wrote in Why Your Chinese Wedding Ceremony Will Always Be Big, Fat and Loud:
You can think of Chinese weddings literally as a family affair — a sort of public face that impacts the entire family, beyond you and your groom. And for Chinese families, good face comes from putting on the biggest, fattest, loudest possible affair. Reputation is everything here! After all no one wants guests to remember them as, say, the family who put on that small and pathetic little wedding banquet, or the family who served crappy food or booze. You get the point.
It’s no wonder, then, that often your fiancee’s parents and the rest of the family will have a hand in some, if not most, of the planning of that Chinese wedding ceremony. John’s family sure did.
There’s also another important reason why the wedding banquet must go on – because many families don’t consider you married without it.
Even though my husband and I registered our marriage years before our wedding banquet, the family didn’t consider us married until we, as the Chinese say, had our “happiness wine”.
So yes, your Chinese family wants and expects a wedding banquet. While there are probably lots of things you can have a say on – from the flowers to the décor to even your photographers – the actual wedding banquet isn’t one of them. Not even close.
But I say, if you’ve got to do it, embrace the experience. And believe me, there are benefits to getting married over here. How about having more than one dress in your ceremony? Or getting your hair and makeup redone several times during the event? Or even having those stunning wedding/engagement photos done? Trust me, there’s lots of potential to enjoy the whole “princess” treatment here.
As for me, I don’t regret the way my wedding banquet turned out. Maybe it wasn’t the “perfect day” I imagined long ago, but that’s OK. After all, my husband and I honeymooned in that magical island of Bali.
Yeah, you can envy me now. 😉