The summer months of July and August in Eritrea always see a lot of wedding ceremonies. The streets are jammed with traffic because of the more than normal flow of vehicles, most of which are cars accompanying marring couples. Given that it is summer, rain, as much as it is welcome, is somewhat considered enemy number one. Nobody wants rain on the day that the bride is wearing white and everybody is in their best outfits.
Like everybody else, I have been to a wedding or two this summer and in one of this, the unwanted happened. It rained.
The bride’s vision of this perfect, sunny reception didn’t work out as she hoped. Instead, she watched from the backseat window of the car as it rained cats and dogs.
I am quite sure her thoughts were “What did I ever do wrong, God!”
In three words, Eritrean weddings are romantic, large, and traditional. Eritreans are usually found glued to the TV, watching a wedding home video. “Once in a life time you’re born, once in your life you die, and once in a life time you get married” so you must do it right to remember it., like wise you end up investing a lot of money in a wedding.
Eritrean culture and weddings are about community-building; for six months leading up to the wedding, both families get together to cook, prepare, and make traditional drinks including sewa ( beer like)) and mes (a fermented honey drink). Of course, these six months are also full of singing and dancing. In Eritrea, the traditional Christian wedding ceremonies last two days.
On the first day of the ceremony, which usually falls on a Saturday, the groom, accompanied by his best-men, goes to the bride’s house and takes her to church. After the priest performs the ceremony, the newlywed and all their guests go to a nearby park to take wedding pictures. After which, the couple go for a lavish breakfast. Then the couple are led to the dance floor to dance while a camera crew do their business of capturing every bit of it.
In the past, the reception was held in a large tent near the groom’s home, but recently holding the reception at a banquet hall has become more common, especially if the wedding is in summer. Either way, in a tent or a banquet hall, the bride and groom dance with their guests. On the second day of the matrimonial ceremony, the wedding starts early in the morning. With the bride wearing her white gown and the groom sporting an immaculate suit, they go to a park and spend the morning taking pictures with loved ones and guests. The official ceremony though starts as the bride and groom make their way to the brides home where a reception is held i n their honor. T h e newlywed are accompanied by a long line of white Mercedes and the latest model cars, possibly rented at an astronomical price for the occasion. At the bride’s reception, family of the bride sit on one side and the family of the bridegroom sit on the other side of the tent. Close relatives and guests sit in front. The ritual starts after lunch, when representatives of both families exchange promises of loyalty, and a priest blesses the wedding.
When all this takes place the bride is inside her house waiting for her grand entrance to the tent. When the time comes, she enters the tent with her groom and have lunch with both families feeding each other, symbolizing the promise to support the other family if necessary.
Once the feast is over, it is mandatory to sing two traditional songs, before dancing: Awelo – a song in honor of the family members, whose names are specifically mentioned by the singer; and Masse, in honor of the women who prepare the traditional food for the wedding.
The ceremony is concluded with a wedding cake and champagne and the bride and bridegroom open the dance. A basket is passed through the crowd to collect some money as a contribution to the wedding. The just-married couple then leave for the groom’s house, where there is another ceremony held by the groom’s family. The bride leaves her house with her groom accompanied by her maid of honor but her family do not attend the groom’s wedding party, signifying their respect and blessing in giving their daughter.
The family of the bride nonetheless continue to feast and dance long into the night.
All that might be beautiful. But, it is a bit disturbing to see how much money is invested in our weddings. It bewilders me to see such extravagant wedding ceremonies. It leaves you guessing where the money is coming from. In my opinion I don’t see the point in having such huge and lavish weddings, especially those done to impress the bride’s family or your own for that matter. You spend almost all that you have in two days of hectic celebrations to end up with small for the beginning of your marriage, and the relatives you had spent so much to make happy at your weeding tend to forget about you afterwards. Sure they might talk about the lavish wedding they attended but that is not going to pay the electricity bill.
The other day, a friend (Who shall remain nameless) who is getting married in the near future told me that his ideal wedding was to do everything in a single day and get it over with as soon as possible. He said that not out of utter stinginess but rather with care and love for his better half he wishes to provide her with the most comfortable life he thought she deserves. He was adamant not to spend his life’s savings as well as his families to make his or her relatives happy; relatives who, by the way, he and his wife will only gets to see once. If lucky twice a year, most probably when the married couple have their first born or the baby’s baptism. Of course, ironically, to celebrate another lavish and extravagant event.
But, upon discussing the idea with the bride’s family, to his utter despair he found out that they were not at all in the same page of having a small and intimate family wedding but the large and ridiculously expensive one. His next response when telling me the story made me laugh a bit and at the same time I felt sorry for the man because he wasn’t sure if he was marrying the love of his life or her family. He said in utter despair “Apparently our marriage is with each other but our wedding is with them.”
The expenses ranges from renting a venue for the reception, cars (preferably white mercedes), tuxedos, wedding gowns, bride-maids dresses, best men’s suits, cake, band and the list goes on and on and there are the formal clothes close relatives have to buy for the day itself, mother of the bride might feel it is necessary to buy her sisters (if she has any) the same outfit as hers, so they can match each other. We all know if there are three or four women wearing the same outfit at a wedding; they are definitely sisters. These are just few of the many examples that make Eritrean weddings pricey.
Sure our weddings are romantic and totally different from weddings in other cultures and the fact that they are large makes them huge family affairs. But in terms of financial prudence they are very expensive to the point where both families of the couple and, at times, even friends have to invest tremendously beyond their capabilities. Weddings are supposed to be celebrations that see the marrying couple off to their new life, a time of blessing for a happy and prosperous life together. Weddings are not all about showing how much money you can fork out.