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Crazy January, Crazy Weddings!

My social media timeline is flooded with pictures posted by recently married couples. Yes, it is January and with it comes weddings. So much so that it is traditionally called ‘Tiri Ebidi’, which roughly translates as ‘Crazy January’. For some a reminder that time is moving and should get married so. For others, well…

The month of Tiri (January) is traditionally consecrated for marriages and wedding feasts. A mating season par excellence. Count nine months after January or even February, and that’s, more often than not, when Eritrean Orthodox religious believers celebrate their birthdays, namely September and October. So if you forget the birthday of your close friend or even your wife, choose these months (give or take a week) and check and confirm with a relative to buy your present. You won’t go wrong.

If it were not for the lent, wedding feasts would have rolled on throughout the whole year and there wouldn’t be any way to stop them.

Eritrean culture and weddings are about community-building. For six months leading up to the wedding, both families will get together to cook, prepare, and make traditional drinks including sewa (a beer like alcohol) and mes (a fermented honey drink). And, of course, these six months are also full of singing and dancing. In Eritrea, the traditional Christian wedding ceremonies take two days.

Of course, it all starts when boy meets girl. (Or is it the other way around? Not quite sure these days.) Sometimes it is love at first sight, but often it is a cumulative effect of daily situations and nightly hesitations.

In traditional Eritrea, however, it is the parents who fall in love with other parents in the village which result in the marriage alliance between the two households, with the boy and the girl forced to consummate the event in the nuptial bed. A sort of a shotgun marriage with the culture and tradition serving as the weapon.

You see, the father of the girl had previously promised the father of the boy that if the child of the former was to be a female, he would offer her to the latter for the sake of cementing the love that existed between them.

But it so happens sometimes that the groom and the bride are so young that, for all they know, the marriage and the life after the event feels like little children playing house. Only this time they have a real house.

One way or another, once the decision is made for the marriage to take place, no earthly power can alter it. The marriage usually takes place within a year unless something happens in between. The preparation begins quite ahead of time.

In modern Eritrea, this is how weddings go: 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 the service at the church. After the priest performs the ceremony, the newlywed couple and their guests go to a nearby park to take wedding pictures. Afterward, the couple will go for a lavish breakfast. After that, the couple are requested to dance while a camera crew aim to catch every bit of it.

In the past, the reception was held in a large tent near the groom’s home. Recently, however, banquet halls have become more common. Either way, in a tent or a banquet hall, the bride and groom dance with their guests.

On the second day of the ceremony, events start 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 then starts as the bride and groom make their way to the bride’s home for a reception that is held in their honor. The newlyweds will be accompanied by a long line of white cars (often rented for the occasion). At the bride’s reception, the family of the bride sit on one side and the family of the groom sit on the other side. Close relatives are in front. The ritual starts after lunch, when representatives of both families exchange promises of loyalty and then a priest blesses the wedding.

When all this is taking place, the bride will be inside waiting for her grand entrance to the tent. When the time comes, she will enter the tent with her groom and have lunch with both families; they feed each other, symbolizing the promise to support one another, if necessary.

Once the feast is over, it is mandatory to sing two traditional songs before dancing: Awelo, song in honor of the family members, whose names are specifically mentioned by the singer, and Masse, in honor of the women who prepared the traditional food for the wedding.

The ceremony is concluded with cake and champagne. Afterward, the bride and groom will open the dance. A basket is passed through the crowd to collect financial contributions for the wedding. The just-married couple will then leave to the groom’s house, where there is another ceremony being held by the groom’s family. In this situation, the bride will leave her house with her groom accompanied by her maid of honor. Her family will not attend the groom’s wedding party, signifying their respect and blessing in giving their daughter. However, the family of the bride will continue to feast and dance long into the night.

All that might be beautiful and very traditional but to slightly digress and talk on a serious note, it is a bit concerning to see how much money is invested on weddings in our society. It bewilders me to see such extravagant wedding ceremonies. It leaves you guessing where the money is coming from. In my humble opinion, I don’t see the point of having such lavish weddings, especially done to impress the bride’s family (or your own, for that matter).

You spent almost all that you have in two days of hectic celebrations to end up with only a little for the beginning of your marriage. Furthermore, the relatives you had spent money on to make happy tend to forget about you afterwards. While they might talk about the lavish wedding, I am quite sure that is not going to pay the electricity bill.

The expenses include renting a venue for the reception, cars (preferably white Mercedes models), tuxedos, wedding gowns, dresses, suits, cake, band, and more. Of course, relative have to buy formal clothes for the day itself, while the mother of the bride might feel it necessary to buy her sisters the same outfit as hers (so they can match). We all know if there are three or four women wearing the same outfit at a wedding, then they are definitely sisters. These are just some of the things that make Eritrean weddings quite expensive.

Last, while our weddings are romantic and distinguished from other cultures, the fact that they are really large makes them very expensive, to the point where both families, and at times even friends, have to spend beyond their capabilities. Weddings are supposed to be celebrations that set couples off to their new lives and a time of blessings and happiness. I am quite sure they are not all about showing how much money you can spend.

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