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Budget wedding? Let’s at least try, people!

By Natnael Yebio W.

To my dismay, after having successfully avoided attending social functions of any sort for almost a year, I was finally caught. I had to attend my cousin’s wedding with my mother. This time around my mam made sure to inform me not to make any other commitment on the day a good two weeks before the actual wedding day.

You see for over twelve months or so I had managed to make one excuse after another not to attend weddings, graduations, engagements, etc. But I had gotten to the final page of the book, ‘Excuses to make in case you had to attend a social function’, and I reluctantly agreed to go to this one. “It is just a couple of hours,” I told myself. “I’ll be back just in time to watch Newcastle play Brighton.” As an introvert mass gatherings exhaust me; weddings are no different, they really are not my forte. However, as the eldest in my family I’m rather obligated to make appearances here and there. Anyway this is not about me. It is about weddings and expenses. Time to hit top form!

Eritrean wedding expenses include renting a venue for the reception, cars (preferably white Mercedes), tuxedos, wedding gowns, bride-maids’ dresses, best men’s suits, wedding cake, a 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 necessary to buy her sisters (if she has any) the same outfit as hers so that they can match one another. We all know if there are three or four women wearing the same outfit at a wedding, they are sisters or close relatives or close friends. These are just few of the many examples that make Eritrean weddings pricey.

It is no secret wedding seasons are filled with shrieks and cries of families of the newly engaged and wed as bank accounts wither from wedding expenses. Some are willing to acknowledge the harmful effects of bridal bashing, but others are still in denial.

Our weddings may be romantic and a huge family affairs that bring together the neighborhood communities, relatives and friends. But they are very expensive requiring not only the families of the newlywed but close relatives and, at times, even friends to chip in beyond their capabilities. Weddings are supposed to be a celebration to see the marrying couple off to their new life, a time of blessing for a happy and prosperous marriage, and they should not be about showing how much money you can fork out all in one go.

We know COVID-19 has disrupted life across the globe, and it has equally disrupted the wedding season in Eritrea. Wedding plans that have been in the pipeline for a good nine months are in jeopardy as couples are caught between a rock and a hard place; they have to make a decision as to whether to postpone their wedding day indefinitely or go ahead with it. There is no question that the virus has tragically caused so many deaths globally – although fortunately, Eritrea has not seen a single death to-date –  but in my opinion, the pandemic has also brought about a welcome change to the way weddings are held and should be held in the future.

The wedding party I went to two weeks ago was a small and intimate gathering of close family members and friends. The entire ceremony was held at the rooftop of the bride’s house on a sunny Sunday afternoon. In the morning the bride and groom, along with their maids of honor and best men, went for a photo shoot around the city.

At approximately 3 o’clock in the afternoon, they arrived at the bride’s house for the official ceremony, where they had lunch followed by dances and a cake cutting ceremony, all in a space of three hours. By the end of it all I left saying to myself that I can get used to this pretty easily. At 6:30 I was already home and watching a football match on television.

Traditionally Eritrean wedding parties are huge, lasting three days. Yes, you read that right, THREE DAYS! 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 for the official wedding. After the church service, the newlywed and their guests go to a nearby park to take wedding pictures. Then they go for a lavish breakfast, which is followed by a solo dance of the newlywed while the camera crew try to capture every bit of it.

In the past, the wedding reception was usually held at a large tent near the groom’s home, but these days it is becoming increasingly common to have the reception at a hotel or rented out hall.

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 in an immaculate suit. The couple go to a park and spend the morning taking pictures with loved ones and guests. The official ceremony starts as the bride and groom make their way to the bride’s home where a reception is held in their honor. The newlywed are accompanied by a long line of white Mercedes and latest model cars, possibly rented for the occasion. At the bride’s reception, the family of the bride sits on one side and the family of the bridegroom on the other side of the tent. 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 stays in her room until her grand entrance to the tent. After she enters the tent with her groom lunch is served to the couple and the groom’s and bride’s parties.

Once the feast is over, it is mandatory to sing two traditional songs before the dancing starts: Awlo, a 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 ends with the cutting of the wedding cake and opening champagne and a dance by the bride and bridegroom. While the newlywed dance, a basket is passed around the crowd to collect money as a gift for the couple. The newlywed leave to go to the groom’s place, where there is another ceremony being held by the groom’s family. The bride leaves her house accompanied by her maids of honor. Her family do not attend the groom’s wedding party but instead continue to feast and dance long into the night as a celebration.

All that might be beautiful but it is concerning to see how much money goes into a huge Eritrean wedding. I do not see the point of 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 of your savings for two days of hectic celebrations only to end up with a few to start a new life, and the relatives you tried to impress and make happy tend to forget about you afterwards.

Getting your budget right should be one of your top priorities when you plan a wedding. Whether you plan on having a big or a small event, deciding on a benchmark for your expenses will make it easy for you and your partner in the long run. This can also be a good lesson for you to live the rest of your married life according to your budget.

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