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Deciding for your wedding
I have been going to weddings since I was a child. My maternal grandmother, being a midwife, received so many wedding invitations that I gladly took her place, and each banquet was a feast of eight or more mouth-watering dishes. All I had to do was to deliver her red envelope (of new banknotes) for the marrying couple. Such "hong bao" (red envelope) was and still is the custom Chinese gift whether or not you are able to attend a wedding.
I have attended weddings of all religious denominations: Protestant, Catholic, Zen Buddhist, Hindu, Moslem, Seikh, Malay, traditional Chinese and civil weddings. I have played organ at various Christian weddings in church, from the hasty 5 minute "I do, I do, kiss the bride" to the elongated Catholic weddings. I have played the piano for preludes and postludes, during the ceremony, throughout the lunch and dinner receptions, and even during the photo sessions. Wedding invitations have lured me to faraway places like Seattle, San Francisco, Okinawa, London, Arundel, Richmond, Birmingham, Hereford, Tralee, Limerick, Wassenaar, Ede, Naarden, Rommel, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Miao Li, Rome, and Munich. [That is, USA, Japan, England, Ireland, Netherlands, Belgium, Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, Italy, and Germany.] You might say that I specialise in being a wedding guest and a wedding musician.
A wedding planner I am not, but a decision advisor I am. How do you optimise the decisions you make for your wedding? For first timers who plan to do it themselves, that is, without consulting recently married couples and professional wedding planners, decision making can be daunting because of the cash outlay, the uncertainties of the guest list (who will actually come), and the attention to detail. Many of these decisions are made for the first and last time. For example, choosing a wedding dress, choosing music for a wedding, and deciding on the wording of the invitation.
The most important decision, after deciding to get married, is to select the date. It serves as the starting point because venues have to be reserved. Chinese people like to consult the ancient calendar called HUANG LI for auspicious dates and times. In October 2005, for example, the best dates to get married are the 5th, 13th, and 29th between 11 am and 5 pm. The next best dates are 19th, 22th, 23th, and 24th. The worst dates, or rather, the dates to avoid are 8th, 9th, 17th, 20th, and 21st. This is not to say that if you do get married on one of the worst HUANG LI dates your marriage will be cursed.
Equally important is to choose the location. Church or no church? Townhall or other? In the Netherlands, you have to register with the town hall to apply for permission to be married. The permission is granted for one year. In the application, you have to select the location but not necessarily the date. Non-Dutch residents who plan to marry in the Netherlands have to get their original birth certificates "apostillised", a word meaning to show it is indeed a legal document. They also have to prove that they are not already married. A lady living in London, for example, will have to get her local registry office to produce a document stating that she is a spinster. She then has to get that document "apostillised" at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London. The application should also include names, addresses, and passport copies of the two to four witnesses.
To choose the wedding date, the marrying couple could consult those guests they definitely want to be at the wedding. They should also consider their budget for the wedding, amount of time they have to plan it, the ease in booking venues and flights (more availability and lower prices during the off-peak travel season, for example).
Next, dream up the kind of wedding you want. Identify what is most important to you. For instance, I love dancing and engaging in interesting conversation. If I were to get married, I'd make sure a good DJ plays all my favourite dance tunes. I'd architect an atmosphere conducive to good conversation during the reception.
Of course, you and your partner should discuss wedding programme --- what time should the event end, how long should each section of the day be, who needs transportation, how to coordinate the logistics, etc. There are many articles on the Internet to help you with getting information and making decisions regarding each of these sections.
Dutch weddings are renowned for the participative and interactive element. Guests contribute "sketches" they make up about either the bride or the groom or both. They may sing a parody, act out a skit they wrote, or tell a joke. It's not uncommon for the guests to participate in the wedding itself, important activities such as shooting the wedding photos, playing music, baking the wedding cake, chauffeuring the newly weds, DJ'ing the party, and ushering the guests. Dutch weddings are a stark contrast to Chinese weddings where the most important part is the Chinese banquet.
Whose wedding is it? The guest list is made up of those people you really want to see and those you ought to invite. Here is where the struggle begins. You will feel obliged to invite certain people. Some of your guests will feel obliged to accept your invitation. You will try to find ways to get those people you're obliged to invite but don't want to see to decline your invitation. Over the years, I have heard of many tricks, including giving people too short notice to allow them to arrange their travel, holding the wedding in a faraway place too remote and too pricey for them to manage the journey, and wording the invitation so that they don't feel welcome ---- by mass e-mail, for example.
Like any project, be sure to plan some slack in advance. By slack, I mean, extra time to do your make up, extra budget for the unforeseen expenses, and extra people to help and not hinder. Contingency planning is also a good way to prepare for the unexpected. Have an indoor venue as a back-up for poor weather.
If by any chance you can't agree on the necessary decisions and fight to such an extent that you forget why you decided to get married in the first place, then you must stop and take stock. Planning a wedding is the first step to getting married. Good luck!
8 September 2005 Thursday