I’m in a state of flux at the moment: we have just packed up all our belongings in one home and are in the process of transiting to a new home in another country. The Holmes and Rahe stress scale rates this as a reasonably stressful time on a number of counts: “change of residence” (+20); “change in living conditions” (+25); etc. In addition to the logistic considerations, we are coping with elements of “culture shock” and “re-entry shock” as we leave Thailand behind us – for a while, anyway.
As we’ve been preparing for our move, I’ve been reflecting on some of the things I’ll miss most about Thailand. The country’s delightful customs, especially those marking life-changes or special events, rank high on this long list. From the daily offerings to a spirit house to an elaborate ordination ceremony for monks, and beyond, specific traditional cultural rituals are closely followed.
Nothing says “change” and new beginnings like a wedding: the ceremonial recognition that two people are about to launch into life together. And, as with any other event in Thai life, a wedding offers ample opportunity for the modern practice – amid smiles and laughter – of some age-old cultural traditions.
This time last year, we were lucky enough to be guests at part of a Thai wedding ceremony.
I say “part of a ceremony” because a Thai “wedding” starts long before the ceremony. The date chosen must be considered auspicious, and determining this often involves consulting astrologers. It is not uncommon for potential guests to have a number of weddings to chose from on particularly auspicious dates.
Early morning of the wedding day (between 6 and 7 am), monks will arrive to bless the new couple (วันสุกดิบ) in a Buddhist wedding ceremony involving candles, holy water, chanting and prayers. This is usually only attended by very close friends and family, and is followed by breakfast.
There may be a formal engagement process, in which a ritual dowry (‘sinsod’) is agreed upon and paid, but this is often included on the wedding day itself. Leading a procession of his family and friends, the groom tries to make his way to his prospective bride. He is stopped at several “gates”, represented by chains of flowers, silken ribbon, or belt, held by two of the bride’s female relatives. To pass, he must persuade the gate-keepers that he is worthy of the young woman. This involves much joking and laughing, and pretend arguments about the size of the gifts (red envelopes of money) required.
Getting married is 50 points on the Holmes and Rahe stress scale, but as stressful as this, or any other change is, there is also the exciting potential of the new “beginning”.
So it is for us, as we learn about life in a new place and once again come closer to a new year…
To new beginnings!
My thanks to the bride and her family for including us in their special day.