Saturday, April 7, 2012

A Khmer Christian Wedding - Same, Same But Different!

Its wedding season here in Cambodia because its the hot or dry season so everyone plans their weddings around this time. Today I went to my first ever Khmer Christian wedding and as the title of this blog says, √≠ts ''same, same but different'' when I compare it to weddings back home (more on this further down). The wedding today was that of Channa who is one of the teachers at the Newsong center whom I have known for a couple years. It is such a small world for her husband happens to be the brother of our most recent staff hire, our Center/Operations Manager for the Ratanak Achievement Program (RAP).
Channaroun (groom)and Channa (bride)

Channary (our new Operations manager- Left) 
and her younger sister who works at Newsong center as a counselor
Both the bride and groom come from very strong Christian backgrounds as their fathers are both pastors and long time friends who have planted their own churches. So the wedding began at 7am in the morning---this by the way is normal here. Thankfully the venue is very close to my home and so when I arrived I met the groom's family.
Parents of the groom and some of his siblings and his nephew

 The fruit and vegetable bowls
Looking for your fellow ''partner'' for the procession
In traditional Khmer style, there are gold plated bowls of fruit and vegetables that the guests have to carry in a processional into the building. Everything is provided by the bridal party so we lined up outside. I didn't realize however that you needed to stand next to someone who had the same fruit or vegetable...I suppose its all about matching pairs so I had to find my ''partner'' who was carrying the matching ''cabbage'' that I had. Thankfully I ran into one of the Newsong teachers Vichny who explained this all to me before I committed a cultural faux pax!
Newsong teacher Vichny and her husband

Because the wedding service starts so early, there was an initial introduction and then it was time for breakfast which consisted of Cambodian ''baw baw'' otherwise known in Chinese circles as Seafood congee (rice soup). The fruit bowls we had carried into the wedding hall were then passed out so each table had their fruit and baw baw! I typically eat Cambodian baw baw on this end if my stomach is off as it is quite tasty.
 Baw Baw

Unlike North American weddings where typically the service is held in a church, here the entire wedding is in a reception hall which probably explains why we were allowed to throw fresh flower petals as confetti as the bridal party marched to the front to the song ''Here comes the bride!''

The bridesmaids are also in white

The flower girl and page boy!

Similar to Western weddings there was a time of worship which was composed of both an older choir and a younger choir as the soon to be married couple watched on.
 Choir #1
Choir #2
It is refreshing to attend a Khmer wedding because you see an array of beautiful colors unlike the Asian weddings I attend at home in which we are all wearing black! Here, the bright colors against a sunny backdrop is quite regal and beautiful. But, as I think of Khmer history where black clothes were the norm during the Khmer Rouge era, it seems so appropriate now that Cambodians are making a statement against those times as the women wear an assortment of colors. 

Based on my limited Khmer understanding, the vows seem similar to what we would say in the West and when the bride and groom had each finished their vows and exchanged their rings, the crowd cheered them on with a round of claps. It was a visible demonstration of affirmation! But perhaps the most touching scene was seeing this young couple kneel before their respective parents and to watch as both parents laid their hands on them and prayed a blessing over them! How special is that. I think we in North America have some thing to learn from our Khmer brothers and sisters in Christ!
The bride's parents praying over the newlyweds

Three and half hours later the morning portion of the wedding was complete and like typical Western weddings, everyone goes home and comes back later for the evening festivities. This is when most of the people attend and these days, traditional Khmer dresses are exchanged for more longer flowing gowns. The bridal party changes their entire wardrobe as well.
The Bridal party!

Some of the staff from the Newsong Center

Hanging out with the Director of House Mums from the Newsong center --- Srey Mom! 
In a typical Khmer wedding, the bride can change her clothes several times. I believe we are looking at about 9 different outfits. But I have heard some brides change about 12 times. That's a lot of outfits and alot of changing but then again, the bride is up at 4am and so its a long day. One cannot be seen wearing the same outfit for the entire day. Below are some pictures of a couple more of Channa's wedding outfits.

Channa with some of the other staff from Newsong

The wedding today was much different than the one I attend last week in Svay Pak. Here there was more joy and a much different spirit said one of the other volunteers who had also been to the wedding last week. Perhaps it has to do with the simple fact that the Spirit of God was allowed to flow freely in this place while in Svay Pak, the parents of the bride only wanted a Buddhist ceremony.

 For me personally, I had the unexpected pleasure of sitting on a table with some of the older Khmer pastors...ironically I bumped into some of the pastors that I met yesterday. Christian circles are small regardless of where you go. One man I sat next to told me an interesting Khmer tradition where many years ago if a young man was serious about marrying a girl, he was required to live with and serve her family for 3 consecutive years. If the girl's family approved they could get married and if not, oh well, out he went. Some families actually took advantage of this tradition and just before the 3 year term was up, they would tell the young man, they were not satisfied with him and so he was no longer eligible to marry their daughter and then they would recruit another guy. What an interesting tradition that is, what a test of commitment as well.

All this to say, Khmer Christian weddings are indeed same, same but different!

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