Laotian wedding

[Friday, December 21]  Just moving in with your partner and starting a family is undoubtedly a lot simpler than a Laotian wedding, as we experienced it this week. The festivities began with a preliminary program on Wednesday—a visit to the national museum that gave us a survey of the political history of the country, and a fishing competition in the fish ponds of the father of the bride, followed by a fish barbecue.

The actual wedding ceremonies started on Thursday morning, when the wedding party visited a Buddhist temple.  The family of the bride has a close connection with this particular temple, as her grandparents long ago donated the land on which the temple is built.

The Christian wedding service at which I officated was held this morning in a restaurant in Vientiane, with a lunch afterwards for all guests.  Tomorrow a Laotian ritual—the Bacci ceremony—will take place, which, supposedly is more a matter of folklore than of serious religion. And then, tomorrow night, a wedding feast will be held in the garden of the new home of the newly-weds where several hundred, or even a thousand, guests are expected. Finally, on Sunday morning Aafje and I will fly back, via Singapore to Amsterdam.

For western people this is all rather exuberant and exotic. And also rather tiring, in view of the logistic challenges of constantly moving a sizable group from the hotels in the city center to the ‘family estate’ some 15 kilometers away, where the city ends and the rice fields introduce you to a different kind of Laos.  But it is certainly quite fascinating. It reminds us how important it is in most cultures to clearly mark the transition from one phase of life to the next. And, after all, it is quite a decision to live together for the rest of one’s life.

It makes us think of our own wedding day, 22 December, now 48 years ago in the Hague. As a penniless student (I) and an office worker (my wife), without well-do-do parents, our wedding was extremely sober. As I remember, our wedding budget was the equivalent of just a few hundred dollars. A three-day honeymoon in Amsterdam was the limit of our financial possibilities. But our decision to join our lives was no less important. And even after 48 years we hope that many good years will yet follow.  The fact that two years from now the mayor of Zeewolde will visit us to congratulate us with our golden wedding anniversary is not our most important thought. But when I read in our local paper that the mayor has been calling again on a ‘golden’ couple, I cannot help but thinking that before long he will ring our door bell.

So, on Sunday morning we hope to start our journey home. If our flights are not delayed we can be home in time for Christmas. At home the Christmas tree is waiting for us, for we docorated it just before we left. It will be good to celebrate Christmas in the Netherlands and to enjoy the atmosphere of the season. The plastic Christmas tree in the hotel lobby, with the rather ugly ornaments and a few scattered pine cones, fails to create a true sense of Christmas. And in a Buddhist country like Laos there is virtually nothing that reminds the visitor of the Christmas child. In spite of all commercialism back home, we will still be reminded of the true meaning of Christmas. I do not want to miss it.