Ceremonies

When I think of a wedding or a high school graduation, a certain picture comes to mind, certain songs, food, dress, colors, order of events, duration etc. However, over the past month, I went to a few ceremonies that did not meet my American stereotype at all.

Wedding:
When Thais want to get married, they go and consult a monk on which day is a “good day” for the wedding. There are a lot of superstitions on which day will bring you a good or bad future. January 24 must have been a super lucky day… there were 3 different weddings on that day. And I had never been to a wedding before. I started out wearing my best, most beautiful dress; it is not every day a person gets married. My dress was a white and black checked pattern, perfectly acceptable for an American wedding. Nope, not for Thailand. Black and black and white are the colors of death, not something you want to symbolize at a wedding. There went my special attempt at feeling pretty in Thailand. I changed into a purple shirt I had with me and my black pants. Whoops! Purple is the color all the healthcare and doctors wear and is the color for the sick. Still not a color you want to wear to a wedding. I ended up having to be driven to my house by the education officer and change into a green shirt and navy floor-length skirt. The color most people wear for weddings is pink. I do not own a single pink shirt. At least I got to feel pretty for about 15 minutes. Oh well, this is Thailand.
The actual ceremony was quite different also. The brides were dressed like old Thailand princesses, while the grooms were dressed like Thai princes. I have seen western style white wedding dresses in stores, but they weren’t at these weddings. On arrival, you handed in your gift. These were all monetary gifts put in lightly colored envelopes the bride-to-be had passed out a few days before. No need to be registered at Bed, Bath & Beyond. The people in attendance sat around at tables with appetizers and water, Coke, Sprite, and a bottle of whisky in the middle. The bride and groom were in a specially decorated corner where they performed the ceremony. This included things such as wrapping flower strings around each other’s hands and having the prominent people who were present wipe a white paste on their foreheads. Then, everyone went up and poured water in their hands (the hands were together as in praying). Finally the food came out, and that was about it. The wedding started at 10, and it was over by 2. No outrageous dance party reception. For me it was quite strange, but I guess that is just because it was very different.

Graduation:
First, it should be noted that the high school and elementary schools get out at different dates—like a month apart. I couldn’t understand the logic (they say the younger kids can learn longer), but I guess that is just how it happens here in Thailand. February 18 was the last week of classes for the secondary school. The 9th and 12th grade had a special ceremony. University entrance is all decided by a test. The university-accepted students walk across the flagpole area to receive special recognition. [Side note: I would hate university attendance to be decided only based on one exam. It also creates an adverse effect in that a teacher can’t use good grades as an incentive when teaching.] Imagine the day as  Graduation meets Valentine’s day. There were roses, flowers and hearts everywhere. Each graduate wore a wreath of flowers around their head. After the initial pictures and recognitions in front of the entire student body, the graduates walked along a red carpet to the celebration area. Other students and teachers lined up along the side of the carpet and gave their friends  hearts, roses, and teddy bears, while the teachers were pinning flower corsages to the student’s shirts. It was quite a joyful experience. Then the kids sat down and received blessings from a monk. After that, all the teachers lined up in front of the stage and performed the special string tying ceremony. Thailand has this special ceremony where a person ties a string and whispers good luck. It is supposed to bring them strength. I participated in a string tying ceremony when I first arrived getting three strings tied around my wrist. This time, I actually got to tie the strings. It was very moving to see the kids kneel down in front of me, some with tears in their eyes. After that, it was a special lunch with included entertainment. My favorite was the b-boy dance organized by another English teacher. All in all, very cool experience to be a part of!

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