When Priti and Snehal told me that there would be separate ceremonies and celebrations for each of them the day before their wedding, Priti’s in her hometown of Baltimore where the wedding would be held and Snehal’s here in Richmond, I was almost a touch sad. Shouldn’t a pre-game celebration of a partnership include the partner and their families too? The time we spent with Snehal and his family the day before his wedding definitely made me rethink this cultural prejudice.
In her book, One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding, Rebecca Meade wonders what it is that makes reasonable, intelligent women transform into Bridezillas and postulates that its the wedding industry. While I found myself nodding, muttering “uh-huhs” and “word!” as I read, I was disappointed that she glossed right over the meaning of a wedding in modern American society. Truth is, there is a lack of ritual in contemporary pan-American culture so our wedding is often the first and only ritual we ever undergo. As a result there is a lack of opportunity to honor the many relationships in our lives and receive help from our community as we transition from one stage of life to the next, establishing a connection between the last generation and the next. The modern American bride and groom have 6-10 hours to honor their relationship to each other as well as relationships with parent, siblings, and close friends. That’s a lot to accomplish in less than one less than perfect day.
At first, I wanted to describe each event we witnessed from early morning to late in the evening but I quickly realized what a lousy job I would do. Snehal and other family members tried to fill us in on the significance of rituals and acts throughout the day as best they could. We were told that the women in Snehal’s family gave him a ritual bath of turmeric paste to beautify and prepare him to receive his bride the next day. We were also told that the purpose of the second ceremony was to bless the home that he would begin with Priti, a domestic blessing. We witnessed as each ceremony began with Snehal’s parents giving and receiving blessings for their son. We watched Snehal’s parents exchange garlands like they did on their wedding day and noted the knot tied between his parents’ clothing, enclosing him between them. Snehal’s mother held her husbands sleeve as he performed rituals and Snehal held hers, allowing them to act together as one. Items were carried and presented, ground was broken, water and fire and food were offered and consumed, gifts were exchanged. Women sang songs and prepared items for ceremonial purposes. Everyone seemed to have a role somehow, even if it was just to sing along with the love songs from popular Hindi films later at the Sangeet. All of this for Snehal, all of this for his life with Priti.
And as I cuddled my son during a brief shooting break in the afternoon I wondered, what do Americans do to prepare their children for marriage? What blessings do we ask for? What blessings do we give? We throw engagement parties and showers, we eat cake and open gifts but what do we really do to help our children transition, honor the family we have and welcome the family we gain? I wish we had allocated more than just one “perfect” day to accomplish it all. And maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to dedicate one day to celebrating my son before welcoming his partner.
Sam and I may not know or understand everything that happened before our lenses but we felt the love and sense of purpose in each act. We saw the connection between generations past and generations future. We just wish we could have been there to see the families come together in celebration the next day, we can’t wait to see pictures of that!
Snehal, thank you for being such a welcoming host, it was great to see the groom take center stage for a day and we couldn’t have asked for a nicer guy to follow around. Congratulations to yourself and Priti, we hope your wedding day was everything amazing and that you are finally enjoying some down time together to take it all in. Here’s a slideshow from the day and if you wish to be notified when the gallery of images is online for viewing, click here.