Marriage is (or should be) an important event for a couple, their families and community. When things are important people develop many expectations. So wedding are a celebration full of expectations. This makes weddings an wonderful window into the mindset and inner workings of a culture.
Last weekend I attended an urban wedding which was hosted at my compound. I've put together a few observations to help understand some differences.
Let's begin with planning...
In western society weddings are typically planned over 6 months to 2 years. 6 months being rushed needing flexibility for venue, photographers and typically void of elaborate extras two years for the dream wedding with handcrafted designer everything. Last week's wedding the date of the wedding was announced a month before and the planning atarted the week of.
A strategic list is compiled - balancing numbers scrutinizing relationships of friends and family. In many cases invites are sent to unlikely attendees first then after their regrets are received new people are added to the list.
Public announcement was made two week's ahead - phone calls made to all friends and family. Even if you don't know the bride or groom you are welcome.
Typical Western -with bridal magazines in hand brides brides maids and moms parade the wedding district searching for he perfect dress (the right price is part of the perfection). The dress is then fitted and refitted to check.
The dress was still being made 30mins before the wedding was due to start.
Bride and groom taste the menu selection month ahead. Buffet or plated meals. Cost $40 and up per head.
The women or the community get together and cook serve 3-4 meals for the day. Total cost ~ $2 a head.
1 to 2 hired venues plus picture sites. Reserved a year or so in advance.
In your front yard.
Marriage ceremony sermon or advise
5-20 minute personalized encouragement to the bride and groom and the community.
1 hour plus discertation on marriage.
Hired professionals, competent friends and family (sometimes family is allowed to be incompetent) or a cousin with an iPod will play music pre-selected music for the bride.
A group of musicians wondering around town saw there was a wedding about to start and showed up and started to play as the bride "walked down the aisle" (no aisle so she just circled the chairs)
Finally, the reception:
A programmed affair with speaches, coordinated food and assigned seating. Only invited people can typically attend.
People sitting around and eating for the rest of the day. Many people come even after missing the ceremony.
All in summary, both cultures have ridiculous expectations and practices. (That what is many way make them special occasions as we aim to make them important throught cultural significance)
The western wedding typically strives to achieve this through organization and thoughtfulness. Meanwhile The Gambian wedding achieves this with the priority on inclusiveness.