I don't know if there actually is an official wedding season in China, but if there is one it should be right now. Over the past week I have been to three such events, two of which were with Kimi's family, and the other a colleague from Web. Apparently the real reason is that there have been some lucky wedding days according to the Chinese Lunar Calendar.
Weddings are an interesting phenomenon in modern Chinese culture. Before I had actually experienced a wedding here, I had a kind of exotic image of the bride wearing a traditional qipao, her face covered by a veil; there would be intricate head dresses; everything would be red, from the decorations to the clothing; and Chinese folk music would be banging and piping away throughout the proceedings. My hopes and expectations were greatly dashed when I witnessed the modern style of wedding.
To put it bluntly, a wedding today is more like a westernised-TV game show-all-you-can-eat-and-drink-money-making-event. Usually proceedings are held in a large hotel function room. Guests sit around large round tables facing a small stage at the front of the room. Glossy magazine style photoshopped pictures of the bride and groom are scattered all over the room. Loud music bursts out of the speakers making it difficult to talk, and -- if the family has the spare cash -- a host stands on the stage shouting down a microphone. At what point the bride and groom actually get married, I don't really know. Some people have told me that before the "wedding", they go to a registry office and sign the documents there.
While the host talks, or we are listening to music, food is usually delivered to our tables. Every wedding I have been to has almost exactly the same food on offer. It's not very good for me as vegetarian food is the cheapest to buy, so in a lot of people's eyes, it's not respectable to serve it. Instead we get plate after plate of seafood: crab, lobster, shrimp, oysters, mussels, and even a couple of times, turtle.
Eventually the bride and groom enter the room, the bride wearing a western wedding dress and the groom, a suit. Somebody playing the role of a vicar will greet them, say some words and walk them to the stage. At the last wedding I attended they played an electronic version of the Wedding March at this point. Vows are exchanged on-stage, sometimes a keyboard player will be playing incidental background music and adding sound effects to any funny remarks being said. After the words are over, the rest of the event is in any one's hands. Games are played, songs are sung, and drinks are drunk. Part of the couples responsibility is to go around each table -- and there are always a lot -- and ganbei (bottoms up) a drink with everybody. The fun can continue for hours, but when the food is over many people rapidly exit, with only the loyal few remaining.
The newlyweds (now wearing new clothes) must visit each table and ganbei a drinkA wedding is not only a day to seal a relationship, it is also a day for the couples to cash-in on an investment they have made many times before. For each wedding you attend, you must hand over a red envelope (I talked about the significance of the red envelope here) containing some money (absolutely no gifts are involved). The closer your relationship with the bride or groom, the more money you should give. A bridesmaid may put 2,000 RMB in an envelope, whereas a colleague at work can give just a couple of hundred. If you wanted to you could put as little or as much in the envelope as you wish, but whatever you put in, it will be remembered. Sometimes when you enter the function room, somebody will be sitting at a table taking envelopes, counting the money inside, and writing your name and the total down in a book. So, if you gave 500 RMB to your best friend, when your best friend comes to your wedding he or she will also give you 500 RMB. I think part of the pressure to get married so early here is so that all of the money people have paid out over the years can be returned.
The wedding really is an eye-opening event, there is so much more to talk about, and I've not even mentioned what an engagement is like (there's another very similar party for that too).