I have been to just a few weddings while living in Kyrgyzstan. They have all been capital city weddings, so I can’t speak to village weddings, which from the conversations I have had with married friends in Karakol sound like they have their differences. So, I will just put this disclaimer out there: I can only draw from experience, and that is limited at best. I really hope I get to go to more weddings in the upcoming years and add to the picture of this amazing tradition that spans cultures.
Instead of a long paragraph on what a wedding looks like, here are a few snapshots of life here:
It is a very public affair: people ride down the road honking their horns in big lines, with the wedding limo at the front. The cars are decorated with balloons and flowers and streamers. And this is one of the best parts: they stop at all the different city land marks, even in the middle of the country side, and if there is a statue or landmark of some kind the whole family and wedding party piles out and they all pile in front of said sign “Welcome to Hometown, Kyrgyzstan” and take pictures all together in front of the sign, then head down the road to the next monument.
If it is an official wedding (recognized by the state) the marriage is registered at the “wedding palace”. This is not always the case, for various inflammatory reasons I won’t go into here (this is a happy blog!), but if it is registered then the bride and groom have to officially get divorced if they go their separate ways. The trip to the wedding palace takes place with very few (if any) relatives. The party happens at the restaurant after the official ceremony. I think of how important it is for friends and family to witness the official ceremony in our culture; here it is important for the family and friends to party together.
We line up at tables with the food overflowing and group by group the MC calls people up to the microphone to give a toast, sing a song, give advice, welcome the other family and then go to the bride and groom to shake hands. During this time the bride and groom have a very serious demeanor to signify how seriously they take this next step in life.
Everyone at this party in the restaurant gives a gift of a certain monetary value, depending on the relationship with the bride or groom, to help cover the cost of the wedding. If this is a family member this amount is recorded, and based on the closeness in the family ranking (son, brother, nephew, second cousin…!) the amount you will pay into the family kitty will vary greatly. Then, when it is your turn to have a big family event you can expect reciprocation and plan your party according to the windfall of cash you expect. You just better hope your family doesn’t experience a financial disaster before you get your big celebration!