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photos: khmer wedding season

Despite being the hottest time of the year, the period between January and April is a joyfully welcomed season: it's wedding season! In the same way U.S. couples tend to wed during the summer months, the passing of the harvest period and general lack of rain means a lot of couples choose to marry during this time of year (and I mean a LOT - in my small village there is a wedding over half the nights each week). I have had the honor of formally attending two weddings, and 'crashing' many more (more on that later).

Weddings take place over multiple days, with the major ceremonies and celebratory community dinner and dance taking place the last night. In my more economically-minded village, weddings tend to last two days. The images in this post are from the two weddings I formally attended in my village: a friend of a coworker, and the daughter of one of our congregation members.

Photo above: An entrance to wedding in my village - village weddings are often held at the home of the bride's family. This tent is set up in the family's yard, with the home itself used in many of the ceremonies.

A typical engagement photo. Couples tend to take photos before the ceremony that are displayed at the entrance where the couple will greet guests.

The bride and groom will often change their clothes between each ceremony, meaning that even the most simple wedding has an incredible amount of clothing variety. Clothes are typically rented, as are the clothes for any bridesmaids/groomsmen, and family members. There is also typically a hairdresser and/or a makeup artist on hand to aid the bride during transitions. Traditional clothes are typically worn for the ceremonies, but every wedding I have been to has ended with the bride and groom in white, Western-traditional wedding wear for the fruit-cutting ceremony (think the equivalent to the Western cake-cutting ceremony) and the community dance.

An attendant prepares clothing for the bride. On the rack next to her are all the jackets that the groom will wear over the course of the wedding. The bride's traditional dresses coordinate in color.

A bride has her hair done before one of the major wedding ceremonies.

Shoes. Gotta have options.

The bride is dressed before a blessing ceremony.

There are a large number of ceremonies that take place over the course of the wedding. Many are representations of Buddhist stories and moral teachings. Some of the most important include the Groom Procession (in which the groom and his family and groomsmen march to the bride's home the morning of the wedding with gifts and fruits that must be approved by a senior member of the bride's family), a call to the ancestors, Buddhist blessings from monks, the Cleansing Ceremony (in which the bride and groom are purified for marriage via a hair cut - though typically now just a small ceremonial cut - and some serious perfuming), honoring of the parents, a blessing ceremony (in which community members use candles to send wishes to the bride and groom), and a Knot-Tying Ceremony (in which good thoughts are 'tied' to the bride and groom via string and ribbon). All of the weddings I've attended thus far have been Buddhist, but I'll attend a Christian wedding of a coworker next month and am exited to see the way traditions will be adapted with Christian traditions.

Senior members of both families guide the bride and groom through the blessing ceremony.

Gifts and candles that will be offered in blessing to the couple.

Traditional music is played through the day.

The couple receives a representative blessing and is cloaked under a representative shawl. The lead musician guides them through the traditional ceremonies.

Village and family elders prepare flowers that will be used to bless the bride and groom.

Getting invited to a wedding is a fun opportunity to get dressed up! It's common to rent a formal traditional dress for weddings of family members or close friends, though traditional Western formal wear is also acceptable, and is especially popular with teens and young adults. Invitations are traditionally hand-delivered, and accepting an invitation means you will attend the formal dinner, at the very least. Traditionally, weddings are hosted by the bride's family, though costs are covered by both families. Guests rarely bring gifts, and instead bring money. Money can be gifted to the couple during certain ceremonies, but it is expected that all guests supply some money to the families in order to cover the costs of food and hosting (the amount can depend on the lavishness of the wedding, in my village I tend to bring about $10). Dinner is served over multiple courses, and tends to include appetizers, fried fish, soup, fried pork and vegetables, and fried rice. There is also normally a small candy dessert. And, naturally, lots of beer to go around.

My neighbor Srey Roat is ready for the wedding!

My coworker Long Sol wears a traditonal samput (skirt) and tailored top, common for older wedding guests.

My neighbor Sarat and I model more Western-style dress, common among younger party guests.

Weddings are a great excuse for even the youngest of guests to get dressed up, curl their hair, and wear make-up (as modeled here on my 10-year-old host sister Suzan).

My host family is wedding ready! Here I'm with my host mother Lai Heak, host father Mose, sisters Suzan (10) and Susanna (6), and fellow volunteer from Germany, Manuel.

A wedding tent set up in the yard of the bride's home.

The appetizer round of dinner.

The main course - soup, fired fish, and fried rice are typical.

Beer culture in Cambodia is interesting. While alcoholism is a real problem in many villages, and often frowned upon in day-to-day living of upstanding community members (which, as a church staff member, I'm expected to be), drinking is heavily encouraged and basdically expected at weddings. I've been told you can tell how lavish a wedding is based solely on the beer chosen (Ganzberg seems to be the favorite light beer, though other popular brands include Leo, Angkor, Anchor, Cambodia, and Phnom Penh). Beer is always drunk over ice and through a straw, and cheering with a "Chul Muy!" is a frequent occurrence.

While you must have received an invitation in order to eat dinner at the reception, the evening dance tends to be open to everyone in the community, meaning dances are full and lively with guests in traditional formal wear and casual clothing. A live band plays popular Khmer songs and offers karaoke opportunities, sparklers are lit and silly string is strewn, the bride and groom share a romantic dance and eat some fruit, and guests dance late into the night to music so loud I can still hear it as I fall asleep on the other side of the village.

My friend Boromai's father sings karaoke at the evening dance.

Sparklers are lit to welcome the new couple.

The bride and groom prepare to cut and share fruit in front of their guests.

My friends Brunai, Vitchika, and Boromi.

Cheersin' and cheesin' with neighbors and friends.

Dances include Khmer-style songs (above) in which dancers dance in a circle around the fruit table, and Western-style dancing to Khmer popular club music.

Blessings and happiness to all the Khmer couples who've invited me into their special day!

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