Friendship blessed me with the opportunity to attend a Punjabi Sikh wedding last weekend. Not only was it my first time in NorCal (San Jose!), but it was also the first Indian wedding I’ve ever attended – which meant days of parties. I returned home Sunday night, exhausted, full of curry, and armed with new knowledge for next time.
In no particular order, here are the top five things I learned this past weekend:
1. Be prepared to eat. No, not “eat a meal at the reception.” We had dinner at the Mehndi ceremony on Thursday and the Sangeet on Friday. And Saturday, we had breakfast and lunch at the hall (sandwiching the religious ceremony), and then dinner at the reception. If you don’t like Indian food, this could be a bit challenging, but give it a chance if you’ve never had it. You just might surprise yourself.
I’m fairly certain I ate about 12 pounds of paneer, chicken, lamb, samosas, rice, saag, kebob…I actually decided to change my outfit one night so I could eat more. Side note – Indian desserts are a bit….different. Spongy and very sweet. My advice would be to fill up on the food.
2. Some of the parties may be dry. In the U.S., “wedding” is usually synonymous with “booze,” but consumption of alcohol is prohibited in Sikhism. This doesn’t mean that every event will be dry, but we were told, “You do you.” Which, to many of us, said”be prepared with your own drinks.”
Punjabi people are known for partying and having a good time, and the first two nights were not dry. (My new drink invention is chai with spiced rum and a bit of sweetener.) Out of respect, Saturday’s religious festivities and the reception were, however, so we made do with our own flasks. Just don’t be too obvious, and take swigs privately.
3. It’s totally appropriate to wear a saree. Bold and bright colors (no solid black or white), beading, embroidery, you name it. My saree was an impulse buy between the Saturday morning ceremony and reception from a secondhand boutique that donates proceeds to help abused women.
There are lots of videos on YouTube to teach you how to wear one, and they’re definitely not bad. Invest in safety pins, and give it your best shot. And if you’re still having trouble draping it, an Indian auntie will most certainly help you.
I was in the ladies’ room, trying to fix it, and she came up to me, asked if I needed help, and before I knew it, I was standing there with her hands tucking the fabric into my petticoat (aka skirt worn below your belly button). It was a bit odd at first, but about 4 seconds in, I was immensely thankful for her help, and before I knew it, she had a line of people needing her expert advice.
4. Bring your dancing shoes. Not dancing is not an option. You’re at a wedding where the dance floor will basically turn into an Indian club, with pounding, energetic Indian music and flashing lights. Plus, you’re there to celebrate. Get off your butt and dance.
At the Sangeet, there were choreographed traditional dances, a group dance, and then what seemed like every person trying to show off even more energetic moves. It was bhangra style, it was American style, and it was totally fun. It was even better with all the swirling colors.
5. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself. Indian weddings last for days and have several events. It’s worth it to take the time to appreciate all the work that went into the coordination, the gorgeous settings and colors, and to celebrate the happy couple. There are traditions in which you can participate, such as the groom riding in on a white horse, with his friends and family dancing around it (which in our case was a fancy Mercedes), or hoisting the bride up and carrying her while the groom tries to get a garland of flowers around her neck. Participate in the group dances, try all the food, and make new friends. Indians are warm and welcoming, and they certainly know how to have a good time.
At heart, weddings all share one common thing: They are a celebration of joining two families and many friends together, and this was no exception. I can’t wait for the next one!