From Inner Mongolia with Love…

Last September, I had the once-in-a-lifetime experience of attending a wedding in Inner Mongolia – my son’s! My beautiful daughter-in-law is from the capital of Inner Mongolia, Hohhot, where all her family is still living. Our children first got married in California – and then the bride’s Mom threw them another wedding “back home.” And we were invited. It was just fabulous – but very different from what I had expected.

First of all, our family was simply blown away by the incredible warmth and hospitality of our new family in Inner Mongolia, but also in general by the friendliness and charm of everyone we met during our stay. The language barrier did not really seem to matter; we communicated with smiles and gestures (and at the wedding itself, through translators, of course).

The wedding celebration was a true East-meets-West “fusion” affair, equal parts Red Carpet glamour (think the “Oscars”) and Mongolian customs and entertainment. The venue: the Grand Ballroom at the Shangri-La Hotel in Hohhot – the time: noon and early afternoon – and the theme: a lavish banquet to celebrate the union not only of two young people, but also of two entire families. Definitely a reason for a big party!

Before the ceremony, the bride was fed traditional, homemade dumplings (her Mom had gotten up at 5 in the morning to make them herself), and the couple and the bride’s parents shared a tea ceremony which officially makes the groom part of the bride’s family. The couple then proceeded to greet their guests.

The entrance of the Grand Ballroom was decorated with billboard-sized photos of the bride and groom in various attires – from traditional Chinese garb to Western wedding finery to fun outfits evoking James Bond and his attractive escorts.

The Ballroom itself was a sea of flowers and tulle, centered on a catwalk and stage with a backdrop of an IMAX-theater size movie screen where a slideshow of the couple was playing.

An Emcee then introduced the groom onstage and sent him along the catwalk to propose to his waiting bride and to escort her on stage, followed by the mothers and fathers.

The wedding consisted of several ceremonies: lighting candles together, mixing juice together and sharing the mix (similar to Western customs), then thanking the parents with bouquets of flowers for raising the wonderful person they were going to marry (I liked that part – we should introduce that to American weddings as well!) and finally tying the knot, Mongolian style: the mothers tie the two ends of one long ribbon to the pinky fingers of their respective new children – and once they are united, the couple and their parents push open the (digital) portal of happiness on the huge video screen!

Time for the banquet! The bride and groom quickly changed attire; the bride into traditional red and gold, and the groom into a suit, and then began their hard work: serving every single one of their 250 guests “mautai,” the high-proof liquor that can claim the status of national beverage. While the two were still busy, the guests sat down to a banquet of epic proportions with true truckloads of Mongolian food (incredibly tasty!) and floods of alcohol (everyone there having a lot more practice than we Westerners!).

The local custom calls for toasts from everyone to everyone… and many, many smiles!

All the while, the guests were entertained with performances of traditional Mongolian music and dance – a show fit for royalty! The most spectacular dance required the ballerinas to balance higher and higher stacks of small porcelain bowls on their heads without ever dropping one, and miraculously, it worked!

Finally, towards the end of the party, the newlyweds were done with serving all their guests and could themselves begin enjoying some of the great food. A welcome break, before the photographer beckoned for the very official family photos, traditionally arranged and staged – a serious affair!

While the festivities were lavish and the setting luxurious, the most striking impression for us Westerners was the uncomplicated friendship, boundless generosity, and warm hospitality extended to us. We are so happy to have Chinese family now! We couldn’t possibly wish for anything better…

And happily ever after!