I received about 4 wedding invitations from relatives spread across these few weekends, which prompted me to say what is on my mind.
Went to an office friend's wedding last Sunday.
A week before the wedding, friends in the office seemed to talk a lot about the wedding... who was going, who was not, who were invited, who were not... and why not? A little vicious, I felt.
Then, there were talks about which table they would rather be seated together with, how much should the gift cost them? Blah, blah, blah...
The invitation I received was interesting to me for several reasons.
For one thing, I was the only Malay and Muslim in that hall of about 380 guests.
For another, I was honoured that he would still go through the trouble to invite me knowing that I was the odd one out, that he had to make special arrangement for Halal food for me.
And another; being held at Shangri-La Rasa Sentosa Resort in Sentosa Island was exciting, since I had never stepped into the hotel before. Should be a posh place... I had always imagined.
Then came the strange yet "sensitive" part of it all... I just hope I do not offend any of my Chinese friends since I do not feel the same way as they do.
The "Ang Pow" as the Hokkien, Chinese dialect would call it, or loosely translated as the red packet is a traditional gift packet that contains money for special occasions.
Nothing strange about this, but wait till you hear the discussions of how much to slot money into this packet were... a matter of honour.
Not simply putting what you can afford or most willing to give to the newly weds, but rather of economic reasons. It is a balance of not "loosing face" and not loosing too much money either... a sensitive decision and often stressful compromise.
One who is invited has to find out how much per table of ten people would costing the couple to spend. This will depend on whether it is held in a restaurant or a hotel.
What "class" of restaurant or how many "star-hotel" holds the weight of how much per table will cost the couple or their parents or both.
You would not want to "under-estimate" the gift packet to the couple or the newly weds will loose their money spent on the wedding dinner expenses.
All newly weds hope, well... rather expecting to earn or gain from their initial "investment" when they decide to throw a wedding dinner for their valued guests.
Their greatest fear and regret are when they cannot break-even or even loose their money after counting the red packets they received from their guests.
I have heard of many stories from my friends with brothers, sisters or their cousins who did not get back their money spent on the wedding dinners. A huge loss to them, and the lingering question of whether they mean anything to their guests... in dollar value.
The same stories you will hear over and over again when there are invitation cards being handed around.
Coming from a Malay, Muslim culture, these traditions seem to me as materialistic and so insincere, both on the part of the couple and the invited guests.
I personally feel that the reason for inviting their guests has gone way off target from what was originally intended for a wedding, or hosting a dinner suppose to be. Here, it seems it is all down to money and its economics. The power of money takes precedence here.
Inviting people and expecting to earn from the "takings"... well at least break-even as many hoped for, is beyond me. God forbid loosing your investment, on your special day!
The general consensus amongst my friends is... if you do not want to suffer the fate of loosing your investment, do not "under-gift" your red packet unto others.
Then again, I have heard talks from friends that they and their parents have the option not to invite poor "tippers." And yes , God forbid inviting relatives from Malaysia or Indonesia. Their red packet may contain their currency with at least two and fifteen times lower than Singapore's respectively... huge mistake, big losses, but of course not all will be extremely calculative.
When I was handed an invitation from my friend, I was pleasantly surprised that he took all that trouble to invite me.
My sincere and spontaneous reaction was how much he meant to me as a friend, so I decided how much I wanted to spend on him for his special day.
Instead, I was "forced" to conform to their tradition and follow what the going "market price" per table was for Rasa Sentosa Resort. And when you conform to the going rate, it is recommended to write your name on your red packet to tell the couple "how much" you mean to them!
The current rate is about S$60.00 to S$80.00. Bosses and close relations are expected to surpass this going rates to "save face" or be unfavourably called "stingy."
You should hear the talks the wedding after... "sore losers" will complain about the food served... how bad it tasted or small a portion was that was not comparable to the "weight" of the red packet given. Sigh.
I know my friends will hate me for my take on this "red-packet phenomenon..." probably my understanding of this tradition is askew or totally wrong. I do apologise, but that is how I felt when all that was going on.
Being objective, I just believe the Malay, Muslim way of inviting guests and in turn, the way guests bear gifts is correct, just and promotes inter-family ties.
The real reason for wedding luncheons and dinners for Malays is to gather our family, relations and friends together to celebrate our special day. The newly weds are introduced to the elders for their blessings and continue the family ties. As a token of their efforts to grace their presence, they are treated to lunch or dinner. Most importantly everyone gets to come together to bond again in a happy setting.
Getting together will in itself strengthens and reconnects ties from long and lost contacts between families, relatives and even friends of the family who hosts, as well as the families that came.
In return the newly weds and their parents hope to get little prayers from their guests that the couple will live peacefully with abundance and lasting marriage with children and hopefully grandchildren.
If just a fraction of the 1000 strong guests were to give a sincere prayer to the heavens for the couple, hopefully at least one if not some will be heard by the Almighty.
Guests will come bearing gifts in the form of presents or "green packet" but it is up to them how much they are willing to give... S$2.00, S$10.00 or more. What is hoped most is their attendance and their prayers.
I think that is important. Not just the benefit of tangible good-relations, get-together on a happy occasion, but the intangible blessings from Divine too. I thank The Almighty that I am born a Malay and a Muslim.
My apology again for what seem as lambasting a tradition that is not my place to say, but most importantly here's a prayer for my dear friend and his wife;
May you have a blissful marriage,
Peaceful in life together,
With beautiful and healthy children,
God bless you both...