… Something red?
Try a red umbrella for a “happily ever after” guarantee. For modern Asian American women, it’s not just about in-laws, invites and ironed table linens. Finding “the one” may not involve magic or voodoo, but according to some traditional Asian superstitions, getting to “I do” just might require more luck than love.
STORY Teena Apeles
PHOTOS Erin Leppo Photography, erinleppo.com
In less than two months, I will be marrying my boyfriend of 10 years. Being that it’s 2010, it seemed like the perfect time: a decade together, a decade into the new millennium, we might as well make it legal. And we always love a good party.
When we discussed the best date for our nuptials, we had one simple requirement: a three-day holiday weekend to make the celebration last as long as possible. We honed in on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend and checked the complimentary calendar from our local councilman. We were thrilled to see that that day, September 4, was the birthday of Los Angeles (the 229th, in case you’re interested). We thought, “We love Los Angeles — that must be our day!” But as things have fallen into place, we found different superstitions and traditions creeping into our planning. Considering my future spouse is a folklorist, it was likely, but considering a very superstitious Filipino mother raised me, it was inevitable. Just last week she bought me a fortunetelling book for brides to add to my wedding preparation anxiety. Thanks, Mom.
The Precautionary Checklist
We have the basic Western superstitions covered, coming about organically rather than intentionally. “Something old” — my tita’s ’50s Filipino party dress — is the precious link to my past, merged with my “something new” modern gown, to signal a step into the future with a fresh outlook. A dear friend’s veil will work beautifully as “something borrowed” — she and her husband just reached their 10-year wedding anniversary so my fiancé welcomed their positive energy. And that hopefully won’t clash with my “something blue” stone ring and turquoise button vintage clutch, which reflect my style and, more importantly (to the groom), symbolize my loyalty and purity. I have taken note of pamahiin, or Filipino superstitions, leading up to our wedding day as well, following some and risking the consequences of messing with others:
* Don’t take the first serving of fish at a meal or you will end up a spinster. (When you’re a middle child, it’s rare to have anything first. I didn’t realize it upped the odds of me getting married. Check.)
* If you marry a person who has a mole beside his or her nose, you will die ahead of that person. (No moles in the nasal vicinity on both fronts. Check.)
* Don’t marry a woman with bags under her eyes; she will end up a widow fast. (I just purchased some miracle eye cream to counter this, though I think my issue is more dark circles; my boyfriend is the one carrying some baggage. Moderate risk.)
* Avoid marrying in the same calendar year as siblings because it’s bad luck. (Check on both fronts.)
* Brides shouldn’t wear pearls at her wedding or she will experience heartache and tears during her married life. (I was never a fan of pearls. Check.)
* Avoid long drives or traveling before your wedding day since altar-bound couples are accident-prone. (We live in Los Angeles; what isn’t a long drive? This is partly why we chose our neighborhood church just blocks from our home and a reception venue that is just over a mile away, which actually can feel like quite a long drive in Saturday traffic. Minor risk.)
At this point, we’re doing pretty well staying on the right side of Filipino wedding superstitions. And by no means are we alone in following what some may dismiss as silly beliefs. Wedding days, as every culture knows, are not the time to test fate or hedge your luck. While Charles and I are so charmed to share our wedding day with the birthday of my birthplace, many cultures turn to the stars, fortunetellers, monks and calendars much more sacred than our free calendar to select theirs. Finding that auspicious day to tie the knot is taken very seriously.
When Numbers and Planets Align
Amanda Ma of Fresh Events, an event management firm in Pasadena, Calif., has years of experience working with couples to orchestrate their dream wedding. She knows all too well the range of unique requests and unusual superstitions that come into play with each job.
“We come across clients that select their dates based on the Chinese calendar, and even the time of day,” she says. Ma quickly goes on to list a number of “Fetching the Bride” activities associated with Chinese tradition, from the luckiest hour to pick up the bride (early in the morning) and the number of oranges a bride’s younger brother has to give the groom (two) before he opens his sister’s door, to the practice of the bride’s father splashing water behind the car “to bless the bride with an everlasting marriage.”
Writer and educator May-lee Chai, author of six books, including Hapa Girl: A Memoir, goes into further detail about how wedding dates are selected. “Some people consult feng shui masters or psychics who can read traditional Chinese calendars to determine the most auspicious date for a wedding based on the birth year, month, day and hour of the bride and groom,” she says. “In general, days with ‘8’ in them are very popular because the word for eight in most Chinese dialects sounds similar to a term for becoming wealthy. Hence, August in general is considered a good month for marriage, and obviously August 8 is a popular date.”
That is an understatement if one considers when three 8s came together two years ago. The number of couples getting married on August 8, 2008, in the city of Beijing alone was reportedly around 9,000, breaking the city’s previous single-day record for weddings by more than double. (An average of 7,000 couples get married each day in the whole United States.)
In Vietnam, many families turn to the stars for guidance, asking astrologers to evaluate the couple’s compatibility and to choose the most favorable day and hour for them to wed. And in Thailand, they traditionally will turn to a monk or a fortuneteller.
For Sudhir Anand’s parents, who are Punjabi, finding the best dates for both their sons to marry “caused them incredible stress in preparing for it,” he says. Marrying on the “wrong day” could mean disaster for the union. “It was important that the ceremony happen on the most auspicious of days, determined by the pundit who would officiate,” Anand explains. “It has to do with how the moon and planets are aligned in relation to the ‘stars’ of both the bride and groom.” Sound familiar?
This past May 16 was one of the most auspicious dates for Indian Hindus to tie the knot because it was believed to be blessed. While 9,000 weddings on 08/08/08 in Beijing sounds like an impressive number, it’s nothing compared to the 50,000 weddings that wedding planners in Mumbai claimed took place there on May 16. These numbers demonstrate just how important a mere date can be to the future of a marriage in certain cultures.
A Guest’s Guide to Gift Giving
Wedding guests also play an important role in securing a prosperous and happy future for the newlyweds. For one, they need to be mindful that their gifts do not threaten the couple’s union. In India, when giving a monetary gift, for instance, numbers that end with the numeral one are considered lucky, while in China and Japan, money should never be given in fours or the number four should not appear in the amount, as it’s bad luck.
Naoko Tano Ingber, who was born and raised in Japan, can easily name a number of gift giving rules she learned growing up:
* You should not give 40,000 yen as a gift because the number 4 reminds you of death.
* You should not give 90,000 yen as a gift because the number 9 reminds you of struggle.
* You should not give any amount of money that can be divided in half except 20,000 yen.
* Never give glass or ceramic dishes as a wedding gift, because they can break the relationship.
* Never give sharp objects as a wedding gift; they can cut the relationship.
When asked how important these are to follow now, Ingber says, “Everyone in Japan takes these very seriously. I am married and all of my Japanese family and friends follow these. If you don’t follow them, it is considered bad manners.”
This last superstition, not giving sharp objects as wedding gifts, appears in other countries as well, including the Philippines, China and Korea, with variations.
“I have heard before where if someone gives you a knife as a gift, you have to give them a dollar just so that it doesn’t cut the relationship,” says Ma.
When Filipino American Angelica Moyes got married, the knife-monetary exchange was slightly different. “We got pennies or some kind of coin from friends who gave us knives for our wedding gift,” she recalls. “It has something to do with preventing a good family relationship or friendship from being cut off.”
From Doomsday to Dream Day
So should I remove that set of knives on our wedding registry to save my marriage from breaking up in the future? Is my marriage doomed because I didn’t consult the planets or a fortuneteller on our wedding date? At this point, I’m not losing sleep over these things. I actually obsess more over whether the reception manager will make sure the table linens are ironed. If not, he will be the unlucky one.
But that’s me. I’m not the Japanese bride Ma tells me about who frantically worked to fold 1,000 origami cranes to have at her wedding for good luck. It’s impressive to hear about the things couples do to bless their union with prosperity. “Of course,” adds Ma, “she did ask her close friend for help.”
Like most brides, I have enough on my to-do list without bringing superstitions into the mix. So I asked Ma what advice she could offer couples as they juggle the rituals, the drama, the guests and everything in between.
“Sometimes couples are flustered due to all the superstitions, but usually once it gets started they get into it and enjoy it,” she assures me. “We always emphasize to every couple, things will happen during your wedding day, let it go. If that uncle is wearing a shirt that you don’t like, don’t be unhappy about it. Enjoy your time at your wedding! It goes by very fast.”
As long as those linens aren’t wrinkled (fingers crossed), this bride will.
– Teena Apeles
Are Superstitions Useful?
Author and educator May-lee Chai sees “superstitions” more as “traditions.” She says, “I think in any society there are always conflicting traditions. They are as useful as any individual wants to make them. Obviously, some can also be oppressive.” Check out this list of dos and don’ts from across Asia and see what you think.
* If you don’t finish eating the rice in your bowl, your future spouse will have a blemish on his/her face for every grain you leave uneaten. (Filipino)
* Avoid washing your hair on a Saturday or you will marry a man difficult to please. (Indonesia)
* Don’t marry a woman with a widow’s peak or you will die early. (Korean)
* Don’t marry at an age ending in “9,” like 29 or 39. (Korean)
* The night before the wedding, have young boys play on the bridal bed to increase your chances of fertility and male heirs. (Chinese)
* Cover the bride with a red umbrella as she leaves her home to ward off evil spirits. (Chinese)
* Rain on a wedding day means prosperity and happiness for the newlyweds … or the couple will have many crybabies. (Filipino)
* If the bride laughs or smiles a lot during the wedding, her first child will be a daughter. (Korean)
* If a bride wants her husband to agree to her every whim, she should step on his foot on the way to the altar. (Filipino)
* If an unmarried woman literally follows the footsteps of the newlyweds, she will marry soon. (Filipino)
* Don’t give your significant other shoes or he will run away from you. (Korean, Filipino)
* Don’t go to any wedding within one month of your own. (Chinese)
* Avoid getting married within 1,000 days of a death in the family. (Chinese)
* Fear the number 4. (Chinese, Japanese, Korean)
* The bride should wear red or gold for good luck. (Chinese)