Traditional Thai Wedding

A traditional Thai wedding is usually a rather complex affair, although it varies from region to region, and has been abbreviated here and there to suit the desires and needs of modern people.

It has involved a great deal of ceremony and religious symbolism, much of which is usually not apparent to those who are not aware of it to begin with. It also focuses – or traditionally has focused – on the financial gifts the groom and the groom’s family give to the bride and her family.

It also involves activities which technically are not part of the wedding itself but are essential for the wedding to take place. Therefore, these activities are sometimes considered part of the wedding.

Below are some of the important aspects of a traditional Thai wedding.

Some Preparations:
  1. Financial Arrangements: It is required in traditional society that the groom and his family present substantial financial assets to the bride and her family, a custom which in the Western world is called “dowry.” In Thailand, it is called a “sinsod.” A sometimes complex negotiation between representatives of the two families must take place to agree to the amount of “compensation” which will be paid for the “purchase” or “lose” of the bride.
  2. The Engagement: this ceremony, the “Thong Mun,” should take place before the wedding ceremony but is sometimes held at the same time. The sinsod – which can consist of anything of recognized value, be it money, cows, cars, or land - is presented to the bride’s family, as is a certain amount of gold, which is weighed in the unique Thai measurement called “baht.” This gold is considered a sentimental gift, similar to a diamond ring in Western culture and is given only in even amounts since odd numbers are, in this matter, considered unlucky.
  3. Selecting the time and date: this must be done in conjunction with monks and astrologers. The “right” time and date is believed to greatly enhance the likelihood of marital success and happiness.
  4. Selecting the food: all foods have religious and social significance, and significance for the outcome of marriage. They must be selected (and consumed) accordingly. For example Khanom Jeen, or noodle, will contribute to long lasting love. Bad food, such as Tom Yum, which is believed to contribute to marital discord, must be avoided.
  5. Invitations and Guests: Invitations are sent but it is not expected that guests will reply as to their intentions to attend. It is also expected that uninvited people will attend and arrangements must take this into account. Therefore, extra food and drink need to be prepared.
  6. The Bridal Gown: most traditional brides wear a close fitting, brightly colored silk ensemble during the ceremony, often enhanced with gold and jewelry. Nowadays, many brides wear white or a Western style gown. Black is never worn and should not be worn by guests, either.
  7. Blessings and Merit Making: in the early morning before the ceremony, Buddhist monks may visit the couple individually or together as the local custom dictates. They will pray and chant, eat a special meal, and then pray and chant some more. The central activity of the visit is placing a lighted candle in a bowl of water which is then used to bless the couple. The monks will receive donations during the visit. Sometimes, these activities will take place in a temple. The number of monks present must always be an odd number.
  8. The invitation to the Groom: the day of the wedding, the bride’s family will send a representative to the groom’s family informing them that they may come to her house and begin the ceremony. The representative brings food and small gifts for the groom’s family. The groom and his party will then set out on a procession to the Bride’s home. This procession is called the Groom’s Procession or Khan Maak. If nor the most important part of the ceremony, it is certainly the most visible and exciting.
  9. Khan Maak Man or Khan Maak is translated into “items of engagement.” It is a procession by the groom and his relatives to the house of the bride to which, historically, they brought the sinsod. Historically, it occurred on a separate day but now usually occurs just before the ceremony and is considered part of it. The procession is accompanied by music. A traditional song, called “Ram Wong Klong Yao” is usually played. The groom will carry flowers, incense and candles, and relatives might carry more valuable items. There is a complex system about which items must be brought, how much of each and in what order they should be delivered.
  10. Passage through the Gates: before the groom and his party may enter the house of the bride, he must past through three – the number can vary – gates. The gates – the victory, gold and silver gates - may be real or may simply be ribbons which are held across the path of the groom and his party by female members of the bride’s family. At each gate, the groom’s party must present a “key” – an envelope of money – to pass on. The bride’s representatives usually provide refreshment and tease and cajole the groom and his party as they pass through, questioning the grooms ability to support financially. At the conclusion of the passage, the gifts and sinsod will be displayed so that all in attendance may inspect and judge its appropriateness.
  11. Washing of the groom’s feet: according to the tradition, the bride’s sister will wash the groom’s feet as he has just finished an arduous journey.
Sai Monkhon:
This constitutes the actual wedding ceremony. The bride and the groom kneel in front of a senior elder, usually a member of the bride’s family, who uses a specially prepared white thread, the “sai monkhon,” to link together the bride’s and groom’s heads.

Actually, two circles are formed, and this is said to indicate the continuity of the individuality of the bride and groom.

Before the next step, the Rod Nam Sang, the bride and groom will be anointed on their foreheads with three marks of sachet power, and given garlands of flowers and yarn to wear.

Rod Nam Sang
Is the next part of the ceremony. During Rod Nam Sang, the elder who performed the Sai Monkhon pours sacred water over the hands of the bride and groom. It is also called a “shell” ceremony because a conch shell is used to pour the water.

Then, the guests all do the same. As the water is poured, each guest may place a gift, usually a gift of money, in a basket. After this part of the ceremony, the garlands are removed. They will be given to the bride as a memento.

Phiti Bai Sri Su Kwan
Or White Thread Ceremony is the next part of the ceremony and involves an old and respected elder giving blessings and tying water-soaked white threads to the wrists of the bride and groom. How they break will help foretell the couple’s future.

Sai Sin:
A continuation of the above, this involves tying white threads, called Sai Sin, around the wrists of the bride and groom. More money is given during this ceremony. The strings are supposed to be kept on for at least three days to insure good luck and good fortune.

Wedding Reception:
This event is highly organized; it usually begins around 6:00 PM with the bride and groom greeting guests, who will sign a book and present gifts, usually money.

In return, guests may have their pictures taken with the couple, and enjoy a good meal, which begins around 7:00 PM. Around 8:00 PM, a master of ceremonies, will tell stories, and permit the parents of the groom to present the couple with small gifts.

Then, a special guest will speak. Then, the master of ceremonies will tell more stories and make a toast to the bride and groom. Following this, the bride and groom will cut the wedding cake and serve the guests, and usually the guests will toast the bride and groom.

Then, there will be dancing. The party will break up around 11:00 PM but may move on to a nearby bar.

Preparing the Bridal Bed:
This is a very old and unusual custom which involves an older couple invited by the bride’s parents to greet the blessed couple on the night of the wedding in the bedroom, sitting on the wedding bed!!

On the bed, the older couple will have placed a variety of items which were very important in an agricultural society, such as bags of rice.

Items selected will theme around fertility and childbirth. The older couple will lie on the bed and talk to the bride and groom about having a good marriage.

Then, happily for the bride and groom, they will leave. The items in the bed, however, are supposed to remain there for three nights.