These corona virus times that our tiny blue planet is in the grip of has messed with many a plan, not least those of the nuptial sort: more than a few friends and children of our friends have had to delay, postpone or re-hash their “big day” dreams which got me thinking about the wonderful institution of marriage…
Marriage in NL is something quite different to in SA.
Here, marriage is seen more as a piece of paper or a legal contract and less of a public affirmation; more of a rebellious relationship and less of a religious or societal obligation.
The similarity to some African cultures is in the bearing of children. The Dutch see this as being the ultimate sign of commitment, not unlike many African tribal traditions of proving fertility before committing to lifelong union.
Weddings are a most wonderful childhood memory for me and each time I am fortunate enough to be on my beloved bicycle riding past our Gemeentehuis on a Wednesday (each gemeente has a day in the week when they conduct “free weddings”) I tend to do the ridiculous welling-up with happiness and joy when I see the brides, grooms, children, family, friends, cars, etc. gathered for what remains a most joyous occasion!
Most weddings seem to be conducted as a civil ceremony in front of a commissioner of oaths in the town hall. For me, ever the romantic, this seems a little sterile and lacking in the pomp and build up of a church wedding followed by a reception of family and friends, though hasten to add that the wedding “business” of today is beyond belief with the drama and the expense…!
Growing up in a small farming community, weddings were something magical to be looked forward to with much anticipation! Not only was a wedding the delight of the elderly as they called back their past youth and provided an opportunity to pass on their wisdom to the blushing young couple but it often was the culmination of farming families uniting after years of childhood speculation over the various matches that could be made within the farming communities.
I smile when I think that I am now one of those of an age who call back their past… In my days, farm weddings included all the children in the community, unlike today’s competitive wedding scene’s insane expenses which exclude anyone who needs to eat and drink!
The excited, stressed, delighted, busy mother of the bride would soon gather her fellow farmer’s wives, friends and neighbours and the planning would begin. I recall many a pot of tea being consumed around the kitchen table strewn with small notebooks and many lists and scribblings taking place; sometimes offences and slights were dished out and tears shed, but mostly there was an over abundance of offers of support and hands to help.
The green-fingered wives were always happy to oblige with buckets filled with foliage and any suitable flowers to add to the frugally purchased “town flowers” that were a luxurious expense for the big day. Many farmers knew nothing of their wives floristry skills until a district wedding was announced and what talent comes to the fore! Neither did those farmers realise how quickly they would be roped into the planning and preparations by having their carpentry skills tested with the requests (demands) of wooden arches to be built, pallets to be suspended and poles to be planted exactly so!
The generosity of the farming community is something unique as most seem more than happy to share in their produce – a matter of pride and of community. The food is usually the largest expense but when it comes to the preparation of the wedding meal, the cost in time and expertise is far greater and again the wives, friends and neighbours come together and share the load. The end result of which has never disappointed – farmers need to be fed, wedding or not!
The local farmer’s hall is generally the most practical venue for the wedding reception. In the case of our wedding, I had anticipated a romantic garden wedding since my Mum had a magnificent, rambling garden but the practicalities did not escape my Dad who vetoed the idea on the grounds of both added stress and the weather – the farmer’s hall (country club) was a safer bet!
In our community we were fortunate to have a beautiful old building that lent itself to being dressed up for a wedding by employing some energy, creativity and helping hands. I’ve seen the old hall transformed for many occasions and am impressed even now by the memories of what was made of the space!
Following the church service where the couple were legally married in the eyes of God and the community, the reception awaited and the celebration began. If the weather was kind and the roads good, then it was a blessing as the alternative was wet and muddy guests coming in from the rain and possibly having had to be pulled out of the miry roads by tractor or even having to remove party shoes and walking through the mud! Nothing that a few glasses of alcoholic cheer and hearty food could not correct before getting on with the formalities of speeches and then the real party could start!
The celebration was never dull and even the dullest of farmers showed their true colours after a few drinks which gave the shy ones the courage to let their hair down and show a few dance floor moves! The happy event was culminated with the pranking of the groom’s once pride and joy, before he acquired a wife of course, and amidst the riballed comments, the clanging of tin cans tied to the rear end of the vehicle, the secret tears shed by the parents and the singing of “Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye”, away the newlyweds went to begin their lives as a happily married couple until death us do part!
On a covid ending – I have been most impressed with those couples who have chosen to go ahead with their planned nuptials, in spite of the global conditions, keeping the big event especially intimate in size and fuss, even a member of the British Royal Family – take a bow Princess Beatrice of York!