Prior to the wedding, there are a lot of arrangements to be made. I don’t know much about them, because I’m not a family member of anyone who got married. But a date is chosen - maybe astrologically, and on the advice of a Buddhist priest. After that, the priest doesn’t have anything to do with the wedding, unless he’s a relative. Weddings are not religious in the same sense as most American weddings. An announcement will be posted, or sometimes the news travels just by word of mouth. I’ve gone to several weddings where I was just told, basically, “So-and-so is getting married tonight. You should go.” However, people will usually be expecting So-and-so to get married soon anyway, because the wife has probably given birth, or at least gotten pregnant. Notice that I said “wife”; Mongolian couples are usually called “husband” and “wife” long before the wedding happens.
Weddings are especially common on Friday nights, but plenty of them happen on weekdays too - in the late afternoon after everyone gets off work. So around 5:00 we go to the new ger (or house). The ger is specially erected for the occasion. After the wedding is all over the new husband and wife will move into it as their new home. Up until now they’ve probably been living with their parents. But before they can have the home entirely themselves, the whole town, practically, will have to go through it. Their coworkers may arrive in a huge block. This is how I got to go to so many weddings: someone who works at the school (or that person’s cousin) would get married, and the entire faculty and staff of the school would show up, and they would bring me. Being related to a school teacher is a surefire way to get a huge party. Mongolian parties are very space efficient too. I’ve seen 40 people packed into a ger no bigger than mine. Another advantage of being affiliated with the school is that you can borrow school benches to seat your guests. But people will sit on just about everything solid and level in the ger anyway. If the couple gets a house instead of a ger, there may be more room for the guests to move.
Seating is a big deal too because you often can’t sit just anywhere. The couple sit at the head of the table, near the back of the room (the north side of a ger). The oldest guests are usually seated in the back too on the sides of the couple. From there, the guests get younger as they get closer toward the door. However, many times I was told to sit near the head of the table, which I should probably take as an honor. The system quickly breaks down though as more guests arrive in a crowded ger, and it’s impossible to reorganize everyone by age.
|T-shaped table in a house. You can see bowls of tea in the front, bowls of ааруул, a vat of kumiss, several bottles of vodka, two stacks of боов ...|
Before the couple can sit down though, they may have to serve the guests.
First you get to pick a piece of candy or ааруул off a huge dish, then you get a bowl of сүүтэй цай. Then the alcohol - айраг and vodka - come out. Americans each get their own glass of wine or beer and then start drinking at the same time. Mongolians drink in sequence. The groom will pour a shot of vodka and give it to one guest. That guest will drink it (or some of it) and hand it back. Then the groom refills it and hands it to the next guy. He keeps moving clockwise, refilling the glass, until he gets back to the first guest. Usually a couple of people make the rounds at the same time, so you don’t have to wait half an hour for your vodka. The same goes for айраг - the server fills a bowl, then refills it for the next guy.
After you get buzzed, you’ll get some more appetizers - especially a plate with pickles and sliced хиам. Unlike the vodka, the guests can pass this around themselves.
|Mongolian bride and groom - in this case, a math teacher and a Mongolian language teacher. Marriages between teachers are common.|
|Our chemistry teacher and her husband. Notice the bride and groom wear matching дээл.|
I’m often full from appetizers and drinks before the actual dinner (usually soup) is served. It’s hard to stay hungry for dinner, because Mongolians always provide a lot of food and are very insistent that guests eat. And eat. And eat.
When everyone is served, the couple go to the proper place at the head of the table. Someone gets up and gives a speech, and presents them with a хадаг, a bowl of айраг, and some wedding gifts. The first notice I get of a coming wedding is sometimes when the school takes up a collection from me for wedding gifts.