Once upon a time – just last month, in fact – an Instagram princess got married, and some of the guests at her wedding were upset.
It transpired that the wedding was financed by merchants seeking favours from the princess and her groom. Loud murmurs of discontent were recorded by the local press.
One of the guests – a friend who had gone to university with the bride, local influencer Melissa Celestine Koh – felt cheated: Much of the wedding was sponsored, which she felt cheapened the occasion and made it looked insincere. The guest also felt that the bride had made a profit off her – through the hongbao, or red packets containing money that are customarily given at weddings in the land.
Another guest felt the sponsorships, which had not been declared beforehand, presented an ethical problem. He had planned to give the couple a hongbao anyway, but would have reduced the amount given.
Whether the couple – both full-time Instagram influencers – thought that having their wedding sponsored was conscionable is a question the couple themselves need to answer. Not to anyone, but to themselves.
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The question that’s ringing in my head though, is, what have weddings become?
A very expensive affair, obviously, though cost has apparently not deterred many a couple from looking upon their wedding as a once-in-a-lifetime occasion where no expense is spared to make it memorable.
It must be good. It must look good. The bride and groom must look and feel good. And the wedding guests need to have a good time, too, and the honour of the respective families of the bride and the groom must be satisfied.
Because of the high cost of everything in Singapore, the expense would no doubt deplete the modest coffers of a young couple. So along the way, it has become customary for guests at a wedding – not only Chinese weddings, but also Malay, Indian, Eurasian weddings and mixed marriages occasionally involving a non-Asian or non-Singaporean – to give tokens to help the couple defray the cost of the wedding banquet and various other expenses sometimes only tenuously connected to the event that would hopefully guarantee a long and happy marriage.
The hongbao has since become an intrinsic part of a typical Singaporean wedding, so much so that there are websites that publish self-proclaimed definitive guides to acceptable amounts to give, based on where and when a wedding banquet is held, with closeness to the wedding couple factored in.
Because of the pressure on the couple to hold a wedding befitting of their status, and the pressure on the invited guests to provide a significant sum of money in their hongbaos, weddings have become a matter of stress – even for guests. A wedding invitation has become jokingly called a “summons”, with the mandatory hongbao the corresponding fine.
Weddings have become so commercial, so transactional, that I’m beginning to wonder: Where is the love? I’m not doubting the love between the couple. But where is the love between a couple and their guests in a celebration that is supposed to be about love?
If I were planning my wedding, I would first consider what the wedding is supposed to be: a momentous occasion to celebrate the start of my marriage. Which means the ceremony has to be something that my partner is comfortable with. It has to be grand enough and not too opulent – so that both our families are not embarrassed either way. And it has to be an occasion that does not bore our guests to death.
I imagine I would do all that at our own expense, and not expect the costs to be covered by the hongbaos. The guests would be there to celebrate with me, not to be burdened by the cost of my need to celebrate.
My point is, if you’re inviting guests to your wedding, then invite them from the heart – with all the sincerity the occasion deserves. Your guests should never be made to feel like their hongbao is a ticket to your wedding.
I’ve been to my fair share of truly memorable weddings, and these were held at a void deck, a hall in a community centre, a canteen in a church, a family restaurant in the East Coast area, and one lavish affair at the ballroom of a magnificent hotel.
I accepted the invitations to these with the sincerity in which they were given, and at no point did I check with the other guests nor referred to any definitive guide for the appropriate amount to give. I was guided only by my own heart, and the amount I gave the couple at the void-deck wedding was exactly the same as the one I gave to the couple who chose to have their wedding at a hotel’s grand ballroom. All the hongbaos that I handed out were received with gratitude, though I’m proud to say the couples appeared happier to see me than the hongbao in my hand. Never – not even for a single moment – did I worry about being judged for the size of my hongbao because real friends don’t do that.
So, would I have felt cheated if I found out that any of the weddings I attended were sponsored, in part or in whole? Would I have considered their invite less sincere than if they’d paid the full commercial rate for everything pertaining to the wedding?
Like I said earlier, it is up to them what they want to do to celebrate their day and how they intend to finance it really isn’t any business of mine. My hongbao was a personal gift to them, and how much money I put in it is absolutely my own business. To what extent it covered the price of my seat at the table is hardly the point.
My friends chose to celebrate their wedding in a manner they felt was within their means. They were starting out on the arduous journey of marriage, so I wouldn’t have begrudged them a sponsorship, had they been granted one. In the same way, I would have been very happy for them if they had received a windfall such as a hefty sum of money as a gift from wealthy parents, a massive discount from a friend or relative, or winning the lottery prior to their wedding.
What was important to me was my celebrating with them and I’m delighted to report that their marriages are still going very strong.
For the happily ever after is, in my view, a lot more important than that once-upon-a-time wedding that starts the marriage.