With a culture of big families and big holidays, weddings are the epitome of Indian celebration. They often last for a week or more and involve multiple ceremonies and events, including fun pre-wedding functions like the Sangeet (a pre-wedding reception), the Mehendi (where elaborate henna designs are applied to the bride’s and other women’s hands and feet), and the Haldi ceremony (where turmeric paste is applied to brides and grooms like a bright yellow beauty mask). Inevitably, many Indian weddings cost a fortune— the average Indian wedding in the US has around 500 guests and costs the family around $65,000, but it’s easy to come across a wedding that costs upwards of $300,000.
The act of getting married and creating a new branch in the family tree is held as a truly defining moment in a young person’s life. Weddings are filled with color — reds, oranges, yellows, greens, fuchsias, and purples — a whole rainbow of festivity. There’s lots of dancing, from choreographed Bollywood numbers put on by the young friends and family of the couple, the groom and his family dancing down the street as part of the Baraat, or groom’s procession, even the older guests get into the dancing mood at a wedding. Games are played by the couple and the bridal party; for example, the bridesmaids steal the groom’s shoes at some point during the wedding ceremony, and inevitably he has to bargain to get his shoes back.
Think that means getting frustrated when shops start playing Christmas music three months early? No. For Indian families, it means first there’s Navaratri, a festival symbolizing the triumph of good over evil lasting nine nights, then Karva Chauth, then Ahoi Ashtami, both fasts and religious ceremonies some Indian women hold for their husbands and children, followed by lots of food. Then comes Diwali, the Hindu New Year, often celebrated with firecrackers, a religious ceremony, food, and family. Add both Halloween and Thanksgiving mixed in there somewhere, followed up by American Christmas craziness in December and New Years in January. The celebrations continue all the way through March with Holi (the festival of colors). Throw in a few birthdays and wedding anniversaries, and you have yourself a full house of extended family all winter long. When we say “Happy holidays,” it’s more a way to avoid sending cards six times in the space of three months than anything else.
While this value is hardly limited to Indian culture, the sanctity of the family group is held in really high regard by Indians. What that means is that family comes first in loyalty, in family structure, in housing arrangements, in childcare, in elder care, and in professional decisions. Western families are different than Indian families in that they are more likely to send kids out on their own at a younger age, and less likely to live in multigenerational homes. Families with three, even four generations under the same roof is not only common, but preferred by many Indians.
It’s a running joke that Indian parents pressure their kids to become doctors or engineers from a very early age, but it’s true. Indian families expect a lot from their babies. Think of it this way — by encouraging and pushing a child to strive for excellent grades, to attend really good schools, and to join the ranks of highly respected professions, you are setting the standard for how that child is going to think about themselves throughout their life. By telling him or her that they are capable of great things, they are more likely to be high achievers because they know they can be. While it’s stressful, it’s done with love. Like the saying goes, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”