Cultural Celebrations: What makes you smile

Drumroll please!

We’ve just entered a new decade: it’s 2020! Double-digit decade.

Nifty!

It’s no secret, I love walking around and I often have my musings and insights while strolling in some natural space, alone, with my thoughts, ideally with the sun shining down.  In this post I write about my love for weddings and how they make me happy, as well as some considerations of what makes a person smile.

Close family and friends also might recall that I like to lurk weddings.  Now, not in any type of creepy sense, rather when I see a wedding couple having photos taken, I try to quickly snap one for my own records. I’ve thought about how to write about weddings before. One time I was attending an academic conference and someone presented a paper looking at wedding traditions from a sociological perspective and where the traditions come from.  I have some vivid images in my mind of wedding photos I’ve witnessed in passing, or from the weddings I’ve attended.

Sneaking in a photo of the happy couple

The first wedding couple photo I captured (I’m pretty sure) was in 2012 in Berlin. It was my first time visiting the Weihnachtsmarkt, I was also at the one in Alexanderplatz which is mega all on its own. I was in awe for my first time in the city of Berlin. It was cold. It was December. Suddenly, I looked over and I saw such a picture-perfect moment between a wedding couple! The bride was dressed in a satin, simple gown with a white fur overthrow and the groom was wearing a top hat and had tails on his suit. Could this couple BE any more classic? I think not! I thought to myself just how gorgeous they looked together and it continued to fit my perfect first experience in Berlin.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Stay with me now, I know the images are a bit fuzzy. As I said, I lurked to quickly snap a photo when I see a wedding couple. I could be far away and trying to zoom-in, it’s always on a phone camera (which only in recent years have those become excellent). I also try to snap a picture as quickly as possible to not seem like a total rando taking stranger photos! Yet I do anyways! I’ve taken photos of wedding couples in Hawaii, Germany, the US, Canada, and of course with friends and family.

For as long as I can remember I’ve loved everything I knew about weddings. Growing up, I attended a fair amount of Portuguese-Canadian-Italian-Spanish weddings (in Canada). In fact, my first memory at a wedding, I was maybe 5 and I was a very picky eater.  I was fixated on spreading these fun-looking butter balls on my dinner rolls. I probably only ate dinner rolls during that cousin’s wedding reception, and I remember thinking to myself: gee, what a fancy way to have butter in a dish! It was the first time that I remember being especially dressed up and getting to see everyone around me in beautiful gowns and chic suits.

Cultural traditions at weddings

I don’t know if it was from that moment on that I wanted a somewhat fancy, dashing wedding of my own one day, or if it was the years of enjoying chick flicks with wedding scenes that was the larger influencer. I’ll probably never know, I do cherish my memories attending weddings and seeing wedding couples being photographed in public spaces – usually parks and gardens.

It is also rather obvious that depending on what culture you are from, impacts what traditions you participate in either as the wedding hosts or guests.  For example, Portuguese love seafood, and at every cousin’s wedding I’ve been there’s been a seafood buffet at midnight (along with so much other food that no one has the stomach capacity to ingest). I think every wedding I’ve attended throughout my life has included some sort of late night snack, and in recent years with more Canadian couples, it’s been a poutine bar.  My own wedding had late night currywurst to fit with German snack foods.

A tradition I was not accustomed to seeing happened when my German-Canadian cousin married a Chinese-Canadian.  Chinese weddings may involve a tea ceremony, where the couple brings a cup of tea to the family elders (in return, the couple receive a pretty envelope holding a chunk of money).  The bride also wears red. What all us white folk at the wedding did not realize, nor did we think to ask or look it up, was that the tea ceremony actually takes a couple of hours!  I strategically did not eat more than one or two hor d’oeuvres because I was anticipating the incredible 7-course dinner. The groomsmen, they knew…

The groomsmen played a little joke on the groom and wrote on the soles of his black leather shoes in white “when do we eat”.  These fine gents were prepared, they knew the eating wouldn’t be for hours. When the happy married couple kneeled down to serve tea to their elders seated in front of them, everyone over time finally saw his shoes. Needless to say, all wedding guests were grateful when the tea ceremony was finished and the appetizers started appearing at tables.  I will mention this was one of the most beautiful weddings I have been to yet. The wedding ceremony was in a Catholic church, the bride in a white ball gown and the groom in a black tux with their wedding party looking equally elegant. The dinner reception was held in a lovely hall with large chandeliers and the servers dressed in black suits with white gloves.  Even writing about the memory puts a smile on my face.

Another example of some different cultural traditions at a wedding happened while I was a bridesmaid.  During this Romanian-Canadian wedding, the bride’s parents (Romanians) were very concerned about having enough food for all the guests. It was incredibly important that every table have a bowl full of homemade cabbage rolls.  When Iheard the bride mention cabbage rolls for her wedding, my first thought went to: I hope there’s good air circulation (it was outdoors).  She later explained that in Romania, having these traditional cabbage rolls served during dinner is good luck. I’m so glad that her parents made hundreds of small cabbage rolls, because they were delicious and a unique addition to the beautiful wedding.

I love that each wedding is its own and that the happy couple work together – perhaps with parents and other family and friends – to create a great day with wonderful memories.

Happiness

Having read about Hygge and Lykke as well as different texts on intercultural and non-verbal communication styles, weddings for me give me that gemütlichkeit kind-of feeling.

The last happy couple I saw being photographed was in the park close to where I live in Germany.  It was January 2, the new year has just begun and it was a beautiful afternoon. In Germany, it’s typical that a couple has their official marriage at the Standesamt in the city or town where they live.  This is likely a justice-of-the-peace sort of person in an office where maybe a few of the closest relatives or friends attend.  The wedding celebration and party comes later that day or on another day. Whereas in Canada a wedding of 50 people is on the smaller side, in Germany, 50 is a good amount or even large – to some people.  German weddings can also take place in a church with the priest or minister legally marrying them.

 

Seeing couples just after their nuptials makes me very happy. I feel the joy and love that they are emanating.   In my view, there are few happier days in a person’s life than committing yourself forever to your best friend. Ok, I’m totally laying out all the mushy-gushy warm feelings I get. But seriously, I love seeing weddings in any capacity!

I recently came across a short article in the Leipzig Glocal about a guy driving around the continent working on a Happiness Project. I read this just before walking through the park and stumbling on the Hochzeitspaar and was thinking what makes people smile.  This question comes up a lot, because when you smile authentically, you’re probably feeling some form of happiness or joy.  I follow different foreigner groups on social media and read blogs of people living abroad, and I notice, in Germany, especially Eastern Germany, the topic of stranger friendliness comes up a lot. Or should I say, the apparent lack of it here.

Smiling, giving a head-nod, saying hello, or waving, generally do not happen with strangers in Eastern Germany.  At least, that’s the cultural generalization that people are led to believe. I am pretty fortunate, I don’t have resting bitch face, I naturally have eyes that are large and my behaviour goes to giving a slight perk of the sides of the mouth when I walk past another human.  Does this behaviour always get a positive reaction? No. I do get strange looks. I sometimes also put my focus on the ground in front of me instead of meeting the gaze with the person opposite me. However, the other day, this day that I saw the first couple of the new year (in my eye-line) celebrating their marriage: everyone returned my smile.

Do you ever smile at a stranger?

I made a point of it to myself that I would look at everyone I walked by in the park and smile at them.  To my pleasant surprise: everyone returned the smile! Was it a miracle? Was everyone still high on having Christmas or winter holidays? Was it because the sun was shining? I will never know! Unless…

Like all of these different happiness projects and research approaches going on, perhaps if I am more interactive during these interactions.  What if I then approach people and ask why did they smile? What makes a person smile? Do they ever initiate a smile with a stranger?  It’s a little funny to think about this non-verbal behaviour being studied so thoroughly these days and all of the scientific research attached to it talking about happiness.

There are so many things that make me smile and make me happy. Smiling can easily turn into a laugh, and that laugh can be so strong that your stomach hurts from the muscles tightening and your mouth and face hurt from holding that position so long, or that you cry and have a difficult time breathing because something makes you laugh THAT much.  Weddings make me smile, and make me happy. Lots of different foods and drinks make me happy. People. Swimming. Feeling the sun. Seeing people smile and laugh. The list can be endless depending how it’s framed.

Dear internet readers, what makes you smile and happy?

My wedding party
My wedding party

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