10 Thai Wedding Traditions You Should Know
If you've been invited to a friend's traditional Thai wedding or you're engaged and looking to honor your Thai heritage in your wedding, there are a few customs typically incorporated into Thai weddings you should be aware of. While Ilaire Irenze, wedding planner and owner of Wedding Boutique Phuket, points out that the many traditions seen in Thai weddings may "be slightly different from region to region," there are some practices that are commonly seen across weddings in Thailand and during nuptials honoring Thai heritage.
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1. Auspicious Wedding Date
It is important that the actual date Thai to-be-weds exchange vows be auspicious. Ilaire explains that the "day and time of a Thai wedding, much like in Chinese traditions, is especially important. The couple has to consult their families, a monk and an astrologer to find the perfect auspicious date."
2. Making Merit
Making merit through receiving a monk's blessing is an important pre-wedding step for couples exchanging traditional Thai nuptials. "Making merit is a very important step of the Buddhist tradition to ensure the couple experiences prosperity in their married life. During this practice, the couple has to offer food to the monks and then monks will sing, pray and bless the couple for a happy and healthy and wealthy life," explains Ilaire. "On the early morning of the wedding day, the couple has to invite three, five, seven or nine monks to their place and serve them food. The number of monks must be always odd and the higher the number, the luckier the blessing will be. Notably, nine is a very lucky number in Thai culture, so it's recommended that couples invite nine monks for their blessing. The monks will pray in Sanskritic and bless the couple for a happy, healthy and wealthy life. After the senior monk has sanctified the union, the monks return to the temple and the wedding festivities can begin."
3. Khan Maak Procession
After the couple has received the monk's blessing, there is a professional, known as Khan Maak, that takes place to kick off the engagement portion of the wedding before the actual wedding ceremony happens. Ilaire explains that the "groom will lead a Khan Maak parade to the bride's house; this is the beginning of the engagement session when the groom and his party offer gifts to the bride's family. Nowadays, the Khan Maak procession is no longer the most important part of a traditional Thai wedding. It has lost a bit of the meaning of the marriage agreement between the family, so it's sometimes skipped by the young couples. It's more often used as a very symbolic part among mixed Western-Thai couples, as it allows a very nice blending of the two cultures together."
Ilaire goes on to note that "the procession brings a lot of fun to the event and it's accompanied by musicians playing traditional long drums as the entourage dances its way to the bride's house. Both dancers and drummers are clothed in a rainbow of traditional Thai costumes and therefore provide a vibrant and enchanting way to kick off the celebrations. The groom and guests are free to join in as the procession makes its way to the bride's room before she joins them to begin the official ceremony at the designated altar or shrine."
4. Door Games
After the Khan Maak procession has taken place, fun door games are usually played. "When the groom's family reaches the bride's home the way may be blocked by symbolic doors or gates," says Ilaire. Historically, "some funny games will happen to win the honor of the bride, including paying money at every gate, this door games session is called 'Sanuk.'"
5. Engagement Ceremony
Even after making merit, partaking in Khan Maak and completing door games, an engagement ceremony must take place prior to the actual wedding ceremony commencing. Ilaire explains that "once the groom has successfully made it through the door games, the marriage proposal and the official engagement ceremony take place. The engagement ceremony is a very intimate part of the whole wedding involving the couple's parents and elderly closer relatives and it includes the engagement rings exchange."
While historically some of these pre-wedding events may have taken place over the course of multiple days, it's common for all the elements of modern Thai weddings to take place on the same day. "Thai weddings normally will be done on the same day," notes Ilaire. "Starting from the engagement to a water blessing ceremony. In the past, this may have happened over a couple of days, but nowadays it has been squeezed into a whole day of celebrations."
6. White Thread Ritual
"Following the engagement ceremony we will have the 'Sai Monkhon' ritual, where the couple is symbolically joined by a thread, and then the most important part for Thai tradition, the water blessing ceremony, the 'Rod nam sang,'" will take place explains Ilaire. "During 'Sai Sin,' white thread is connected [to each to-be-wed] by a ceremonial headdress made of string that symbolizes the couple's union."
7. Water Blessing
After the white thread ritual, a water blessing is the next step of a traditional Thai wedding ceremony. "Thai people believe that water is a powerful symbol of blessing," explains Ilaire of the ceremony's importance. Even beyond weddings, "most Thai traditions include ceremonies related with water. For example, the 'Song Kran,' Thai New Year, is internationally well-known as a water splashing festivity (happening in April) where people invoke the rain to bless the hearth. The same goes for the 'Loy Krathong,' another very important festival in Thailand, happening exactly six months later (in November) where people thank the Goddess of Water with floating floral arrangements and candles." In light of the value Thai people place on water, it's so surprise that "the water pouring ritual in Thai weddings is definitely the most meaningful one," advises Ilaire. "With the bride and groom seated next to each other, and joined by the Sai Monkhon white thread, the wedding guests will begin to line up to have a turn with the couple. The two hold their hands close together as their most honored guests use a special blessed shell, usually taken from the sea, to pour water over the uniting pair. It is customary for the person while pouring the water, to wish the couple well and give advice on having a good life together."
8. Presentation of Gifts for Elders
An important part of traditional weddings in Thailand is honoring elders. Ilaire explains that "during a traditional Thai wedding it is integral to respect elders with a ritual presentation of gifts to the parents of the bride and groom and their older family friends. Traditionally, the bride's parents receive tokens of respect first, before the groom's parents are presented with theirs."
While western wedding receptions typically feature lots of dancing and food, that's not always the main focus of traditional Thai wedding receptions. "A reception party will follow, but we must say the food and drinks are not such an important part of a traditional Thai wedding, well, not as important as they are in western culture," notes Ilaire. "The reception is mostly a good occasion for the guests to take a lot of photos with the newlyweds."
10. Guest Expectations
When attending a traditional Thai wedding for the first time, there are some tips and rules of thumb that wedding guests should keep in mind. Ilaire advises wedding guests to "not wear all black or a; white at a Thai wedding, as those are the colors that Thai people wear at funerals. Also, do not ask how much the dowry was, out of respect for the couple's families. Also, in any ceremonial parts of the wedding day, allow elders to process first. Lastly, if you are not Buddhist avoid joining the religious ceremony with monks without having studied a little bit about the meanings and rules of respect of this religion."