How much money a couple wants to splash out on their wedding is a matter of personal choice. But, increasingly, it has become the occasion as much to impress as to celebrate. It is not uncommon to see well-to-do love birds going upscale, with their ceremony and reception being turned into a show comprising a mix of standard rituals, games and performances. In return, friends and relatives invited are expected to contribute to the expenses accordingly.
A bride's warning to her friends not to come to her party unless they paid more than HK$500 each became the talk of Hong Kong and shows how touchy and emotional the subject is in a Chinese society. Unlike the Western tradition, in which guests can bring along a gift or buy according to the couple's gift registry, a Hong Kong-style wedding, in particular the banquet, is a tricky affair. Although there is no hard and fast rule for how much one should pay, the amount is usually guided by the venue and hence, the cost.
A recent survey shows that while couples spent an average of HK$280,000 on weddings this year, 35 per cent up from five years ago, the "gift money" received from individual guests remained stable at HK$500 to HK$1,000, depending on whether the banquet was held in a classy hotel or a standard Chinese restaurant. One-third of the respondents said the money received could not cover the cost. Nearly six in 10 said their wedding exceeded their budget.
Tying the knot itself may not be expensive. But the add-ons such as a banquet, professional wedding planning and photo and video services can cost a lot. It is common sense that couples do not stage something they cannot afford. Guests are invited to share the happiness rather than the cost, and while they are expected to observe unwritten norms and etiquette for a wedding, it is unrealistic to expect them to pay for it. Friends and relatives, after all, are invited because they are special to the couple. It's their presence, rather than money, that matters.