Saying 'I do' to smaller weddings

Saying 'I do' to smaller weddings

INDONESIA- President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo has his way, expect fewer invitations to lavish wedding parties this year. In fact, expect fewer wedding invitations altogether.

Administrative and Bureaucratic Reform Minister Yuddy Chrisnandi, at Mr Joko's behest, has issued a circular telling all members of top government echelons, particularly Cabinet ministers and heads of local government, to limit the invitation lists for the weddings of their offspring to no more than 400 names, or a maximum of 1,000 guests.

While the instruction, which took effect in the new year, was addressed to top officials, it urged those concerned to issue similar orders to their subordinates.

When I shared this story with a visiting Australian acquaintance, he was puzzled.

"That's not small. How big are your weddings anyway?" he asked. Where he comes from, even 200 guests would already be considered too many.

In Indonesia, it is not uncommon to see 2,000, 5,000 or sometimes even up to 10,000 guests. Many Jakarta ballrooms are designed for big events. Sometimes, weddings are held in two takes of 5,000 guests, usually in the afternoon and evening.

It is not only the size that is baffling, but also how lavish weddings have become, with large bouquets, traditional ceremonies replete with costumes and decorations, videos and photoshoots done before and during the wedding, as well as extravagant food and drinks.

They are ridiculously expensive.

I have already married off both my two sons, and each event set us back more than what it cost to send them through college. It was money that could have been spent on a downpayment for the newlyweds' first house.

Like almost everyone else, we were all caught up in the trend of having big and lavish weddings. There was no escaping it because people in this town talk.

Now, Mr Joko is putting a stop to this, as part of his campaign for officials to lead simpler lives. They should not flaunt their wealth, even if they have it, so the circular says.

He has already barred government agencies from holding meetings at five- star hotels - they must instead use their own meeting facilities - and he has said that such meetings should serve locally grown foodstuff rather than the imported version.

The instruction on wedding parties may be intruding into the private lives of government officials. Some are grumbling about their basic rights being trampled upon. This is our own money and the government has no right to limit how big a wedding we can have, so they argue.

Realistically, a wedding with 1,000 guests is still large. Mr Joko is right: Anything above that number is ridiculously large. He could have taken a cue from my Australian friend and limited it to 200 guests. But that would seem too cruel.

Until recently, the higher your position in government, the larger the wedding party you would throw for your offspring.

Then President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono married off his eldest son Agus Harimurti at the Bogor Presidential Palace in 2005 with an invitation list of 2,000 people, and youngest son Edhie Baskoro at the Cipanas Presidential Palace in 2011 with 3,000.

That translated to actual guests of double the figure or more. The line of people waiting to shake the hands of Edhie and his bride, and their proud parents, was almost 1km long, according to some guests at Cipanas.

Always mindful of public opinion, Dr Yudhoyono stressed at the time that he used his own money for both weddings and that the use of the presidential palaces, which are state facilities, was mandated under security protocol.

Prominent business people and famous celebrities may have much bigger wedding parties, but then the public probably expects no less of them. For government officials to throw lavish wedding parties should be considered extravagant.

One assumes that Mr Joko will live up to his own word, and when the time comes to marry off one or more of his three children - which could happen during his term in office - he would keep the events small, in spite of his official position.

This is a president who leads by example. He has flown economy class when not using the presidential plane because he has barred government officials from flying business class.

Weddings are very private family matters, and the parties should ideally be limited to immediate family members and close friends of both the bride and groom.

But in Indonesia, the wedding of your offspring seems to have become a public matter, with everyone you know expecting to be invited, in the same way that you would expect to be invited by them.

If you are throwing such a party, you will struggle with whose names to cross off your long list without offending them.

Attending wedding parties has become a routine you cannot avoid even when you do not even know the bride or groom. You turn up, sign the guest book, wait in line to shake the hands of the newlyweds and their parents, have your 10- to 15-second opportunity to say "hi" and give your congratulations, and then head to the buffet.

If you are lucky, you may bump into someone you know, have a quick chat and then leave, sometimes to another wedding reception.

If Mr Joko's order takes effect, it might just have a multiplier effect, with those outside the public sector beginning to scale down their own wedding parties.

And then we could see some semblance of normalcy; that is, if you are lucky enough to be invited.

The writer is a senior editor of The Jakarta Post.

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