Weddings

4 things NOT to expect at a traditional Malaysian wedding

Nobody likes telling you, so I'm here to do the job.

Whenever the word “wedding” is mentioned the first thing people think of are music and dance, extravagant decorations, food, and swanky outfits. Most weddings across different cultures have these things in common, but there are a few interesting exceptions.

Being a Malaysian and of Malay descent, I’ve been wondering why the weddings we celebrate here are different than the ones I’ve seen in movies, TV shows, and heard about from my friends from other cultures. I have been to a lot of traditional Malaysian weddings and can’t help but compare them to Desi, Arab or Western wedding traditions.

There was one time when my South Asian and Middle Eastern friends were invited to a friend’s wedding. Little did I know, they were surprised by the differences and expected more from it. So if you’re a Desi, Arab or from any cultures apart from Malay, these are the things not to expect in our traditional wedding receptions.

1. You won’t see any dancing

[Image description: A Malaysian bride and groom sit on their wedding throne while watching a Silat performer. He is wearing an orange, traditional outfit, raising his left hand and right leg. Guests mill around the scene. From kahwinmall.com]
[Image description: A Malaysian bride and groom sit on their wedding throne while watching a Silat performer. He is wearing an orange, traditional outfit, raising his left hand and right leg. Guests mill around the scene. From kahwinmall.com]
In a traditional Malay wedding, there is no dancing at our receptions. The bride and groom do not have a special dance either.

Instead, a 20-person group bendir (framed drum) performance is a must. It’s always accompanied by singing, usually Islamic qasida. The sound is so beautiful, loud, and festive; enough for the whole village or town to hear it! The louder, the better!

[bctt tweet=”There is no dancing at a Malaysian wedding reception.” username=”wearethetempest”]

There’s another form of entertainment we enjoy, and probably our favorite of all – silat!

Silat is a Southeast Asian martial art, but once it’s transformed into performance arts, the sight is totally mesmerizing! Martial arts are rarely included in the weddings of other cultures and who would’ve thought a deadly art could be transformed into a beautiful presentation?

2. Gender segregation isn’t a thing

[Image description: Guests sit on the floor with their legs crossed around a wedding ceremony taking place. Everyone is wearing traditional clothes and the room is ornately decorated. From stories.my]
[Image description: Guests sit on the floor with their legs crossed around a Malaysian wedding ceremony taking place. Everyone is wearing traditional clothes and the room is ornately decorated. From stories.my]
There’s no such thing as a gender-segregated wedding in Malaysia.

This is how we do it here – have one day of akad nikkah, and then another day for the wedding reception. Some people would rather do both in one day. But none of these events require the families or guests to celebrate the day separately by gender. The only segregation people do in Malaysia is for the side that the bride and groom’s families sit on, but they are all still be in the same room.

I still remember the puzzled expression on my Arab friend’s face as she looked around her, watching everyone socializing without any limitations. Men and women talking to each other, girls and boys running around all over the place wasn’t something she expected at all. I was worried that she wouldn’t be okay being in the same room with men, but she actually loved it. After all, the more the merrier!

3. Formal attire for men? What is that?

[Image description: A couple are walking hand-in-hand on a road while their families walk alongside them. Everyone is dressed informally, while the bride and groom are wearing more traditional clothing. There is a blurry building in the background and a few green trees. From Pinterest]
[Image description: A couple are walking hand-in-hand on a road while their families walk alongside them. Everyone is dressed informally, while the bride and groom are wearing more traditional clothing. There is a blurry building in the background and a few green trees. From Pinterest]
One thing people expect to see in weddings – formal and classy attire for both women and men. Women will be wearing graceful and stylish dresses with bling all over them while men will be in tuxedos or formal suits.

In Malaysia, women show up to weddings looking glamorous in elegant dresses, but men? Some of them just wear a polo shirt with jeans, and it’s totally normal!

[bctt tweet=”It’s totally normal for men to just wear a polo shirt and jeans to a Malaysian wedding.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Men can be pretty informal at the wedding by wearing semi-casual outfits. Just a shirt with pants is still fine for them, as long as they’re wearing dress shoes or at least sandals. Of course, flip flops are absolutely unacceptable. So, if one day you’re invited to a traditional Malay wedding and see men and boys wearing those outfits, don’t be so shocked.

4. Going home empty-handed

[Image description: Two images alongside one another show little gift boxes for a wedding in different lighting. The boxes are meant to symbolize the tux of a groom and the white wedding dress of a bride. Both boxes have the name of the bride and groom with their wedding date underneath. From Pinterest]
[Image description: Two images alongside one another show little gift boxes for a wedding in different lighting. The boxes are meant to symbolize the tux of a groom and the white wedding dress of a bride. Both boxes have the name of the bride and groom with their wedding date underneath. From Pinterest]
We have door gifts! And it is a must in every Malay wedding, modern or traditional.

Originally, we give bunga telur (hard-boiled egg tied on a flower) to each guest. It is a symbol of fertility in Malay culture, but now it’s no more than a mere gift for the guest. Nowadays, most of us don’t stick to that tradition anymore. Instead of bunga telur, people come up with more creative ideas for their door gifts. Chocolates in pouches, candies in cute boxes and sometimes, goody bags filled with key chains, scented candles or figurines are some interesting ideas.

Getting the wedding gift is absolutely my favorite part of the wedding, which is another reason for me to attend them besides dressing up and looking fabulous in the receptions!

[bctt tweet=”I thought Malaysian weddings were dull.” username=”wearethetempest”]

I have to admit, I thought Malaysian weddings were dull without the romantic bride and groom dance or jolly music to jig to. I kept comparing our weddings with the ones people from Desi, Arab or Western cultures have. It was only until foreign friends of mine told me how unique and beautiful our weddings were that I finally realized how I should be proud of my identity as a Malaysian woman.