Well, it’s just about wedding season, and that means only one thing in Winnipeg… weird wedding traditions!
I sort of avoided writing this post for a while, since it’s bound to ruffle some feathers. I’ve touched on it before, but not in any real depth. So here it is: Winnipeg (well, Manitoba) has some weird wedding traditions. And by weird I mean, sort of unsavoury (the “weird” was more for alliterative purposes). Where should I begin? At the beginning.
The wedding social is one of things that a lot of Manitobans are fiercely proud of, and yet is completely foreign to most people outside of the province. People throw socials as fundraisers for all sorts of reasons, but a fundraiser for a wedding? I had seriously never heard of this until I moved here. Apparently, they do have versions of this sort of event elsewhere in the country – I think they’re sometimes called cabarets in Saskatchewan, and Buck n’ Does or Stag n’ Does in some parts of Ontario – but here, it’s all socials, all the time.
The concept is this: you need money to pay for your wedding. So you throw a party, and sell tickets to everyone you know. You rent a hall and book a DJ. Then at the party, you sell alcoholic beverages and tickets to “rainbow auctions” (formerly known as Chinese auctions, but really just raffles) for prizes donated by family and friends. To your guests, you provide snacks like Old Dutch ripple chips and pretzels throughout the evening. Towards the end, you bring out the “social food”: rye bread, kolbassa and rolled up sandwich meats, and cubed cheese, along with jars of mayo and mustard so you can make a sandwich. If done well, you can walk away with thousands of dollars of profits and voila! Your wedding is paid for! After all, social-goers pay $10 or $12 for their ticket, spend another $20 (or more) on booze, and another $10 or $20 (or more) on auction tickets. The particularly rowdy ones will easily spend $100 — a tipsy social-goer and his money are soon parted.
Now, apparently this tradition has well-meaning roots. From what I understand, a couple’s wedding party would organize and host this event for the bride and groom, instead of holding multiple showers, stags, stagettes, etc. Since it was likely the couple was young, and still living at home, the social (“A social evening in honour of… “) and its proceeds were a gift, a trousseau of sorts, to the couple from the wedding party and community. This scenario is not particularly offensive to me. However, this tradition has morphed into an additional wedding event, and most often hosted by the couple themselves, for the ostensible purpose of paying for their wedding. I know someone who remembers precisely the first time she was asked to buy tickets to a couple’s own social – it was that surprising and unusual – but now, it’s pretty commonplace.
When I was getting married, I had quite a few people ask me, “So when’s your social?” Notice, they weren’t asking “Are you having a social?” And it was pretty interesting to hear their responses when I said we weren’t having one (I learned quickly to stay politically neutral on this topic – saying that we just wanted to keep things simple). Some people asked me why not, and it was like they were genuinely distressed that we weren’t having one. “But you can make so much money!!” Others were almost relieved on my behalf, and said that it would save a lot of time and energy.
In a previous post, I wrote that “I still feel a little conflicted about the concept of fundraising for weddings, even though it seems like it’s basically the same pool of money (and crushing sense of guilt and obligation) that passes from one couple to the next.” It’s like an extremely well-oiled system of microloans, because the Manitoba Code of Professional Socials Conduct dictates that if someone comes to your social, you must attend theirs. But the guilt doesn’t stop there. To get out of buying tickets for a social – any social, it would seem – you had better have a really good excuse!
There are varying degrees of commitment and support when it comes to socials. At one end, you buy a ticket to assuage your guilty feelings, but have no intention of actually going (and everyone knows this is exactly what you’re doing. You’re not fooling anyone). Or maybe you donate a prize to be raffled off. A typical level of involvement would be to buy a ticket and attend, and while there, drink and try to win the “lottery ticket tree” (which now apparently has changed to “lottery tickets encased in a picture frame”). On the extreme end (if you are in the wedding party or are a family member) you do all of the above, plus sell tickets to anyone you’ve ever known plus anyone those people have ever known, help set up the social, help take down the social, and probably clean some puke up. Now that’s love.
So what? If everyone is a willing participant, what’s the big deal? Well, some would argue that the whole thing is akin to saying “Please come to my house for dinner. But I can’t afford to make the meal, so please bring me a cheque to help me cover my costs.” I have also heard of plenty of couples who did not need the money but had socials anyway, because it is part and parcel of the whole sequence of wedding traditions in these parts. So what if the proceeds are actually going to pay for your honeymoon? Or basement renovation. Or 52″ flat screen TV. Everyone does it. (Well, not everyone, but a lot of people.) Does that make it right?
Here is a list of justifications people give when defending socials. (The fact that they have them ready begs the question of whether they know socials are sort of controversial to begin with.)
- Having a social will let us have the wedding of our dreams that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford
- A social gives people who will not be invited to the wedding an opportunity to share our joy
- It’s a fun way to celebrate with the whole gang before the wedding
- Everybody has a social. It’s just what we do in Manitoba.
I don’t know. I don’t buy any of these. First, couples should have the wedding that they can afford, period.
Second, you think anyone’s consoled by the fact that they didn’t get invited to the wedding, but at least they’ve been invited to help pay for it? And don’t even get me started on socials for destination weddings. Or the idea that businesses should donate prizes, as if your wedding is a charity!
And third, fun? The guests are likely having a great time, but I know brides who were a million times more stressed out about the social than they were about the wedding. And for good reason! If the social flops, you’re out a couple thousand bucks. Seems to me like people’s priorities are a bit out of whack.
The last reason (“everyone is doing it, so why shouldn’t we?) is the only one that I think has any merit. Right or wrong, it’s a cultural custom, so of course there are bound to be outsiders who think it’s weird (or unsavoury). Does it really matter what I, an outsider until quite recently, think?
Okay, now, a lot of people I know and love had socials. Whether they chose to have them for one of the reasons listed above, I don’t know – I figure it’s not really my business. I attended exactly one of them, and I had a blast (and won not one, but two really, really good prizes). From what I understand, the couple had gone above and beyond the call of duty for this social: the food was outstanding, the prizes really desirable. And I loved them, so I was happy to go – it was basically a big party, after all, with fun people and good music. I can’t remember if “Love Shack” was played, but I know there was definitely no polka.
But I also know a handful of people who didn’t have socials, because it was just too much work, or their wedding party never offered to hold one, or the idea of having a social made them uncomfortable. Recently I heard about a local woman who told her son that if he had a social, she wouldn’t attend his wedding. She was dead serious – she thought they were tacky and embarrassing. So he didn’t have a social. It would seem that not everyone in Manitoba is wild about them, for a variety of reasons.
Ultimately, it doesn’t really bother me to be invited to buy tickets to a social, and maybe that’s because I know I have a “I’m not from here” trump card to get out of having to buy one. But it seems like for many people, after the first few times, going to socials is not really anyone’s idea of a good time. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard strangers grumbling about “having” to go to a social. People in my age range (late twenties to mid-thirties) seem to have a pretty severe case of social burnout – what was initially a fun and novel way to spend a Saturday night has now become sort of like a trip to the dentist – one of those things you just have to do every now and then. I asked a 30-something friend to estimate how many socials he’d been to in his life, and he immediately said, “Oh, I don’t know, 20?” Then his wife made him start naming names, and he realized it was more like 45. No wonder he said he’s through with socials!
But then, I think of A&G, good friends of ours who met 20 years ago as teenagers at a social in rural Manitoba. They’re now married with three beautiful kids. If not for socials – which were basically the only way for really-small town teens to socialize – they never would have met. And that gives me a warm and fuzzy, “only in Manitoba” sort of feeling.
So, what do you guys think? Do you think socials are fun and in fact, one of Manitoba’s most beloved cultural institutions? Do you have social burnout and hope you never have to go to another one again? Or are you somewhere in the middle – just happy to party with your friends, no matter the reason or occasion?
Here’s your chance to reveal your true feelings – under the veil of internet anonymity!
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