By Anna Senrick, Sunrise Styling, LLC, St. Paul, Minn. photos by merina burda photography

As with many weddings in Asian cultures, traditional Hmong weddings are handled by the family and are intricately pre-planned or determined by ancestry, last name lineage, the value of the female/bride, and gifts to the bride’s family. There is no “reception,” only meals and feasts that are often selected by the clan and negotiators.  Truly, there is little work for wedding planners in a traditional Hmong wedding. However, some Hmong couples opt for modern weddings that incorporate aspects of their culture and heritage. Here’s a primer for the insightful planner.

The Hmong “Proposal”

There are three typical ways for a traditional Hmong marriage to begin:

1. The groom’s family approaches the bride’s family and asks her parents for her hand in marriage.

2. The bride “runs away” to the groom’s house.

3. The groom’s people “kidnap” the bride. Traditionally, in most “kidnapping” cases, the bride is then forced to marry the groom despite her personal wishes. However, this is generally a symbolic kidnapping as the girl is allowed to refuse to go.


Negotiations Begin

Once the proposal happens, no matter what the format, the groom’s family approaches the bride’s family to let them know that their daughter is with the groom’s family. This begins the negotiation process for a bride price. Negotiations of price and gifts can take several hours to complete. The family and negotiators then begin a blessing ritual to ask the ancestors to accept the bride into the household, a process which is followed by feasts prepared by the family. The bride is not allowed to visit anyone’s house for three days after this.

The Ceremony

Once the price has been set for the bride’s dowry, events move to the bride’s family’s house for the ceremony. On this second day, many conditions are put on the marriage between the families by negotiators. For example, one of the terms could be, “If your son cheats on our daughter, then she is allowed to divorce him, and the bride price will not be returned.” At the ceremony, guests tie a string on the bride’s and groom’s hands to signify the binding relationship. A blessing over the couple is said. At this time, it is customary to give a monetary gift to the couple. The bride’s family will give her three sets of new clothes and food for the journey to her new home.

Day Three

The couple leaves the bride’s family’s house and returns to the groom’s where, on the third and final day, there is a gathering to celebrate the return. This is a smaller event, similar to a welcoming party for the newlyweds.

Tradition in Modern Times

Nowadays, many couples skip day one and three of the traditional Hmong wedding and only have a big party along with the hand-tying ceremony. Some couples choose to do this as well as have a Western-style ceremony and reception. Others choose only the Western ceremony and reception but include some Hmong-inspired details in décor, food, and other cultural ideas.

In Hmong weddings, details and pre-wedding arrangements are handled by the family members and clan leaders.  Since the Hmong wedding ceremony is not only a union of the bride and groom, but their entire families to one another, in a true Hmong ceremony, there is no place for a wedding planner, as they can’t negotiate for either side of the family. However, wedding planners would be hired for a Hmong wedding if it is a Western-style wedding that incorporates the modern celebration and events including, a white dress, cocktail hour, reception, dance, and the like. In these cases, the planner would interview the couple and provide the same services that they would for any other wedding couple—budget review, timeline, vendor search, and so on. 

Ask the Elders

To be prepared when planning a Western-style Hmong wedding, the best thing to do is be informed about the cultures and traditions. While there are some wonderful online resources regarding Hmong weddings and traditions—the best place to find out more is by talking with the elders of the family.  The elders are the ones who do the wedding negotiations and plans for the couple. ••