Betrothal:Although not as common as it once had been, many children are still betrothed at a young age to someone of their families choosing. This usually happens early in childhood, usually around the age of 8 or 9 for boys; girls can be betrothed as young as 5 years old. The decision is ultimately up to the father/male head of the family, but in many cases the children are given some say in the process (but it is very rare that a child is given veto power). Betrothals can be same-sex or heterosexual, both are common. Three-way betrothals were common among royal families throughout history and are still seen among aristocratic/prestigious families, though not as regularly as in the past.
The Yeti place great value in family and a strong family unit requires a strong marriage. It is believed that friendship is the best basis for an honorable and successful marriage, and therefore a necessary investment for laying the foundations of a family. For this reason, there is usually a year (or longer in some cases such as long-distance agreements) set aside for compatibility “testing” or an initial foundation for future relationships. Nothing binding is decided between the families until after this stage, when the betrothal becomes official. Usually there is a contract between the families, but the children have no part in that. Traditionally the two being betrothed exchange personal affects, something dear to them (a special toy, heirloom, etc.). A dowry is also given by the bride’s family, usually in the form of valued property, services, or estate rather than money.
Courting is the responsibility of the future groom (or in the case of homosexual betrothals, the person in the higher economic status/more ‘disposable’ wealth) and is an unofficial process that usually begins during post-pubescent adolescence. There is no formal process for courting, and details are up to the individuals involved, but it is required that the couple begins to attend social events together and establish a public presence as a couple.
Engagement/Formal proposal:This is more of a social/public affirmation of the betrothal more than it is a legal part of the process. Engagement when the betrothal is officially blessed (usually by a religious official or military officer, depending on the families involved). Both persons exchange engagement bands, worn around the wrist. Commonly they are made of brass or iron, with gold detailing if it could be afforded. It is also traditional that each person has some part (the exact involvement varies) in the forging of the band for their partner. Engagement bands are worn on the left wrist for women and the right for men.
The actual engagement is done privately, but celebrations are usually held afterward.
Marriage celebrations usually last up to three days, more if the families can afford it. The celebration begins the day before (or two days or more, the Royal Family has even began celebrations as much as a week in advance) the actual ritual. This celebration usually begins the in the afternoon stretching into the early morning hours (though for some guests, it could go right up until the time of the wedding).
The feast is usually smaller than the ones for the subsequent days of celebration. This night a bonfire is lit, usually in the center of the celebration area, and is kept going until the end of the celebration on the last day. The first night it is fed with Hazel wood. In folklore, Hazel trees were seen as a symbol of love and fertility. Though most Yeti do not practice or believe in herb lore anymore, the many of the traditions based around this lore are still used. Young girls often throw stones, flowers, or ribbon into the bonfire as wishes of good luck in their own future marriages.
Since the couple to be married are restricted from seeing each other for a fortnight prior to the wedding, the job of keeping them apart during the celebration is given to close friends or siblings, though often it becomes a sort of game among the rest of the guests as well to keep them apart.
The time of the actual marriage ceremony is decision left to the betrothed couple, usually taking place about a year after the engagement, although it is not uncommon for nine months to two years in between.
Ceremonies typically take place in late morning, as the early morning is set aside for preparation, though the bride and groom are rarely involved in the actual work of setting up. Instead, the morning is set aside for time at ancestral alters. Usually a private family alter or one close to their home. Offerings (food, jewelry, or coins most often) are left for good luck/to “bless” (for lack of a better term) the ceremony. It is also usually an informal meditation/reflection time and most often they left alone. It is becoming more common for this reflection time to be spent at home rather than a ritual step of the ceremony.
The wedding is usually held outdoors, but covered by a tent or pavilion. The area is usually sparsely decorated (decorations are saved for the place of celebration) but guests will bring gas lanterns lit from the bonfire which are usually hung around the perimeter for the actual ritual and are then used to lead the couple to and from the celebration afterward.
Though details of course will vary according to personal tastes and circumstances, the basic format to most wedding ceremonies is as follows:
- Reunion of Bride and groom (or grooms/brides/etc etc) – it is traditional that the bride and groom do not see nor speak to each other (in any form of correspondence for two full weeks prior to the wedding (allowing personal preparations for beginning a new life to be made/setting final affairs in order). They are only together again at the very start of the marriage ceremony, before the official performing the ceremony (usually a member of council or in some cases a high-ranking military officer). The style and manner this is done in is up to the individuals involved, though universally they arrive at the altar at the same time. It should also be noted that there is a wedding party (i.e. bridesmaids, etc.) but they do not accompany the couple during the ceremony.
- Hand-fasting –The cord is usually made of silk, velvet, or linen (depending on what can be afforded), and is usually silver or gold or black in color. The knot is tied by the person who will be officiating the marriage, and is a special knot, similar to a fisherman’s knot, that binds the hands of the couple. While the knot is tied, a traditional prayer/blessing is spoken, which are the only words spoken during the ceremony.
- Exchange of gifts – rather than spoken vows the couple will exchange a series of gifts (usually crafted by the individual). Usually, these gifts are: a piece (or pieces)armor to promise protection, a weapon (varies depending on the interests and skill of an individual) to symbolize strength, and either hand/arm braces or a form of cleats as a hope for long life. Spoken vows are not valued as greatly as in human cultures because words (especially spoken) are seen as intangible and easily corrupt.
After the ceremony, the second feast is held. It is the largest feast of the celebration, and the main course is usually fish or other type of sea food. Aurmelys cider (a fermented concoction somewhere between spiced cider and mead) is typically served (liberally), and an array of entertainment is provided. Music is common, of course, as are traditional dramatic performances as well as “fair performers” (fire play, jugglers, knife-swallowers, etc.), and dancing. The bonfire on the wedding night is fed with driftwood, which is durable and therefore associated in folklore to strengthen a promise or will. The salt water from driftwood also often gives the bonfire blueish color, depending on the region or shore it is from (it is not uncommon for wealthy families to have driftwood imported for their wedding, especially when they live in a land-locked or freshwater region).
Before their departure, as a last gesture that sort of “seals” the marriage, the couple will return their betrothal gifts to one another. Most often, these items are given away to younger siblings or good (unmarried) friends as a token of good luck (comparable to throwing the bouquet at modern weddings), or if the object was a favored childhood toy, it is saved to be given to future children as their first toy.
The couple leaves before sunset, when they are out to sea for their wedding night, which is spent on open water under open sky. The guests see off the couple from the celebration bringing the lanterns lit for the wedding. The couple bring the lanterns with them (or as many as they can) to light their way.
Post-Ritual Celebration (Last Day)
The day after the wedding is the last day of celebration, and is usually more subdued than the other nights. It begins later in the day, usually around dusk. The bonfire is fed Oak branches, symbolizing long life. On this night, the feast is usually provided by the attendees rather than the families of the couple.
This is also the time when wedding gifts are bestowed upon the couple. Usually guests will bring gifts that the couple will need to start their own home and family, or something from their line of work (i.e. a blacksmith will forge a sword or a baker might bring special cakes – shut up, not that kind of special).
Hjon-Maeli:During the 16th century, the Hjon-Maeli was the only way for one to legally unbind themselves from a betrothal. It was, as it is loosely translated, a “battle for the Hand”. The individual who protests the betrothal would be subject to hand-to-hand combat (melee weapons were permitted, but no firearms), usually against an opponent of their betrothed’s choosing. If the protester won this battle – and therefore survived – the betrothal contract would be broken. If the opponent won, the protester would most likely be dead, and the contract would still be void. In event of death, the family of the protester was expected to give some sort of payment for the contract to be officially broken.
An individual can protest a betrothal any time before engagement. An engagement was considered as permanent and legally binding as marriage.
The preparation for the battle begins immediately after protesting the betrothal. The protester is brought to an ‘arena’ (the area of wilderness designated to the Hjon-Maeli, chosen by the betrothed’s family). They would be required to fast during that time and remain in solitude, in order to give them time to reflect on their decision and properly prepare to battle. Usually the weapon is not chosen by the protester, but given to him at this time.
The same rules apply independent of the sex of the protestor.
The battle ends with the death of one of the challengers. In rare occasions, the protester will lose the challenge, but be spared his life. In these circumstances, the individual is forced to swear an oath of celibacy and often is taken in by a monastery.
In modern society, the Hjon-Maeli has been left behind in favor of more civilized methods. In most cities, a breach of the betrothal contract has severe social consequences, but no legal repercussions beyond a large fee. However, the Hjon-Maeli is still practiced in many of the outlying villages and nomadic cultures in some form.