“There’s a gift for you in my office,” my husband announced cheerily. “What?!?” I exclaimed, puzzled at such a development. He repeated the news and added, “It’s a dress to wear to the wedding.” “What?” I asked again. Now I was even more surprised, though a little, curious pleasure stirred inside me.
I had been looking forward to his student’s wedding since we received the invitation. She and her fiancé are Nigerian-Canadian, and I imagined the event would be atypical. The invitation itself promised such novelty. Included with the standard information, there was a sketch of a couple in traditional African dress. There was a colour of the day: gold. And a wedding theme, “heaven on earth, wonders without end,” which I considered. It’s true, after nearly forty years of marriage, I could say that sometimes marriage affords glimpses of heaven on earth and wonders without end. Sometimes. Other days, not so much. Yet, I smiled at their young and hopeful ideals.
Back to the dress; my husband offered an explanation. He had received a fancy Nigerian robe from a colleague at the university. When he showed it to the bride and asked if it was appropriate wedding wear, she excitedly said yes, and then insisted that I need clothing to match, which she would provide. She asked about my size. “Medium,” my husband answered. “I told her you were medium.” That’s probably a safe bet for lots of husbands, I thought, amused.
Later that day, I received the gift. The dress was sewn from two pieces of dazzling black net fabric, embroidered with large gold and white flowers. Subtle multi-colored sequins shimmered in the light. The bottom (iro) was a versatile rectangular wrap; the top (buba) had generous proportions. Given its transparency, a significant under-layer was required. Fortunately, I had exactly the sort of long sleeveless black dress to complete the outfit. The dress was infused with the most pleasing scent, perhaps that of the seamstress’ perfume? I felt honoured to receive such a gift.
The wedding day arrived and we robed ourselves in our striking black and gold garments. I carried my curiosity with me: what would be the same as other weddings; what would be different? All in all, the event was a lovely merging of African and North American traditions.
The service was held outdoors (information not included on the invitation), under a hot prairie sun with a blustery wind. The service began 45 minutes after scheduled. The pastor instructed the young couple to build a marriage of faithfulness, commitment and joy. Sacred promises were made. Many, many prayers were raised. We sang and some of us ululated. Often the congregation was invited into lively and enthusiastic response.
The reception included an extended bridal processional. The bridal couple, accompanied by a dozen women with gold and blue head wraps, slowly and exuberantly made their way into the hall. The bride herself, the central dancer, attended her new husband with joy and strength. (One move that she repeated many times involved lowering her straight-backed body while swiveling her hips, then gracefully rising again, all the more impressive because she was in 4” heels.) All in all, it was a delightful experience.
Such are the gifts of cross-cultural interactions. One never knows what the surprises might be, or the learning. When Jesus sent out the disciples to share his good news (Luke 10), he twice instructed them to eat and drink the provisions offered by those they met. In short, we are to be gracious in receiving the gifts of others. Maybe that includes the occasional dress for a wedding!
Melissa Miller (firstname.lastname@example.org) has a passion for helping people develop healthy, vibrant relationships with God, self and others.