Most people consider weddings to be the most important event in their life as well as a sacred ceremony which binds two people to a lifetime commitment. Like many nationalities, Mongolians value weddings and prefer to officiate the relationship they share with their partner.
The venue of a wedding definitely holds a deep meaning. In Mongolia, a bride and groom must officiate their wedding with a traditional ceremony at the Wedding Palace of Mongolia, one of the few remaining cultural and historic institutions in Mongolia. The Wedding Palace, located in the center of Ulaanbaatar, will celebrate its 40th anniversary on June 14. Director of the Wedding Palace S.Uuriintuya spoke about plans for their anniversary, as well as Mongolian wedding ceremony in general in the following interview.
Within the last 40 years, how many couples held their wedding at the Wedding Palace? Can you share about how the Wedding Palace was first established?
Since the opening of the Wedding Palace, so far, 34,430 couples have officiated their marriage here. The person who initiated our institution is a Russian woman named Anastasia Ivanovna Filatova, [spouse of Mongolia’s former Stalinist leader, Yu.Tsedenbal]. In recorded history, she proposed founding a special sacred place where couples can hold a wedding ceremony with their friends and relatives to celebrate that they are becoming one family. Her initiative was realized on June 14, 1976 when the Wedding Palace of Mongolia opened and organized wedding ceremonies for five couples. A key to a two room apartment was gifted to those five couples. Our senior workers often talk about how beautifully the apartments were decorated and that every furniture, even a sewing kit, was prepared for them. This place with such a wonderful history is now celebrating its 40th anniversary.
What have you prepared for your 40th anniversary? Will there be any surprises for newly-weds?
We produced a documentary film, “Suun Tsagaan Urgoo” (Milk White House) for our 40th anniversary, as well as a book which includes the history of how the Wedding Palace was established and employees who worked at the time. “Suun Tsagaan Khurim” (Milk White Wedding) statue will be set up outside of the Wedding Palace. During the 40th anniversary celebration, all our staff will surprise everyone [guests and customers] by playing morin khuur.
Are you saying that every staff, including directors and guards, will play morin khuur?
That’s right. Even I will play. Starting from waiters and guards, we will play morin khuur to our guests and customers. On top of getting a morin khuur for their home, our employees are learning to play morin khuur, which produces beautiful sounds that enliven and soothe everyone.
The workload of the Wedding Palace differs depending on the day and month. Weddings frequently overlap on auspicious days in the Buddhist calendar. How do you manage the workload?
Yes, our Wedding Palace becomes very busy on auspicious days in the Buddhist calendar or when Baljinnyam and Dashnyam coincide.[Traditionally, Mongolians believe that days when Baljjinnyam and Dashnyam overlap are the best days to get married]. Also, many people book the wedding hall on the 17th day of autumn according to the Lunar Calendar because it’s said that that day is the best day of the year even if you don’t ask a monk. Although we want to hold wedding ceremonies for everyone, as we all know, there are only 24 hours in a day. There have been times when our staff had to work from 2:00 a.m. to 12:00 a.m. To balance the workload, we have to manage bookings precisely, and also, we have different prices for these days. We recently launched a mobile wedding service, enabling couples to hold weddings in any place they want.
In fact, there are certain days that are most suitable to wed for each couple, which is determined by their birthdays. I think it’s important to make everyone understand that these days are as good as auspicious days. Our staff is focusing on conducting detailed studies on astrologist L.Terbish’s calendar and letting the public know our findings.
There is a rumor that people shouldn’t hold weddings on Pig Days in the Year of the Monkey in the Tibetan Calendar. Does this influence on your operations? Mongolia has been facing economic difficulties for some time. Has the economic difficulty hit the Wedding Palace in any way? Which years do people wed the most?
Statistics indicate that the number of customers of the Wedding Palace is increasing annually but this year, our reservations are relatively low compared to last year. Still, I’d like to highlight that precise data hasn’t been made yet.
Most weddings are held between July and October. Last year, 1,401 couples wedded at our Wedding Palace. We prepared and made plans for around 1,000 weddings this year as we estimate fewer weddings. However, the Property Relations Department of Ulaanbaatar ordered us to make plans for 1,150 weddings.
As for the calendar related issue, there’s no such thing forbidding people to wed in the Year of the Monkey. In any year, the month and day of a wedding can be chosen if the date is suitable for the couple by their birthdays. I learned from my many years of experience that weddings are least frequent in the years of the Monkey and Horse.
there are certain days that are most suitable to wed for each couple, which is determined by their birthdays. I think it’s important to make everyone understand that these days are as good as auspicious days.
What is the average age of brides and grooms?
On average, people in their 20s and 30s get married. In recent years, we have organized weddings mainly for people who have been together for 20, 50 and 60 years. People are gifting happiness and wonderful memories to their parents who haven’t had the chance to hold a wedding ceremony. I think this is a lovely idea that we should support and promote it.
Couples who were married for a long time are one of the main pillars of our nation’s independence. In this sense, we show videos of people holding wedding ceremonies again 50 to 60 years after becoming a family to young couples so that they can understand the significance of living together for a long time. Last year, we held one diamond wedding (for couples who were married for over 60 years), three golden weddings (for couples married for 45 to 50 years), and five silver weddings (for couples married for 20 to 44 years).
How much does it cost to hold a wedding at the Wedding Palace?
The tariff for wedding ceremonies is determined by board directors assigned by the Ulaanbaatar City Council. We do wide range of research to determine realistic prices. The Wedding Palace isn’t financed by the government. Apart from operational costs and wages of employees, we have to pay dividends to the Property Relations Department.
Our institution organizes a wedding for 759,000 MNT. This covers costs for service, gifts, wedding photographs, video, reciter, musicians, dairy food products and drinks, car decorations, and a family tree book. I personally believe that we offer satisfactory services for a relatively low price despite the constantly fluctuating currency rate. This price will slightly increase for national holidays and auspicious days when Dashnyam and Baljinnyam coincide.
In recent years, we have organized weddings mainly for people who have been together for 20, 50 and 60 years. People are gifting happiness and wonderful memories to their parents who haven’t had the chance to hold a wedding ceremony. I think this is a lovely idea that we should support and promote it.
More and more Mongolians are marrying foreigners. What’s the current statistic on international marriages? People of which country do Mongolians commonly marry?
International marriage is increasing in Mongolia, particularly many Mongolian women are marrying foreign men. Mongolians commonly marry people from Asia, Europe and the USA. It’s rare to see Mongolians marrying people from Africa or China.
Do foreign couples marry in the traditional Mongolian way?
Yes. I remember a German and Japanese couple coming to Mongolia to hold a traditional Mongolian wedding. They first gave their vows in a church and then held their wedding ceremony at our Wedding Palace. We’re required to hire a translator to marry foreign couples. Although the cost of a translator is added for foreign couples, they were really satisfied with our service and were surprised by how cheap it cost and how amazing our wedding hall was. Back then, our staff got the idea to make the Wedding Palace a tourism attraction. In the past, during around the late 1980s, it was mandatory to have tourists visit the Wedding Palace. We have requested to cooperate with the Tourism Department of Ulaanbaatar on reintroducing this service.
We set up a big ger with 12 walls south of the Wedding Palace and decorated it in the traditional Mongolian manner. Tourists often visit the Wedding Palace after touring the Choijin Lama Temple Museum so we provide special services at the ger for them.
A while back, a rumor broke out about the privatization of the Wedding Palace. Do you think it’s correct to privatize the Wedding Palace? Do you think the operation will remain the same even after privatization?
In 2014, the Wedding Palace was included in the list of properties to be privatized. The media often enquires about this. As publicly announced, the Wedding Palace is a significant place containing intangible cultural heritages of Mongolia. Thousands and thousands of people spent their happiest time here at the Wedding Palace so it’s wrong to privatize it.
For example, we proclaim people’s marriage under the Family Law of Mongolia during wedding ceremonies. But once it’s privatized, what would we say? Therefore, the Wedding Palace shouldn’t be privatized.
Lately, the Wedding Palace has been offering to do some people’s wedding for free. Can you talk about this?
Gladly. Twice a year, we organize wedding ceremonies for a couple who have been together for a long time and have raised their children well. We have been doing this since 2013 on Family Day and Capital City Day. For the first time, we held a wedding ceremony for 20 couples working at district landscaping services companies. Afterwards, for employees of the National Emergency Management Agency, General Police Department and public transportation sector, drivers of garbage trucks, artists of the State Academic Theater of Opera and Dance, and employees of the Central Archive and Social Insurance and Welfare Departments. In total, we held 150 free weddings.
This year, we plan to give free wedding ceremonies to people in the military sector who protect the border. The couple are in their 40s, have been together for more than five years, and have four children. We scheduled their wedding on June 3.