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The Ultimate Guide to The Rituals of Chinese Wedding Ceremony and Reception

It all starts with the proposal

Chinese wedding is not just the union of bride and groom, but also of the two families. The proposal begins by finding a matchmaker who helps the groom's family in their search for a suitable bride. Once they find a potential match, the groom's family showers them with gifts. If the bride's family is interested, they would send with the matchmaker the girls' birth records, including the time and date of her birth. The groom's family would then place the document on the ancestral altar for three days. If nothing inauspicious happens during that time, they would have an astrologer assess it for compatibility. If everything goes well, they would send the birth documents of the groom to the bride's side, who will also get the compatibility checked.

If the results come out favorable by both parties, a date is set for the first in-person meeting of both families.

The Betrothal Process

This whole process can last for about a year, and it primarily involves elaborate gift (known as "Grand gift") presenting by the groom's family to the bride's family, as a way of wishing them happiness and good fortune. One thing to note is that all the gifts are given in even numbers. This is to concord with the old adage that everything good comes in double.

On the betrothal day, the bride's family also return gifts to the groom's side, along with promising a dowry. The dowry can be delivered a few days before the wedding, or it can be given on the betrothal day itself in conjunction with the return gifts.

On this day a special letter is also crafted to officialize the engagement and vows of both families. This letter will also have a registry with a list of expected gifts for the wedding. Then an auspicious date is chosen for the official wedding.

Telling everyone the Good News

Wedding invitations and "Happiness cakes" are sent out to the friends and relatives to inform them of the engagement and wedding. These happiness cakes contain the dragon and phoenix symbol imprinted upon them which is to signify the harmonious marriage.

In today's age, these cakes are often given to the guests instead of western wedding cakes.

Bridal bed Custom

This ritual is performed by a highly respected man or woman from the groom's side. Often a person with many children and grandchildren is chosen to perform this ritual. This person will move the bed slightly to the right location. Pink and red bed sheets are used on the bed, and it is decorated with certain things like persimmons, red dates, lotus seeds and pomegranate leaves. Red envelope with coins are placed at the corner of the bed to symbolize prosperity. Lamps are also placed beside the bed to signify the wish for birth of sons. In the Chinese language, lamp sounds very similar to son, so adding lamp symbolizes adding sons.

This bed is left untouched till the wedding night, however, children are free be on the bed.

Hair Combing Ritual

This ritual, which occurs the night before wedding, is officiated by a woman and man with "good luck"- someone with grandchildren and a living spouse. In their own respective homes, the bride and groom are required to shower in water imbued with pomelo or pomegranate leaves, which is said to wash away any bad fortune. They then change into fresh new clothes and shoes, signifying new beginning.

The bride and groom are made to sit in front of the window or mirror, with the moon in view.

Groom's hair is combed at least an hour before the bride's. This custom signifies both of their advent into adulthood.

Throughout the entire ritual, an incense with the imprint of dragon and phoenix is lit.

The combing of the hair is done in four strokes, each holding a special blessing of its own.

  • The first stroke represents their union from the beginning to end.
  • The second stroke represents harmony and happiness.
  • The third stroke is a blessing for the couple to have many kids and grandkids.
  • The fourth stroke is a blessing for a long marriage, till their hair and eyebrow turn white.
After the hair combing, the bride and groom are to drink a sweet soup called tangyuan. It is made of rice. Then, mother of the bride gifts the daughter a special box filled with jewelry, needles, thread, scissors etc, each holding a special meaning to the bride. The mother also gifts red packets with coins as a farewell gift for her daughter.

On the wedding day

On the day of the wedding, groom along with the groomsmen arrives at the bride's house to fetch her. They are blocked by the bridesmaids who make the groom and his entourage do some good natured, fun activities to prove how much he cares about her.

The groom will be asked questions to see how much he knows his bride. He might be asked to do some physical activities to show that he is strong enough to take care of her. As the last competence test, the bridesmaids ask him for monetary blessing or bribe. This is where the groom uses his bargaining skills to agree upon a price who he gives in a red packet. They are then allowed in to see the bride.

The Tea Ceremony

Tea is to a Chinese wedding what wine is to a western one. Once the groom enters the bride's home, he and the bride kneel in front of her parents who will be sitting on a chair. The girl sits on the left of the groom facing her dad, and the boy sits in front of her mother.

A person with good fortune then pours the tea. The couple serves tea first to the altar, to show respect to their ancestors, and then to the mother, followed by the father. Then, the rest are served tea in the order of seniority, starting with the mother's side of the family first. Each relative, gifts the couple a red packet, lai see, filled with token or jewelry, and places it on the tea platter once they get served with tea. Once everyone gets served, usually younger siblings or cousins serves tea to the bride and groom.

Then the bride and groom leave to visit the groom's family for tea ceremony. At his house, his mother will greet them and supervise the next set of ceremonies. There will be a traditional beautifully decorated altar where the bride and groom will perform their wedding vows. The couple kneel in front of the altar and are given cups joined together with a red string. They sip the wine once and then they cross their arms and drink again from each other's cup. This is to signify harmony in their relationship.

Once the vows are exchanged, tea ceremony is then held as a symbol of good relations with the in-laws. At the end of the ceremony, the couple is considered married.

The Wedding Banquet

Usually the wedding banquet is paid for by the groom's side.

In the wedding banquet a lavish feast is thrown for all the guests. The meal consists of more than 8 courses. These include fish (abundance), pigeon (peace), lobster (happiness), and noodles (longevity). The deserts usually contains lotus seed as a blessing for many children.

Before the food is ready, the guests play Mahjong, and other traditional Chinese games. Some might choose to take pictures with the couples. Do note that the bride is supposed to change her dress 4-5 times throughout the ceremony.

While the guests enjoy their foods, the couple go from table to table to receive toasts from all the guests, and to introduce themselves to members of both families. Along with wedding gifts, the couple are also given packets filled with money when they visit each tables.

Then the couples, along with the family members, stand in a line to thank the guests before they leave.

Post wedding customs

After the wedding night, the bride is to wake up early and prepare a large meal for the entire groom's family to show them that she is cultured.

After three days, bearing gifts the couple return to the bride's family. Since this is considered to be the final farewell from her childhood home, the bride brings many gifts. The bride's family may choose to return some gifts to the groom's side as courtesy. They may also send with the bride, a head and tail of a pig to signify the beginning and end of the wedding.

Below is a Youtube video about a traditional Chinese wedding.

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