Chinese Wedding Traditions
The Betrothal Ceremony
Also known as 过大礼 (Guo Da Li) , it is a traditional Chinese ceremony that marks an important formal meeting between both families and symbolizes the groom’s sincerity in marrying the bride. The ceremony signifies a formal state of engagement.
过大礼 usually takes place any time between two to four weeks before the wedding. The groom is accompanied by an elder female relative who is recognised for her prosperous life, will give the bride’s family a variety of gifts that symbolises prosperity. These gifts always come in pairs as a representation of good fortune. They are placed in a traditional betrothal basket, which include a can of pig trotters, a bottle of hard liquor, traditional wedding cakes, oranges, jewellery for the bride, Double Happiness stickers, two pairs of Dragon Phoenix Candles and more. The type of gifts is very much dependent on the dialect!
By receiving the gifts, the bride’s family pledges their daughter to the groom. In return, the bride’s family will reciprocate his generous gesture and share the good fortune by returning a portion of the gifts. This is otherwise known as回礼 (Hui Li), the returning of gifts. The bride’s dowry, 嫁妆 (Jia Zhuang) will also be presented during the Hui Li to the groom’s family as a symbol of the wealth and prosperity of the bride’s family, and to bless the couple’s marriage with happiness and prosperity.
Hair Combing Ritual
上头 (Shang Tou) signifies the coming of age for the wedding couple.
Usually held on the night before the wedding, the hair combing ritual takes place at their respective homes, the groom and bride will shower with water that is infused with pomelo leaves (it is believed that it helps ward off evil spirits) and put on brand new pyjamas. The groom has to perform this ceremony at least 15 minutes before the bride.
The person in charge of combing the hair of the groom and bride is usually a female who is recognised for her prosperous life, e.g. having a great fortune and a complete happy family. She will then comb the hair of the bride and groom four times, reciting these blessings:
May your marriage last for a lifetime,
May you be blessed with a harmonious marriage until old age,
May you be blessed with an abundance of children and grandchildren,
May you be blessed with longevity.
The ritual, the couple will be served with glutinous rice ball (pink) soup with red dates and lotus, which symbolises a blissful marriage.
Setting up Matrimonial Bed
安床 (An Chuang) symbolizes a blissful marriage, abundance of fortune and offspring for the couple, as well as good health. This ritual is usually held between three days and one week before the wedding. Generally, the setting up will be performed by the groom’s parents or grandparents. This is a process of changing the couple’s bed with new bed sheets, preferably in red or auspicious colours. Auspicious items like oranges, candies and items received during the betrothal ceremony are spread out on the bed along with two red packets and a pair of bedside lamps.
Some recommended chants after making the bed and placing the items are:
- 百年好合 (Bai Nian Hao He) Blissful Marriage
- 早生贵子 (Chao Sheng Gui Zi) Bless with Off springs
- 白头偕老 (Bai Tou Dao Lao) To grow old together
- 永浴爱河 (Yong Yue Ai He) Forever in Love
After the ceremony, no one should touch the bed until the couple has entered the bed chamber on their wedding day. It is believed that this will lead to poor health.
Fetching the Bride
On the wedding day, the groom together with his groomsmen, preferably in even number, will set out to the bride’s place to fetch the bride 接新娘 (Jie Xin Niang). The Chinese believe that even numbers are more auspicious than odd ones.
Over at the bride’s side, the bridesmaids, preferably in even number too, will arrive early at her place to prepare for the gate crash. Before getting dress up for the wedding, the bride is supposed to have breakfast with her whole family to bid farewell. After the make-up and changing into her wedding gown, the bride’s parents will put on the wedding veil for her and wait for the groom to arrive.
Upon arrival, the groom must not open the car door and have to wait for a younger male member of the bride’s family to open it for him. He will receive a red packet from the groom for opening the car door and pass him two oranges which must be left in the bridal car for good fortune.
Next comes the gate crash challenge to test the groom’s sincerity and love for her, the bridesmaids have prepared a series of games for the groom and groomsmen. This tradition of blocking the door demonstrates their unwillingness to marry off the bride because of their love for her. The groom and his groomsmen have to complete all the challenges to the bridemaids’ satisfaction before they allow him into the bride’s room.
After completing the challenges, the groom enters the bride’s room and lift her veil to kiss her before proceeding to the groom’s home.
Chinese Tea Ceremony
The tea ceremony, 敬茶 (Jing Cha) is one of the most significant events in a traditional Chinese wedding. It is the occasion where the bride is formally introduced to members of the groom’s family.
During the tea ceremony, the couple serves tea to the groom’s family followed by the brides’s family in the order of seniority, such as:
- Grand-uncles and grand-aunties
- Uncles and aunties
- Elder siblings
- Elder cousins
Lastly, the couple’s younger cousins or siblings will serve tea to them and will be given red packets by the couple.
The tea should be brewed with longans and red dates. Dates and longans symbolize childbirth early in the marriage and the sweet tea represents the harmonious relationship between the newly wed couple and their respective families.