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Another question asked in Google to find my blog was about Chinese wedding traditions.
I have only been to six Chinese weddings so I am not the expert, however I do know some of the traditions and their basis in culture.
Originally, a proposal was made by means of a go between or ‘match maker’. The process was dealt with between the two sets of parents and sometimes with the bride and groom.
The groom’s parents would identify a girl they decided was appropriate for their son and would, via the match maker; send gifts and fine foods to announce their intentions. If these intentions were reciprocated then an arrangement would be made. Marriage was for continuing the ancestral line, in the olden days, and arrangements were sorted out accordingly.
My mother-in-law and the farther of my sister-in-law’s now husband, had a ceremony that involved the groom’s father offering fruit and buckets and lucky money in exchange for the hand of the bride-to-be. All these items symbolised wealth, fertility and prosperity in the marriage. They are from Hong Kong and I think that each region of China (which is a fairly large country) have their own specific traditions.
The Day Before the Wedding
Brides would retreat into seclusion with their female family members and friends. The girls would sing sad songs about how they hated the match maker, the groom and his family and even the bride’s parents for sending her away.
The groom’s family would prepare the bridal bed. The bridal bed would have special red bed linen. They promote fertility and a happy marriage. I’ve seen them in my friends’ hotel rooms before, and although it is the groom’s family who arrange this, the hotel room was the bride’s so her family set it up.
The bride’s mother, or a special woman, will comb the bride’s hair the night before the wedding. She must brush the hair a certain number of times saying good luck sayings, or auspicious words, with each stroke of the comb. I remember when my fiancé's mum brushed my fiancé's sister’s hair, his mum was so touched to be passing on this tradition to her daughter. They did this in private but it was discussed before hand.
The Groom Goes to Get his Bride
The bride waits at her home, or hotel room, or where ever she chooses in modern times, for her groom to approach. At the weddings I attended, the groom arrived at the bride’s lodgings with his grooms men in tow and had to pay to enter. The money he gave was lucky for the bridesmaids. The number 9 is significant, and the money given can vary from HK$99.99 to HK$9,999.00. The four 9’s is significant.
Once he’s entered into the lodgings, he has to complete certain trails to encourage the bride to come out to meet him. In modern times, the games I’ve witnessed are drinking bitter tea, choosing lucky mahjong tiles from a bucket of ice, limbo-ing under hot chilly limbo lines and eating a hot chilly, dressing in women’s clothing, performing sexual yoga positions on male friends, singing songs with altered lyrics, signing a joke wedding contract and many more.
In more traditional times, drums and loud gongs marked the start of the procession from the groom’s home to the bride’s. A child led the procession as a symbol of future fertility. The procession also included dancing lions, musicians, and attendants carrying lanterns and banners. The bride’s family wouldn’t allow the groom to enter the home until he had satisfied them with lucky money.
The tea ceremony varies slightly from region to region. Sometimes the groom actually has a small meal with the bride’s parents, but in the weddings I saw, there were tea ceremonies. I even acted as dai cum jeh at one of my friend’s weddings.
The bride’s parents sit on chairs while the bride and the groom kneel in front of them, as the bride and groom are usually lower in rank than the parents. The dai cum jeh hands the bride and groom cups of tea which they in turn offer to the bride’s parents. The dai cum jeh then says some auspicious words while the parents drink the tea, blessings of fertility, wealth, happiness and prosperity for bride, groom and parents. The parents in return offer the bride and groom lucky money or jewellery.
Hong Kong Chinese brides often wear a golden pig necklace with piglets hanging off the sow as a symbol of fertility.
Bride’s Journey to the Groom’s House
One of the dai cum jeh’s duties is to hold a parasol over the bride as she proceeds to the groom’s house. Often, in the olden days, the bride would travel in a sedan chair. These days she will go by chauffeured car.
In the olden days, luck was very important in a Chinese wedding. ‘Great care was taken to ensure that no inauspicious influence would affect the marriage. The female attendants who escorted the bride to her new home were chosen with particular care that the horoscope animals of their birth years were compatible with that of the bridegroom. The sedan chair itself was heavily curtained to prevent the bride from inadvertently glimpsing an unlucky sight, e.g. a widow, a well, or even a cat. Attendants scattered grain or beans, symbols of fertility, before her.’ (chcp.com, May 2011)
In my experience, the wedding banquet takes place in the evening of the wedding day. Many people are invited to ‘give face’ or kudos to the groom’s family, who traditionally pay for the wedding. I have been to weddings with up to nine courses, more modest weddings have just had five.
Shark’s fin soup, pig heads, pig skins and lobsters have featured highly at the weddings I’ve attended although they do provide vegetarian options. (I’m vegetarian.)
In modern times, the banquets sometimes begin with the signing of the wedding licence or sometimes the couple will perform the tea ceremony with any older relatives with whom they haven’t already shared tea.
At some weddings, after a few courses couples play games with their guests. I attended weddings where they had a bingo game, beer drinking game and how well do you know the couple game.
After the banquet, the bride and groom thank their guests for attending as they leave.
I’m looking forward to having our Chinese wedding! We will be following the traditions my fiancé's sister followed, as much as we can do, and I’ll be wearing a Chinese wedding dress for some of the day.
If you think I’ve said anything wrong here, please let me know so that I can keep my information as accurate as possible. If you have any other questions you’d like answering, let me know.
- Chinese Wedding Traditions, CHCP.com, May 2011 http://www.chcp.org/wedding.html
- Southern Chinese Wedding, Wikipedia, May 2011 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southern_Chinese_wedding