Superstition. A word that describes many Chinese traditions and symbolism. This is a facet in every part of their lives from celebrating the New Year to birthdays to weddings. Many different Chinese wedding customs originate from their long standing culture centered around superstition and tradition.
General Chinese Wedding Customs
The first area where the Chinese showcase their superstition is choosing the actual wedding date. Couples will consult with a fortune teller or astrologer to decide which date would be most favorable to bring them good luck and fortune. Second, Chinese brides wear a Qipao, which is a bright red floor length silk dress. This dress is usually covered with peonies, phoenixes, or chrysanthemums and is embroidered in gold. Red symbolizes good fortune, celebration, vitality, long life and joy. Gold symbolizes completeness, wealth, metal, God consciousness and is considered the most beautiful color. The bride is dressed by a “good luck woman”.
Before the Wedding
One of the most important aspects to the Chinese wedding is what happens before the actual marriage ceremony. The night before, both the bride and the groom find ‘good fortune’ woman and man to comb their hair in their homes. Their hair has to be combed four times, each with significance like a harmonious life, many children and a long marriage.
At the beginning of the day of the ceremony, the groom and his entourage go to the bride’s house. When they arrive, the door is barricaded by her bridesmaids. The groom and his groomsmen then have to try to bribe and test their way into the house to show he’s worthy of the bride. On the way there the Chinese further showcase their superstition. The groom and his groomsmen use firecrackers, loud gongs, and drums to mark the start of the procession and fend off evil spirits.
Once the groom has been permitted entrance to the house, he is allowed to have tea with his soon to be mother and father in law. After tea, the bride and groom go back to the groom’s house – where there is a red mat usually placed before the sedan chair for the bride. This sedan chair is heavily curtained in order to prevent the bride from seeing anything that is deemed unlucky – like a widow, a well or a cat.
Now days, couples often go to photo studios before the wedding to take “glamour shots”. These are pictures of them posing in multiple gowns and various backgrounds. Here is one couple’s many different shots they had done for their wedding.
During the ceremony, it is customary for brides to change their outfit many times during the day in order to show their family’s wealth. When the traditional tea ceremony takes place, the bride serves tea to her parents and her new in-laws as a symbol of respect. Music also plays a big part in Chinese weddings – there is a lot of music and the music usually includes a form of oboe called a suona. At the more elaborate weddings, you can expect to witness a lion dance. A lion dance is a traditional dance where performers mimic a lion’s movements in a lion costume (commonly done on the New Year).
As for the actual celebration after the marriage, it is common for the parents of the bride and groom to host separate wedding feasts. These feasts can be for days before the wedding, but the most important feast is the one given by the groom’s family on the day of the wedding. Symbolism is prominent in this part of the ceremony as well. A traditional reception has 9-10 courses and usually includes lobster and chicken because they symbolize the dragon and the phoenix respectively. A whole fish is served because the word for fish, yu, sounds like the word for plenty, meaning a wish for abundance. Serving sweet lotus seeds for dessert symbolizes a wish for many children.
After the feast is over, the newly wed couple returns to the bridal room (or chamber) and some friends may tag-along and play tricks on the groom. In some areas of China, honey and wine were poured into two goblets linked by a red thread. The bride and groom would take a few sips, then exchange cups and drink the rest. There are usually not gift registries for Chinese weddings; the couple is gifted money in red envelopes.
For more traditional couples, the day after the wedding the bride wakes up early to honor her ancestors at dawn. She receives gifts and a title from her new husband’s family. Three days after the wedding the newlyweds pay a visit to the bride’s family at home. The bride is no longer be considered a part of her family, but rather a guest in her parents’ house.
What is your favorite custom? Any questions? Share your thoughts with us!