“Something borrowed, something blue…”. That’s one of the most popular phrases you will hear as a couple preparing for your wedding. Interestingly enough, this rhyme stems from Western influences. So, what about our own culture’s wedding practices? These practices are not set in place for no reason. They are acts of blessing and also done to show respect to elders – an essential facet in Asian culture. Whether you are a would-be bride or groom who is overwhelmed by their traditional obligations or a millennial who doesn’t know what is going on at a traditional Chinese wedding, here are 14 traditions, superstitions and customs that you’ll see in a prosperous traditional Chinese wedding.
1. Auspicious date to get married
Ever noticed particular months where you get a flood of wedding invites whilst other months seem to be dry spells? Many couples choose auspicious dates to get married, following the Tong Shu which recommends auspicious dates to carry out certain activities. This often results in particular dates and months being the peak periods for wedding ceremonies. Couples may even take it a step further and consult a geomancer to select a date based on the couple’s individual Ba Zi (8 Characters). This is more personalised to the couple instead of the more general dates from the Tong Shu.
2. Auspicious Colours
The auspicious colors that you’ll find in a Chinese wedding are red, yellow and green. As part of every wedding custom at every traditional Chinese wedding, these colors will be present in all facets of the wedding. But what do these colours mean? It turns out that their symbolic significance has deep roots in Chinese culture: the auspicious colour red means happiness, good fortune and vitality, the colour yellow represents the earth and is the Emperor’s colour in ancient China while green represents money and wealth. The big three colors are unmissable on the wedding day as well as the Guo Da Li and are often found on the bride’s wedding dress.
3. Incorporating Fengshui
Feng shui is a popular practice in the Chinese culture that is most commonly applied in a home or office to ensure the balance of energy in one’s environment. A lesser known practice is the feng shui and harmony of the zodiac animals at important affairs. In a wedding, having good feng shui is considered essential as it sets up the foundation for a couple’s good future together. However, some zodiac signs are considered to not be entirely compatible with the bride and groom’s zodiac signs, and having people with these zodiac signs in the guest list can be considered inauspicious for the couple. Do consult a fengshui master for advice on potential inauspicious Zodiac signs before creating the wedding guest list!
4. Betrothal gift ceremony (Guo Da Li)
A common chinese custom is the Guo Da Li (过大礼). Held on an auspicious date, sometimes 2 to 4 weeks before the official wedding date, this ceremony is where the groom and bride’s parents meet officially and acknowledge the union of the two families. During this ceremony, an impeccable number of gifts are presented to the bride’s family. Depending on the dialect group, Hakka, Cantonese, Hokkien and Teochew, the 4 dominant chinese dialects in Singapore, the nature of the gifts may differ.
5. Gifting of gold jewelry
A lot of yellow and gold is present on a wedding day. It is seen in the seams of a cheongsam, the decorations and most importantly, as jewelry adorning the bride’s hands, fingers and neck. Part of the wedding custom is the gifting of gold jewelry to the couple. And it is not just any jewelry, 24-karat of pure gold is normally the standard. The bride is showered by the groom’s family with gold, a rite of passage showing that she is a welcomed member into the family. As the price of gold increases with time, gold gifts are seen as a form of pin jin or investment, symbolizing wealth.
Depending on which dialect group you are from, auspicious symbols such as the dragon and the pig emblazon the gold that the bride will receive on her wedding day. Today, the grandparents, parents and older members of the families on both sides will give jewelry to the couple as a form of well wishes, dowry or betrothal gift.
6. Xi-Bing (喜饼)
A less well-known custom is the gifting of Xi-Bing which is considered the ‘wedding cake’ of the East. Unlike Western traditions to have one enormous cake at the celebrations, the Chinese tradition is to give boxes of small wedding cakes. As part of wedding etiquette, Xi-Bing is gifted from the groom’s side to the bride’s side of the family after receiving dowry in the betrothal ceremony Guo Da Li.
Today, Xi-Bing is ordered in bulk from Xi-Bing shops and gifted to friends and relatives to “share good news and spread joy”. It comes in gift boxes of small packets of cookies and cakes.
7. An-Chuang/ Bed Setting (安床)
Held after Guo Da Li and before the official wedding day, An-Chuang is a necessary rite for a wholesome marriage. New bedsheets or even a new matrimonial bed are set in the bridal room by the parents, preferably in red or pink colors to bless them with offspring. From the moment of setting the bridal room to the official wedding day itself, no one is to enter the bridal room, ruffle any furniture or have things underneath the bridal bed. Alternatively, the bride can find a child born in the year of the Dragon to jump on the bed on or before the wedding day for good fortune.
8. Tang Yuan
Tang yuan is commonly eaten during the Lantern Festival, Lunar New Year and Winter Solstice, but did you know that it is eaten also during weddings? It is traditional to eat sweet rice balls too on your wedding day to symbolise togetherness and family harmony. The name of the dessert is also a reference to “celestial body”. Usually there is an opportunity to photograph the bride and groom feeding it to each other on the bridal bed during Guo Da Li.
9. Gate crashing to fetch the bride
Many young couples practice this for the fun experience and the laughs. It’s practically a staple even if they don’t know the true meaning behind it. The groom is to fetch the bride from her house, arriving with an entourage of groomsmen to back him up. The bridesmaids – who are with the bride – have to to try and make it hard for them to enter through various tasks and challenges. This is symbolic in showing that the family is reluctant to marry the bride off, and she should be “fought” for. The groomsmen and groom himself participates in these challenges to prove that they have the persistence to brave through them to fetch the bride. Bridesmaids may also cheekily expect the groomsmen to pay up with a red packet before finally allowing them to enter.
10. Tea Ceremony
After the hoo-ha of gate crashing, the groom brings the bride to his house in order to perform the tea ceremony for his parents and relatives. The bride traditionally wears a red cheongsam and kneels in front of her father-in-law. With the bride on the left, the couple will be kneeling in front of his relatives while pouring and serving tea. Starting from the groom’s parents, and then from the eldest to youngest relatives present. In the afternoon, they return to the bride’s house to do the same with her kin.
The drink served isn’t any run-of-the-mill pre-packed sachet. Longan and red date tea is often used. This symbolises a sweet relationship and birthing of offspring in the earlier years of their marriage. Some couples may carry out this tradition right before their wedding dinner in private rooms, as some relatives may not be able to make it on the day.
11. Red packets as wedding gifts
A prevalent Chinese tradition is for guests to pass the wedded couple red packets as a token of blessing. This takes the place of the Western custom of buying items from the couple’s gift registry. The amount to put in red packets have been widely debated. Generally, that depends on how close you are to the couple and how grand the dinner venue is. You can do a quick google search to bring up the approximate red packet amount for the respective hotels. The consensus is that it should cover at least your seat at the wedding dinner table. Amounts range in the hundreds, with couples sometimes having surplus due to generous relatives and friends, but don’t count on that happening often!
12. Symbols of a Chinese wedding
If you are scratching your head at the sheer number of symbolism present at traditional Chinese weddings, here is some enlightenment! Every decoration, jewelry down to the firecrackers are part and parcel of a traditional Chinese wedding. These are the few must-haves:
A. The double happiness (囍) symbol
The double happiness symbol, two half-couplets of the Chinese character meaning ‘like’, represents prosperity and good fortune in a marriage. You’ll often find this symbol on red packets, cutlery and doors of the couple’s family homes on the wedding day and some days after the wedding itself.
B. Animal imagery – The Dragon, the Phoenix and the Pig
There are 3 animals that are important symbols for a Chinese wedding: The Dragon, Phoenix and Pig. The dragon symbolises wealth for the groom, the phoenix represents rebirth and grace for the bride while the pig represents virginity. These three animals are found in the folds of the groom and bride’s ceremonial robes or in the bridal gold, and suckling pig is a feature on the wedding banquet table.
13. Yam Seng
Translated from Cantonese as ‘Cheers to Victory’, the last of our wedding traditions comes in the form of a rousing toast. Friends and relatives will gather on stage to lead the Yam Seng with the newlyweds, dragging the words out as long as their breath can last. It is believed that the more prolonged the shout, the more blessings will befall the couple. It is usually done thrice. The first for a happy marriage, second for undying love between husband and wife, and lastly, for fertility (which so happens to be the loudest and longest of them all!)
Last but not least, while a blushing bride is the symbol of vitality and innocence, the bride who cries is considered a sign of everlasting good fortune in her marriage. Crying on your wedding day is a sign that you are emotionally overwhelmed and have shed all your tears before the marriage. Be sure to cry strategically or wear waterproof makeup!
Main image credit: Wanderlust Dream