Chinese weddings are filled with centuries-old customs and rituals that bestow happiness, fertility, wealth and longevity upon the newlyweds and their union. Modern brides could have a hard time finding enough information about the meanings behind these customs and how to get ready for them because the majority of these traditions are passed down through the centuries by word of mouth.
That’s why we have created a guide to Chinese wedding traditions for your wedding day in order to assist brides in understanding the significance of these antiquated wedding customs.
Requesting the Bride’s Hand in Marriage (提亲)
In the past, in a custom known as 提亲, men were expected to make a formal visit to the bride’s family in order to ask for her hand in marriage. There is nothing more romantic than a groom wishing to ask his bride’s parents for permission to get married, even if this tradition is less popular in modern times. If a couple wants to include this tradition in their wedding, they should look for a lucky day to visit the bride’s parents.
Both the bride and the groom should dress appropriately on the day of the 提亲 to show respect for one another and their families. As a sign of politeness and sincerity, the groom and his parents should also bring some presents, such as cakes, fruits or bottles of booze. In order to prevent any awkward confrontations from the outset, the groom should be kind, sincere and respectful while requesting the bride’s hand in marriage, particularly if there is a disagreement over the wedding date, location, style or guest list.
When doing this ceremony, there are a few “don’ts” you should be aware of. First, the first and seventh lunar months should be avoided since they are unlucky for Chinese holidays. Second, avoid arriving late for your appointment with the bride’s family because doing so demonstrates poor manners and contempt. If you anticipate being late due to traffic congestion or other circumstances, phone them ahead of time to let them know you will be a little behind schedule.
A Ceremony Known as the Guo Da Li (过大礼)
The Guo Da Li ceremony, sometimes referred to as the Chinese betrothal ceremony, is a significant Chinese wedding custom that marks the first official encounter between the families of the bride and the groom. To bless the newlyweds and their marriage, many gift exchanges take place throughout the ceremony, including the presenting of the bride’s dowry and the betrothal ang pao. The Guo Da Li ceremony is deemed over, and the pair is formally engaged once the presents are exchanged.
A Guio Da Li Item List Based on Your Dialect
During the Guo Da Li ceremony, the groom and the bride’s family will exchange a variety of presents; however, not every couple will have the same items on their list because it varies from one dialect group to another.
Xi Bing, A Chinese Traditional Wedding Pastry 喜饼
During the Guo Da Li ceremony, one of the gifts given to the bride’s family is a box of xi bing, or traditional Chinese wedding pastries. While our parents and grandparents may have grown up with these classic sweets, younger couples are less familiar with them.
Si Dian Jin’s Gifting (四点金)
Si Dian Jin (四点金), which literally translates to “four pieces of gold,” is a present given to the bride by the groom’s family. The gift of Si Dian Jin, which is given during the Guo Da Li ceremony, symbolizes the groom’s assurance that the bride will always have a roof over her head and will be well cared for and supplied for. Si Dian Jin is typically regarded as an inheritance and could eventually be given as a bridal dowry to the couple’s daughter or daughter-in-law.
The An Chuang (安床) Ceremony
You’ll be expected to participate in the An Chuang ritual, also known as the bed-setting ceremony, which is a significant Chinese wedding custom. This will ensure that your marriage is blessed with plenty of happiness, harmony and kids. The an chuang ceremony was once held at a designated auspicious time and day, but nowadays, it can take place anywhere from three days to a week before the wedding.
The Ceremony of Hair Combing
The hair combing ritual is a long-standing Chinese wedding custom that symbolizes the bride and groom’s coming-of-age as they get ready to live independently of their parents and create a family. The hair-combing ritual is a significant Chinese wedding custom that often occurs the night before the wedding, but because the timing varies according to dialect, it is recommended to ask your parents or a feng shui expert to determine the ideal time.
It is performed by one or both parents, who will comb over their child’s hair four times while reciting this long litany of traditional Chinese blessings.
The Gatecrash and the Fetching Of The Bride
On the wedding day, the groom will travel to the bride’s house with his groomsmen to pick her up and bring her to his house. As soon as he arrives, he needs to wait for a younger male relative of the bride to open the door, so he may board. The younger guy will get an ang bao from the groom and two mandarin oranges as good luck gifts in return.
The groom must go through a gatecrash before he can meet the bride. The gatecrash symbolized the unwillingness of the bride’s family to give their daughter in marriage and was traditionally used as a test of the groom’s sincerity and devotion. Today, however, most couples want to incorporate the gatecrash into their wedding since it is entertaining and exciting.
Before the groom may see his bride, he must perform a number of chores with the aid of his groomsmen, one of which involves tasting the required four flavors: sour, sweet, bitter and spicy. The groom and his groomsmen must navigate these tastes effectively for the pair to have a happy marriage since they represent the ups and downs that every couple will experience in marriage.
The groom is supposed to “bribe” the bridesmaids with ang baos once the games are over in order to enter the bride’s home and meet her. When the groom approaches his wife, removes her veil and kisses her, the final phase of the ritual will be finished.
Check out our other favorite wedding traditions to incorporate in your big day:
Leaving the Bride’s House
The Chinese bride’s departure on the wedding day is a major rite of passage for her and her family since, traditionally, Chinese brides leave their family home permanently to live with their husbands following the wedding.
The bride’s family serves the groom and bride a bowl of mee sua with hard-boiled eggs as a sign of longevity once the gatecrash festivities are over and they are successfully reunited. The newlyweds are customarily expected to bow three times as they get ready to leave the bride’s house: once to the heavens and earth as a sign of respect to the gods and their ancestors, once to their parents as a way of saying thank you for raising and taking care of them and once to each other as a sign of love and respect for one another.
The bride will be protected by a crimson umbrella as she walks to the bridal vehicle to stave off any bad weather. For Cantonese and Hakka brides, it can also be a matchmaker or a bridesmaid who holds the red umbrella for her as she makes her way to the bridal car.
Typically, the bride’s father will be the one sheltering her with the red umbrella, but for Teochew and Hokkien brides, a male elder of her family may also be the one. In addition, crimson beads or rice may be thrown along the journey by family members, bridesmaids or a matchmaker for good fortune.
The bride must toss a crimson folding fan out the window of the wedding vehicle as she departs to complete this significant rite of passage. Throwing the red folding fan represents her letting go of the past, bad habits and anything negative as she begins a new chapter in her life. Any member of her family can afterward pick up the fan.
Coming To the House Of The Bride
On the day of her wedding, the bride makes her first visit to the groom’s house. It is typical for his family to elude the pair upon entry in order to avoid being seen by them. Only once the couple has entered their bridal suite may they appear. This unusual custom aims to avoid any potential conflicts in the future between the bride and her new family.
A sweet soup with longans, red dates, lotus seeds, a hard-boiled egg and/or glutinous rice balls (汤圆) will be offered to the couple as a sign of their happy and productive union. The pair can then decide whether to continue with the tea ceremony for the groom’s family. After the tea ceremony, kids are asked to jump and roll on the couple’s bed as part of a tradition, as that is supposed to bless them with a large number of children.
The bride would often change into a contemporary cheongsam or a Qun Kua, a traditional Chinese wedding dress, before the couple and their bridal party return to the bride’s house.
The Chinese Tea Ceremony
Possibly the most significant wedding custom in Chinese culture is the tea ceremony. This age-old custom serves as the newlyweds’ official debut to their families as they honor their elders and get their blessings for their union. The ceremony often involves several logistics and individuals and it happens on the day of the wedding.
The Bride’s Return Home
After the wedding, the bride would often pay her family a visit three days later. However, throughout time, this custom has been modernized, and now it is typical for the bride and her groom to return to her house the day of the wedding, as soon as she has finished the wedding and its associated ceremonies at the groom’s family home.
Before leaving for home, the bride typically changes into a Qun Kua, a contemporary cheongsam or another bridal gown to symbolize the passage of three days. The tea ceremony for her family will start when she gets home. This tea ceremony signifies the groom’s official introduction to the bride’s family.
The groom traditionally presents a whole roast pig to the bride’s family as a symbol of her virginity, but modern couples are choosing to replace it with canned pig trotters or do away with this tradition entirely. The roast pig will then be divided into the head, middle and tail after the tea ceremony.
The head and tail are returned to the groom’s family after being wrapped in crimson paper or cloth to represent a “perfect marriage,” with the central piece going to the bride’s family. During the ceremony, the pair will also trade mandarin oranges to give to the groom’s family when they return home.
The Wedding Banquet
The Chinese wedding feast is the culmination of the Chinese wedding customs that the majority of couples are obliged to observe. A celebratory lunch is served to celebrate the couple’s union and the joining of the two families after the formalities of a Chinese wedding are over.
A dinner at a Chinese wedding is a sight to behold, an adventure to be had and never calm. While in the past, all wedding dinners were hosted in hotel ballrooms, today’s couples prefer a more private and relaxed atmosphere for their once-in-a-lifetime celebration at restaurants or unique event locations.
At the reception, before entering the dining hall at a Chinese wedding dinner, visitors give the happy couple their blessings in the form of a crimson package (ang bao). The bride and/or groom typically change their clothes at least once throughout the festivities as they get ready for their march-ins. This might change, though, as some couples like to stay in the same attire for the entire feast.
The speech, commonly known as yam seng, is another typical feature of a Chinese wedding feast. The emcee will welcome the newlyweds, their family and their bridal party up on stage for the spirited toast. The couple and their guests will be given the go-ahead to start the yam seng cheer, and the emcee will instruct the other guests on the floor to do the same.
Before inviting everyone to retake their seats, the yam seng cheers will last for at least three rounds. After that, the newlyweds will visit each of their guests’ tables and welcome them, maybe followed by more rounds of yam seng cheers.
It is usual for the couple and their parents to tell each visitor goodnight and thank them for coming to the celebration at the conclusion of the evening.
Lion Dancers and Fireworks
As lion dancers are said to ensure a long and happy marriage by warding off evil spirits, many contemporary couples will have them perform during their wedding reception. Firecrackers are also frequently lit because they “are believed to chase away any evil spirits.”
Additional Traditions and Beliefs
There are a few other customs associated with Chinese marriages in addition to those mentioned above. First of all, presenting anything in groups of four as a wedding gift is to be avoided, since “the number four is considered inauspicious.” Don’t leave the wedding without saying farewell to the bride and groom, since it is considered disrespectful!
As a multi-passionate creative and a self-proclaimed frequent flyer of weddings, Kiara combines her love for the wedding industry and experience as a professional wedding photographer with her writing abilities to share tips, tricks, and helpful information with couples. She is the owner of Switech Studios a popular wedding photography business. With tons of insider information from behind her camera lens on how to have the best wedding possible, Kiara’s in-depth knowledge is sure to put you on the road to wedding planning success.