China is an ancient nation steeped in traditions for almost every aspect of life. Weddings, of course, are no exception. Below are some of the traditions and pre-wedding customs for Chinese weddings.
When to Get Married
Chinese astrology still plays an important role in many lives. Chinese astrologers used a complex, numerically-based system to determine the best time for a couple to marry.
Even if astrology is not used, there are other traditions that determine the best and worst months to marry. According to the website Fengshui.com, "In general, the Chinese will avoid holding the wedding during the first lunar month to avoid clashing of luck with the new year. The third (Ching Ming Festival), seventh (commonly known as the Hungry Ghost Festival or Zhong Yuan Festival) and ninth (Chung Yeung Festival or Tomb Sweeping Day) lunar months are avoided due to the negative yin (阴) forces. The lunar sixth month is also avoided due to the taboo belief of the sixth month being a half-year and therefore implies a half-marriage."
Traditional and Contemporary Wedding Customs
- An engagement party is important to most Chinese people. Usually, the engagement party is paid for by the family of the bride while the actual wedding banquet is paid for by the groom.
- Wedding couples will order cakes and biscuits for the guests and these cakes and biscuits are presented in beautiful (and costly) packaging.
- Traditional Chinese brides wear a qipao, a long red dress. But today, because Chinese people are more and more westernized, brides often wear white (a color once reserved for funerals). Brides may also change dresses during the celebration, starting in traditional Chinese garb and switching to standard white later.
- According to Chinese astrology, if your Chinese zodiac animal is a “tiger,” you can't be a bride's maid or even enter the bride's room because you will bring bad luck to the marriage.
- Chinese couples avoid the number four at all cost because the number is considered unlucky.
- Chinese wedding guests give “red envelopes” filled with money for the newlywed couple. When filling your envelope, be sure to avoid amounts divisible by four!
- A dowry(嫁妝) is the money and gifts provided by the bride’s family. Traditionally, the bride’s family prepares clothes for four different seasons, a pair of pillows, a pair of bowls and chopsticks, and a bucket of money wrapped with red string. Today, the dowry usually includes money and jewelry instead. According to tradition, the dowry must be delivered to the groom’s home a day before the wedding.
- The groom’s family also needs to prepare something called “betrothal money/gift” (聘金/聘禮). This money is prepared by the groom’s family to give to the bride’s family. The amount of money or type of gift is negotiated by both sets of parents.
- Some Chinese families like to stick red paper on the wedding couple’s bed and spread loganberries and jujubes on the bed. Red is a lucky color, and jujubes and loganberries traditionally mean a baby is coming soon.
- During a traditional Chinese tea ceremony, the engaged couple kneels down in front of their grandparents and parents and serves them tea to symbolize their gratitude.
Food for Chinese Weddings
Traditional wedding foods vary depending on geographic location. Usually, the Chinese wedding couples will serve their guests the best dishes made from the best ingredients they can offer during the wedding banquet. They also served foods with lucky meanings:
- Lobster and chicken: These foods represent yin and yang, the groom and bride.
- Scallops: The name of the scallop in Chinese is a homophone for the phrase “raising or bringing a child into your life,” so scallop is usually associated with wishing the wedding couple to have a baby soon.
- Abalone and Sea cucumber: Abalone is associated with the word “abundance” while sea cucumber means “good heart” in Cantonese. Chinese couples like including these two ingredients in the wedding banquet because they symbolize abundance and the love needed to avoid conflicts.
- Whole Duck: In some parts of China, whole duck is a symbol of fidelity and represents peace, unity, and completeness in the marriage.
- Noodles: Noodles have always been a symbol of longevity in Chinese culture. They symbolize a long and happy marriage.
- Fish: Fish is also an ideal food to serve at the wedding banquet. The word "fish," in Chinese, sounds identical to the word for “abundance."