Being a wedding photographer here in Southern California we are exposed to many different types of wedding ceremonies and receptions. Being that our market is so entrenched in different cultures and backgrounds has allowed us to take part in witnessing some amazing traditions. Regardless of whether or not we are shooting here in Orange County or if we go to Los Angeles, we truly value the traditions and rituals of the various cultures. Three16 Photography honors Chinese Wedding Traditions, including Chinese Tea Ceremonies.
Many of the wedding traditions of a Chinese wedding can be traced back to 402-221 B.C., where there were six rites and three covenants. Although important to a wedding, they were too confusing and complicated so as time went on changes were made to simplify it. The wedding traditions that remained were the most important objectives of a marriage.
This included making sure that there were many descendants that would bring the two families together to enhance each other. There were other parts that stayed the same such as honoring the parents and their ancestors, social and financial situations that the families had contracted before they were married, give omens to make sure that the new couple would have wealth and fertility, the proper etiquette on giving gifts and the brides transition into her new husband’s family, and more.
Here is just a sampling of some of the Chinese wedding tradition:
The Marriage Proposal
The proposal was done by a go-between who worked with the parents and not the bride or groom. Marriage at this time was not about love but creating an alliance amongst the families and to continue the family line. When the man's parents would see a woman that they thought would make a good wife, they would send the go-between. This person would bring gifts for the woman’s parents and see if they approved of the match. If they approved, they would give the go-between the woman’s date of birth and the hour.
Then the future groom’s family would place the information on an alter for three days to see if anything bad happens, such as losing property. If no problems arose, the parents would see an astrological expert and give him the information to see if they were a good match. If they thought the horoscope was good, they would then give the same information to the woman’s parents who would go through the same ritual. Only after this process was done, and came out well, would the families meet and go over other important items like education and social position. If both families were satisfied, then they would go ahead with the betrothal.
The Betrothal Gifts
After the families of the couple did some major bargaining, they would arrive at the right amount of goods and money to give as a gift to the bride’s family. Then the designated go-between would give the bride’s family a couple of wedding dates to choose from that was selected by the groom’s side. The groom’s family would give betrothal gifts, also known as Guo Da Li, which included important items like tea, money, bridal cakes, sugar, tobacco, wine, poultry and sweetmeats. In exchange, the bride’s family would give gifts of clothing and food.
The bridal cakes were given to important family members as an invitation to the wedding feast and if you received the cake you were expected to give a gift to the parents as a way of congratulations. The betrothal period would usually last one or two years.
The Wedding Day
The use of the color red is very important in a Chinese wedding as it represents the combination of joy, love, happiness, fertility, loyalty, and more. Therefore, it is used in the clothing and ritual objects which are used within the wedding. The color gold is also important as it represents wealth. The bride’s day usually starts early in the morning, as she wakes up to get her hair done by a woman who is considered to have good luck. She would speak good words to the bride as she did her hair to that of a married woman. Then the good luck women would carry the bride to her sister-in-law’s, where the bride would put on a jacket, a skirt and a pair of red shoes. After that she would put on the bridal phoenix crown that had either a red silk veil or tassels with beads.
The groom would dress in a long gown with a red silk sash, along with red shoes. His father would place a cap on his head that had cypress leaves on it. Then the groom would go to the bride’s house, bringing with him loud gongs and fireworks. From there the two would go back to the groom’s house where they would head to the family alter to honor their family ancestors, heaven and earth, and the kitchen god.
Afterwards, tea would be served to the groom’s parents. The bride and groom would bow to one another and in doing so, were married. Once this ceremony is complete, the couple would be led to the bridal chamber where they would sit on a bed that was prepared for them three days prior. After the wedding is over, they would celebrate separate wedding feasts for the groom and bride’s families and their guests. The day after the wedding, the newly married couple would attend a feast given by the groom’s parents where gifts are given to the bride as a celebration of acceptance into their family. Then two days later, the couple will arrive at the bride’s family home for a feast. The bride is no longer recognized as a family member, but that of a friend or guest.
After Wedding Costume Changes
Similar to other Asian Wedding Traditions, Chinese brides are also known to have a few costume changes throughout the event. First, there is one dress that is worn for the Chinese Tea Ceremony that is performed with the parents of the groom. Typically, this ceremony takes place the morning of the wedding. For the wedding itself, they have the choice of wearing a traditional Chinese dress with the symbolic colors and symbols or they can opt for a Western-style white wedding dress. Then they can change into a different dress for the reception. A bridal couple could opt for additional outfit changes if they so choose to just for some fun.
There are many more traditions from the past and some that are more modern than is listed here. If you still want to have a full traditional Chinese wedding, consult your elders or religious leaders in your community. Then, put together a list of the items you are considering for your ceremony, and then start working off your list until you get the wedding of your dreams.