Chinese Wedding Traditions

A Ceremony in Red

Chinese Wood Chopsticks
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A traditional Chinese wedding is conducted entirely by the bride and groom's parents; often the couple doesn't meet until their wedding day. In fact the marriage is viewed as "giving" the bride to the groom's family, rather than to the groom alone. Therefore she is selected for her ability to support and serve his family and provide many children. The groom proposes through an intermediary hired by his family; once the proposal is accepted the couple exchange birth date information.

The birth date (specifically the hour, day, month and year of birth) plays an important role in determining the astrological compatibility of the couple. A hand written document of these numbers, referred to as the eight characters, is placed on the ancestral alter of each family for three days. If those three days pass without ill-fated omens (for example, broken dishes, bodily injuries, family quarrels etc.) then the match is approved. This leads to the betrothal, during which the families exchange twelve wedding gifts as a proof of mutual good will. The groom's family also provides the bride's family with special cakes, which the bride distributes to family and friends as formal wedding invitations.

After a one year or a two year engagement the wedding finally arrives and with it more beautiful Chinese wedding traditions. The bride begins her day with a ceremonial bath infused with grapefruit to cleanse her of evil spirits. She then sits through a hair dressing ritual whereby her hair is arranged into the style of a married woman. She wears a red dress (the Chinese color of luck and good fortune) covered with golden phoenixes (symbol of brides), chrysanthemums (symbol of wealth) and peonies (symbol of good fortune). Her bridal veil is made of red silk as are her slippers. The groom has his own wedding day ritual called the capping; kneeling before his ancestral alter his father places a red cap on his head indicating his transition to manhood (and the end of childhood).

The sounds of firecrackers, drums and gongs accompany the bride and groom as they separately make their way to the wedding ceremony; the loud sound is said to drive away evil spirits. During the wedding ceremony the couple kneels before a shrine decorated with red candles and food is offered to ancestral spirits. Rather than a spoken declaration wedding vows are exchanged by the couple sipping wine from delicate cups connected with a red string. A traditional Chinese wedding ceremony is concluded with a tea ritual in which the bride serves tea to her new family.

During the wedding reception there is a lavish banquet, during which guests are served eight courses (eight being a lucky number), each course containing food symbolic of luck and good fortune. These include egg noodles (long-life), fish (abundance) and lotus seeds (fertility). Fireworks and a traditional Chinese dragon dance complete the festivities.

Learn more about traditional Chinese wedding attire.

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