A wedding is a joyous occasion celebrating the union of newlyweds and their families. Some weddings can be grand and last for days while some can be small and personal. Whatever style or form weddings can be … I knew I was going to be faced with a lot of decision-making and challenges the day my bumble bee proposed to me on November 24, 2010. Even so, the excitement was immense!
Malaysian Chinese weddings incorporate both modern and traditional Chinese customs, which makes it very unique. There’s a reason why I label the wedding as “Malaysian Chinese.” A “Malaysian” wedding by itself, can mean a Malay wedding, Chinese wedding, or an Indian wedding because Malaysia is a multiracial country. Back in the days, Malaysia was a hot spot to immigrate for native Chinese in China . My grandparents fled the communist country to seek a better life in Malaysia. Like many others, even from India, they brought with them their skills and heritage, henceforth contributing to Malaysia’s melting pot of culture. I always like to clarify this because many people in North America think Malaysians are all Malays and Muslims – so not the case. It’s ridiculous how ignorant people are in thinking we all still live in trees and wear grass skirts.
Anyway, sometimes it’s quite a pity, whereby modern beliefs and lifestyles have influenced youth of today to let go of practicing their heritage due to inconvenience or irrelevance. In all honesty, I did not know everything there was to know about a Chinese wedding. Planning this with my family and in-laws allowed me to delve deep into why certain things are done a certain way. As I re-live the experience through my writing, I hope to be able to share this knowledge here, and perhaps pass down these stories to my future generations, in hopes that they will understand and practice centuries old of a tradition; a Chinese way of celebrating one of the most important milestones in one’s journey in life.
[Warning: Put your reading glasses on. Long post ahead.]
SELECTING AUSPICIOUS DATES
The marriage proposal was simple and sweet. I remember it was a crisp, Christmas eve morning, and while I was still rolling around in bed, refusing to wake up. He recited phrases describing six years of our relationship before formally asking for my hand in marriage. Surprised and elated, I informed my parents right away. A phone call back to Malaysia and Brunei brought lots of excitement, which jump started the planning action immediately. It seemed that my in-laws back in Brunei were already prepared for this day, perhaps only curious to hear what my answer would be, and if my bumble bee got the approval from my parents to go ahead with the marriage.
So, everything was set to go, and the next step was to pick the auspicious wedding date. Growing up in Malaysia, and having attended some of my older cousins’ wedding, I had a general idea of the process of a Chinese wedding. In the olden days, a matchmaker was involved in ensuring both the boy and girl are compatible through assessing their Four Pillars of Destiny (生辰八字 Shēng Chén Bā Zì), and sometimes it could start of as an arranged marriage between agreed families. The Four Pillars of Destiny translates to a conceptual understanding of a person’s birth time on the Chinese lunisolar calendar that describes his/her destiny or fate:
Commonly referred to by the shortened terms, “Four Pillars” or “BāZì”, one of the most frequently used alternate phrase is “Four Pillars of your birth time”. It is called BāZì (八字), Eight Characters, because each of the four pillars (representing the year, month, day, and hour of one’s birth respectively) is represented by two characters; one character for a Heavenly Stem and one character for an Earthly Branch. There are 10 Heavenly Stems (天干; TiānGān) and 12 Earthly Branches (地支; DìZhī). The 12 zodiac animal reference is a folkloric representation of the 12 Earthly Branches — Wikipedia
The traditional Chinese believe that every person born into this world, has their fate already mapped out. Over the years, I’ve learned that this is also part and parcel of my religion, especially when it comes to the subject of karma and reincarnation. I acknowledge there’s a whole other world out there who do not believe in such matter. And so, moving on … ever wonder how Chinese fortune-tellers do their thing? Well, it’s all in the Four Pillars of a person’s birth time. When I was younger, my mother would always warn me not to carelessly reveal my birth time (hour and minutes) to anyone. You’ll never know who out there might use that information (in addition to your birth day and year) against you in a bad way. I may not have questioned the reasoning at the time and just accepted it for what it was. That kind of influence has prompted me, even till today, to be careful with this personal information.
In modern times, I believe couples and their families seek the advice of an expert, who is usually a Buddhist monk or a trusted fortune teller. These experts are well-versed in reading the 10,000 year Chinese calendar/almanac, which incorporates elements of a lunar and solar calendar. The goal is usually to pick a good day to officiate the wedding ceremony and reception; a day and time which will not clash with the Four Pillars of the bride and groom’s birth time.
Image of a page from the 10,000 year Chinese Almanac
– courtesy of Times of My Life
Traditionally, it is the groom’s family that picks out the date. Although, if both families are flexible and welcome discussion, the bride’s family can also seek a second opinion on the dates. One thing I’ve learned is that the current trend is to take both parents’ birth times in addition to the couple’s, and so altogether six birth times are assessed to choose the best date for the wedding.
In Chinese traditions, an auspicious day is believed to usher in prosperity, happiness, and good health. In the marriage context, my mom informed me that an auspicious date is important so that harmony can be achieved not only between my husband and I, but also between both our families. We’ve all heard dreaded stories by women and men alike of their in-laws, and how incompatible and unhappy everyone gets … well, who knows if an auspicious date could really prevent all that from occurring? To me, an auspicious date means bringing to my new family a whole marriage life of good safety, security and protection. It’s great if everything else goes smoothly on the wedding day itself, but who wants their new family to be torn apart after marriage, or experience a sudden, unfortunate loss … ? It may be fate, but what if it could have been avoided or the impact lessened if a more auspicious time was chosen? I never want to live a life of what-ifs or regrets, and so I choose to believe the importance of choosing an auspicious date.
My husband and I were very fortunate that both our families were able to discuss and compromise. There were several dates being tossed around at the time. I remember stressing out on this whole process because one of the suggested dates clashed with my sister’s school commitments in Canada. She is my only sister. I am only getting married once, and so the wedding without her presence, would be meaningless! Moreover, both our parents had agreed on doing two receptions; the first hosted by my family, and the other hosted by his family. We figured it was too complicated and expensive to fly everyone to the same location for one reception as both of us come from different hometowns, quite far away from one another. Additionally, my father requested that on the wedding day his daughter must “step out of her parents’ house”, not from a hotel room. It’s hard for me to explain the basis behind this one, but you’ll understand the significance later on when I talk about the procession from the groom’s house to obtain the bride. Briefly, Chinese weddings practice having the groom pick up his bride at her home, and pay respects to her family there before bringing her back to his home to officially greet his family as a married couple. This process is usually not complex for couples who originate from the same hometown. Hence, to embrace this tradition and work with the distance between our hometowns, we ended up with two auspicious dates. On December 3, 2011, the wedding was to be held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. On December 13th, 2011, the wedding celebration was to be continued in Seria, Brunei (my husband’s hometown).
Another important date that had to be picked out was the Betrothal Ceremony (过大礼 Guo Dà Lǐ). In Chinese culture, this day is a formal meeting between the couple’s parents prior to the actual wedding day. The groom’s family presents various proposal gifts such as traditional Chinese wedding cakes, fruits and jewelry that represent fertility and prosperity, which is also known as “Grand Gift.” All gifts typically come in pairs or even numbers, meaning “good things double” as per the Chinese saying goes. Due to scheduling constraints, the best date available for the betrothal ceremony was two days before the wedding, which is December 1, 2011.
In the olden days, it was customary for the girl’s family to distribute the wedding cakes they had received during the Betrothal Ceremony to their relatives as a way of announcing the wedding. They would also pass out the invitation cards together with the wedding cakes. Since this was not possible for us to complete two days before the wedding (I have a big family), the betrothal ceremony served as an official celebration of our engagement – just another reason to gather and celebrate the happy occasion! The wedding cakes, Six Happiness Wedding Set, were purchased from Bee’s Bakery and Cafe @ The Curve, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia.
The wedding cakes in boxes
The Six Happiness Wedding Cake Set (Image courtesy of Bee’s Bakery)
Writing the invitation cards was interesting, and I definitely learned a lot about the etiquette, especially when addressing immediate family members. Since most of my relatives do not read English, my mother wrote their invitation cards in Chinese. For example, when addressing the invitation to one of my paternal older uncles, whom I call “Sān bófù” (三伯父) or Third Uncle, we needed to write “To: Respected Third Brother, Mr & Mrs [his full name] and family“. His “family” includes his sons (a bachelor and a married one with his own family), and one unmarried daughter. His older daughter is married, whom I call 堂姐 “Táng jiě” because she is older than me and we share the same surname. Although she still legally carries her maiden name, in the eyes of tradition she is now considered part of her husband’s family. Therefore, we had to write a separate invitation card addressing to her husband, Mr & Mrs [XXX] & family. Addressing the invites to friends was less complicated than to relatives. I’ve learned that if you are close friends with the person, you can even address them by their first names.
One World Hotel provided us with 250 printed cards and respective envelopes as part of the package since we were holding the wedding reception at one of their ballrooms. Chinese wedding invitations is formatted such that the parents are the host. In Malaysia, most Chinese wedding cards are are in English and Mandarin. It is also written very formally as to indicate which child in the family (in terms of seniority) is getting married. The formality is probably a result of the Mandarin to English translation. Again, the card is often red in colour, but other designs do include bronze, gold, or pink. You will very rarely come across a whole white or black wedding invitation card, as those colours are typically associated with funerals in the Chinese culture.
Mr & Mrs ________ cordially invite Mr&Mrs/Mr/Miss __________
to the wedding of their youngest daughter
Bride’s Name & Groom’s name
(eldest son of Mr & Mrs ______) …. etc.
OUR BETROTHAL CEREMONY
My family woke up very early to prepare for the arrival of the in-laws. Yes, there was the whole auspicious timing factor again, and I remember seeing my husband and his entourage waiting outside my house for the right time to step in. Red is a very auspicious colour in celebrating all Chinese life events, and so I was instructed to wear the brightest red dress I could that day.
The event started with the delivery of a whole roast pig, followed by a few lavishly decorated gift baskets. Initially, I was told to stay up in my room and not make an appearance so soon. I could hear all the commotion from downstairs. When my cousin came to get me she was in tears, and effortlessly explained to me how touching everyone felt, and that my husband was tearing up as well! When I got to the living room, almost everyone, including my parents had tears of joy streaking down their faces. I held my husband’s face in my hands and asked him why he was crying, and he said, “I am so happy just to be here, and seeing the generous support from my family today.”
Later that day, my mom told me her own experience with the betrothal ceremony when she got married. She said that in the old days, this day was not a hugely celebrated affair. Often times, it was just the groom, his parents and one other representative that visit the bride’s family to “settle” the dowry and other marriage preparation plans. Apparently, this day for me, my mother said, was different. It was so grand and joyous, and that I should feel very fortunate to experience such a blissful day. In hindsight, my husband’s relatives saw it as an opportunity to officially meet and mingle with my family. All twenty of them had arrived in Kuala Lumpur earlier that week from Brunei, Sarawak, and Hong Kong. On my side of the family, only a few of my relatives came, mostly with the intent to assist my parents, and they definitely did not expect a grand entourage from the groom’s family.
My husband’s family is Cantonese. For the Cantonese family, I learned that it was very important to have a whole roast pig as part of the Grand Gift during the betrothal ceremony. Pig in Cantonese, “Zhū” , sounds the same as the character in “Khong Sa Zhu” (宫纱珠), which translates to a Chinese legendary symbol of virginity. The legend talks about a red dot (using piglet’s blood) placed on a girl’s forearm as a virgin, which was said to disappear when she lost her virginity. It’s funny, my mother didn’t even know the significance of the roast pig until I went to search it up on the Internet (bless the Internet for having a wealth of information!). I’m sure my in-laws did not intend to be hard-pressing on the fact that I needed to be a virgin for this marriage (unlike ancient times!!). All in all, it was probably used to carry down centuries old of a tradition and to closely symbolize fertility blessings for this marriage 😉
There’s a whole list of appropriate gifts and what they symbolize. It is also important to note that the girl’s family does not keep all the gifts. It is customary to return some of the gifts to the boy’s family, or reciprocate with similar gifts on the same day. Typically, the significant items are wedding cakes, tea leaves, a pair of Dragon Phoenix candles, sweet dried fruits, sweet candy, wine or hard liquor (alcohol is a must in every occasion, apparently …), money in red packets and jewelry (usually yellow gold). My bumble bee and I were then instructed to perform ceremonial prayers to heaven, earth, and my ancestors.
My husband receiving “Li Shi” (利市) or “lucky money” (token money wrapped in red envelopes, 红包 hóngbāo ), and a red tie from my father
After the prayers, we went to check out in detail the gifts that were brought in. I noticed there were fruits such as apples, oranges, grapes, and pomegranate. My mother-in-law took the liberty of explaining to me what they symbolize as she noticed the horror on my face when I saw how many oranges there were … (I swear, we must have had at least 80 oranges in those baskets!)
Pomegranates ( 石榴 Shí liú), according to her, are a very important symbol in Chinese weddings. It is because of its many seeds which symbolize fertility, thus many offsprings and descendants. To understand the relation to descendants, one must know the first Chinese character of the word, Shí (石), which has a similar sound as Shì (世), which means “descendant”, “lifetime”, or “generation.”
Similarly, apples symbolize peace, “safe and sound” or “without mishap”; apple (苹果 Píng Guǒ) and peace (Píng ān 平安). Oranges have always been known as a “lucky” fruit in the Chinese culture, and this stems from the Chinese word for tangerine (桔 Jú). The root character of the word, 吉 (Jí), means auspicious. Henceforth, strengthening the symbolism of oranges as “good luck.”
My mother also advised the one fruit that must never be included in the Grand Gift is pear. Pear translates to “Lí” (梨) in Mandarin or “Lei” in Cantonese, which is pronounced the same as in another phrase “Fēn Lí” (分离) that means “to separate”.
[Left] sweet apples and oranges amidst cypress leaves in a basket;
[Right] a pair of bottled honey
Cypress leaves are used in traditional Chinese weddings to decorate the items in the Grand Gift. It was believed to ward off evil spirits in the olden days. Additionally, it is also symbolic for abundance since the Chinese word for Cypress (柏 Bǎi) is pronounced the same as the word for “a hundred” (百 Bǎi).
Another prominent item of the Grand Gift is the “Hong Cai” (红彩) in Mandarin, or more popularly known as “Ang Cai” in Hokkien dialect, which is a long red cloth with a big center flower ball. Sometimes there are smaller flower balls towards both ends of the cloth as well. It’s quite the technique to form these red balls from the same piece of long, narrow cloth, especially when the flower ball needs to be centered. I recall my younger days where I would assist my aunts in crafting the Ang Cai, of which would later be hung above the main entrance of the house to usher in Chinese New Year. This handicraft skill, I believe, has been passed down only by memory through many generations. I’ve only done it a few times, and never really mastered its art. Unless you have a way to anchor the cloth in place while you measure and form the base for the flower ball, you need two people to craft this item. I think nowadays, one can buy the ready-made version, but my mum always said the commercial ones are not as pretty or well-made.
Chinese weddings are all about emphasizing good wishes for the couple by using symbolic gifts. Other symbolic gifts include the “Five Element Seeds” (五谷 Wǔgǔ) and a sewing basket. The Five Element Seeds wishes the newlyweds a life of prosperity and abundance with no worries for the financial future as per the Chinese saying, 五谷丰登 “Wǔ Gǔ Fēng Dēng.” The literal meaning of this phrase dates back to ancient times where people welcome and celebrate a bountiful harvest of the five basic types of crops.
The sewing basket is a household gift that can be seen as parallel to modern day Western weddings where relatives buy gifts of household appliances for the couple. In ancient Chinese culture, sewing is considered a very wifely virtue. The sewing basket is included in the dowry in hopes that a good wife will help supplement her husband’s income with her tailoring skills. In this modern day and age, the domestic skill has become less popular among women. There is really no need for women nowadays to sew clothes for themselves or their families. Still, this is an essential symbol passed down for many generations to the bride, in hopes that she will assist in the occasional mending of her family’s clothes.
A tea set for the wedding tea ceremony is also part of the Grand Gift. It is customary for the girl to greet her parents-in-law by serving tea to them every morning, but it is hardly practiced nowadays. I recall my mum tirelessly reminding me that I needed to wake up early and serve tea to my in-laws the day after the wedding. I never did because we were so exhausted (including my in-laws) that we all slept-in till noon on the day after the wedding. I did offer to make tea a couple of times but my mother-in-law never allowed me to do anything in the kitchen. It was really strange cause the whole time I felt like I was treated as an honored guest, where I thought traditionally the honorary treatment should have been given to my parents-in-law!
Anyway, lunch was provided by my family, and the roast pig that was delivered earlier was brought to the kitchen to be cut up and served. It is customary to let the boy’s family take some of the roast pig home for second and third meals. All in all, it was a great day! I guess the only challenge we faced was delivery of the roast pig to my house. Since my husband and his family are not familiar with my hometown, they had requested my parents to seek out and pick up the roast pig for them. My in-laws paid for it, but the problem was finding a distributor that could deliver them … these whole roast pigs are not light and easy to carry!
PART 1: THE WEDDING DAY IN MALAYSIA
Believe it or not, I had only two hours of sleep on the morning of my wedding day. At 4:00 AM, I was instructed to bathe in water containing pomelo (柚) leaves, which was believed to “cleanse” my body and protect me from evil spirits. I know there is a tradition of performing the Hair-Combing Ceremony for the night before the wedding, but apparently, my in-laws insisted to my parents that it wasn’t necessary. I know brides usually relax days before their wedding, but with all the preparation and my parents moved to a new house two days prior … yeap … enough said.
For the most part, we were cleaning and preparing the house with decorations and making sure items that are needed for the tea ceremony were there. The most auspicious color in Chinese culture is, of course, red. Gold is also a favourite and is often used together with the red decorations. The most traditional symbol for Chinese weddings is the ‘double happiness’ symbol.
The symbol is comprised of the Chinese character for happiness (幸) written twice beside each other and joined by a single line. This has become the most important symbol for Chinese weddings as it signifies the union of two people in joy. Although, this Chinese character is not used in regular writing or printing.
Traditionally Chinese brides wore the red wedding gown, “Qún guà” (群褂). Personally, I think every girl dreams of wearing a white wedding gown. Somehow, it just doesn’t seem like a real wedding without the white dress. Nevertheless, most Chinese families nowadays are flexible and open-minded about what the bride wants to wear. Malaysian Chinese brides wear the white wedding dress in the day time, and change into more than one evening gown at the reception/banquet,. Sometimes, the tea ceremony is performed with the bride wearing a cheongsam or the Qún guà. (Note: the Qún guà is different than a cheongsam, “qípáo” (旗袍))
I chose to wear my white dress as much as I could since I had paid a fortune for it. In Malaysia, I don’t think brides purchase their gowns. The wedding business is a hot industry in that region, and wedding retailers have found many lucrative ways to lure newlyweds into their promotional packages, which include everything from photography services, flowers, wedding car decoration, and up to three different rental gowns to wear during the reception. And yes, it is very common to witness a Chinese bride at a banquet change gowns a gazillion times. Apparently, it is her family’s way of showing how wealthy they are that their daughter can afford to wear many beautiful gowns for the wedding. After observing the horrendous designs of these evening gowns, I told my mum I am not doing that. Besides, I don’t want to spend all my time sitting at the powder room to get gussied up. I want to be out there dancing and partying with my pals.
I admit, it probably is a great convenience to have a package that handles everything for a price. I had to purchase mine because logistically, it wasn’t possible for me to get the gown in Malaysia as I only returned home one month before the wedding. Western brides believe that purchasing and keeping their wedding gown is a must, and they won’t wear something or have their photos taken in a gown that someone else has worn before. In Malaysia, hardly anyone does that anymore, mostly because it is not practical financially … and honestly, you’re only going to wear that dress once. Additionally, most Malaysian Chinese couples take their wedding portrait photos using rental tuxedos and gowns prior to the wedding – partly due to the tight time constraints with the one-hundred-activities occurring on the actual wedding day. It is not bad luck for the groom to see his bride in a wedding dress. The only bad-luck superstition I know of is lifting the bride’s veil twice, which symbolizes the bride “getting married” twice. My husband and I could not take our wedding portraits prior because he arrived in Malaysia from the USA just five days before the wedding. Logistically … it just wouldn’t have worked out.
I understand the perspective of the Western brides, but personally I still feel it’s all a marketing gimmick that took flight into a lucrative business. Hey, if you have the money, by all means go ahead and purchase the dress of your dreams. But there are brides who are not in that financial spot, and should not go into debt for that purpose. It’s the marriage that’s important, not how perfect the flowers or that centerpiece need to be. My mother never purchased her wedding gown for this reason. Although, she did get the bridal shop to rent her a new gown with a new design, so that she would be the first to rent and wear it. In all honesty, I do prefer to just wear one dress for the entire event. If I had convenient choices for other gowns, I would probably just change once into an easier dress to dance in. As for the Qún guà, I wanted to wear it as well to embrace my heritage, and so I decided to wear it for the wedding tea ceremony in Brunei, not Malaysia. Thanks to my awesome photographer from Zone Productions who rented to me a beautiful Qún guà !
After being all gussied up, the videographer and photographer stepped in to snap a whole bunch of family photos. Relatives who came early to witness the event got a chance to take a photo with me and my immediate family members. An emotional moment took place between my parents and I as they let down my veil. Not sure if they were truly being happy or feeling some sadness that they’re going to miss their daughter? Even though I am getting married, I am still their daughter … forever and always will be!
My husband was scheduled to arrive at the house at 6:30 AM with his entourage and “band of brothers” (groomsmen). When he arrived, he was not allowed to get down the car by himself. My younger male cousin opened the car door for my husband and invited him into the house. Traditionally, it has been a bachelor younger brother who would do this. I believe modern day practices have incorporated some changes, and this task is usually assigned to any little boy in the bride’s family. A good way for kids to help out and earn some Li Shi money! (it is customary for the groom to provide Li Shi money in return)
In Chinese weddings, bridesmaids and groomsmen play a significant role in complementing the whole wedding procession. In addition to providing emotional support to the bride and groom respectively, the bridesmaids are in charge of “holding the fort” at the bride’s house while the groomsmen assist the groom in “charging forth” to see and marry his bride. This act is more commonly known as the “Chinese Bridal Door Game.” Originating from ancient times, it symbolizes the bride as a precious daughter, and her family and friends do not want to marry her away so soon. The groom will be blocked at the main entrance to the bride’s home, and her friends will try to stop him from entering by throwing a series of physical challenges or quizzing him about the bride. It’s a fun way to test if he really cares about her. A lot of trickery is involved to delay the bride’s leaving! Most of the time, the groom will try to buy his way in by presenting “Li Shi” (利市) or “lucky money” (token money wrapped in red envelopes, 红包 hóngbāo ) and his “band of brothers” will assist him in winning the game. This part of the wedding is usually very loud and joyous. A good-natured “bargaining” event is always essential in Chinese weddings. It’s too bad I was unable to witness the whole event in person. I was only able to watch the details on the video recording after the wedding. As I patiently waited with my sister in the room … my husband went through yoga poses challenge, singing challenge (in a different language), and lastly a humorous pledge of love in Mandarin, Cantonese, and Hokkien.
As I needed to “step out of the house” by 9 AM, there was not a lot of time and flexibility in the schedule to prolong the games, and so my bridesmaids had been previously instructed to keep the games simple and “appropriate.” Seeing how all my bridesmaids were first-timers, they weren’t all that aggressive in bargaining for red packets with the boys. Trust me, some of the Chinese weddings I’ve seen … the ladies were very hard on the groom and his brothers. Let’s just say, the challenges I’ve seen were sometimes not too appropriate …
Well, my hubby had succeeded through the obstacles and the coast was finally clear. As the crowd make their way into the room to catch a glimpse of the moment, he got down on one knee, officially asked for my hand in marriage with tears of joy, and we exchanged rings. Then, he lifted my veil and gave me a sweet kiss. He finally obtained his bride!
We made our way downstairs, greeted by a sea of applause from our family members. Back in the old days, the groom’s relatives never followed the groom to pick up the bride. Both our parents were so open-minded and acknowledged the fact that the more people there is, the merrier it would be. Therefore, my in-laws were also at my house that morning, witnessing and cheering alongside with my relatives.
Similarly, we performed ceremonial prayers to heaven, earth, and my ancestors. Then, we proceeded to the living room and sat down to rest. Sweet glutinous rice ball soup was served to us, and my hubby and I had to feed each other (just because it is always the sweetest thing to do, aww!). After that, we set up the area for the tea ceremony, 奉茶 “Feng Cha”. The tea ceremony was only for my relatives since my hubby came to pay respects to my family at my house. Therefore, my in-laws waited and relaxed at the dining area where there was catered food and refreshments.
The Chinese tea ceremony is an official ritual to introduce the newlyweds to each other’s family, and a way for newlyweds to show appreciation and respect to their parents. In the olden days, newlyweds had to kneel three times to heaven, earth, and ancestors, their parents and then to each other. This practice has long been replaced with bowing during the tea ceremony in most modern Chinese weddings. Besides, not everyone pays respects to heave, earth and their ancestors. A bride wearing her white gown is usually unable to kneel and get up comfortably each time she serves tea. Although, most families don’t see the need for the rigid formality anymore, accepting the simple fact that everybody is happy to have a new member in the family and so hugs, jokes and laughter became a common part of the tea ceremony. Also, It is the tea ceremony whereby the bride and groom are showered with gifts, usually Li Shi money or gold jewelry.
Chinese tea is usually bitter in nature, but the tea served on this day is specially brewed with red dates and dried sweet fruits. Tea was presented to my relatives in sequence of seniority. We first served tea to my grandmother. We each take turns to call out to her and invite her to drink tea that is being served. I can still remember the facial expression on my relatives’ faces in that moment. The crowd was constantly teasing those who were being served tea, asking if the tea was very sweet, or perhaps not sweet enough that they teased for a second serving! Also, if the crowd couldn’t hear us call our relatives, they will tease the newlyweds to serve tea one more time. It’s a very fun and merry activity.
For my husband, it was quite the challenge (considering he is Cantonese) as he had to learn how to call my aunts and uncles in my native dialect, Púxiān huà (莆仙话). It’s not as simple as calling “Uncle Harry” or “Auntie Jane”. There’s a whole system of “kinship terms” in Chinese families, which distinguishes maternal and paternal relatives. The easiest way for me to remember is by understanding family names. For example, in Mandarin, I call my older female cousin who shares the same surname as me 堂姐 “Táng jiě”, while an older female cousin who doesn’t share the same surname as me 表姐 “Biǎo jiě”. There is a really good website that gives you an idea of formal Chinese family relationships – http://www.kwanfamily.info/culture/familytitles_table.php. Once we were done serving tea, it was our turn to be served tea by relatives who are younger than us (siblings, nieces, nephews, etc). Similarly, in return we give them Li Shi money as they serve us tea and call out to us appropriately.
For most people, registering their marriage under the eyes of the law is considered official. In Western culture, most marriages are officiated in a church ceremony. However, in Chinese culture, a marriage is never considered “official” until the tea ceremony on the wedding day itself. My husband and I registered our marriage in Canada 10 months before the wedding day so that I can use my married status to apply for a visa to accompany him to the US. Even though we were already legally married, we did not refer to ourselves as husband and wife until after December 3, 2011. In other words, to us, we didn’t really care what the government thinks of our marriage. More importantly, the real acknowledgement, as husband and wife, needed to come from our family.
Finally, it was time to adjourn to the Buddhist temple for the marriage blessing ceremony. When we exited the house, my father raised a red umbrella above my head as I walked into the car. In the olden days, it was the designated “good luck woman’s” task to hold the umbrella. The opening of the umbrella symbolizes the bride bringing many descendants to the family. However, I think nowadays the influence of religious practices has corrupted this symbolism and led many to believe that the umbrella shields the bride from evil spirits; essentially “protecting the bride’s good luck” from the moment she steps out of her home to when she enters the groom’s house.
In ancient times, a wooden carriage decorated in red was used to transport the bride to the groom’s home. Fast forward to modern times, cars are used as the “wedding carriage” instead. In Malaysia, it is very common to find wedding cars decorated in tulle and fresh flowers. I wasn’t allowed to see the decorated wedding car before the wedding. According to my parents, it was suppose to be a surprise from the groom’s family.
We then drove to the True Buddha temple (真佛宗心燈堂) in Klang. At the time, the True Buddha temple symbolized my husband’s “home” since it is his family’s religion. The people at the temple were very excited preparing for this day as the Reverend Master had not done such a blessing ceremony in years. Also, it was going to be the temple’s first time hosting the ceremony. In that sense, our video was shared on the temple’s website, and we were featured in their weekly newsletter. Even though we do not know how to read Chinese, we kept a copy for our keepsake because it was just too cool to appear on a newspaper!
The True Buddha temple organizers were very generous in allowing us to decide the format of the ceremony. Initially, we weren’t sure if just my husband and I would walk down the aisle or not. I know in Western weddings, the groom positions himself and waits at the front altar while the bride walks down the aisle with her father. I thought to myself, why don’t we each just walk down the aisle with our own parents? I’m sure my mother and parents-in-law would love to do that! And so, we did. My husband walked down the aisle with his parents first and waited at the front altar, followed by my parents and I. At the front, my parents “handed me over” to my husband. Then, the religious ceremony officially commenced. We paid respects to the Reverend Master, Root Guru, and Buddha. We crossed arms to drink holy water, exchange rings, and performed a couple other offerings as part of the ceremony.
After two hours of religious prayers, we were invited to feast on a scrumptious vegetarian meal. What a long day it had been! We checked-in to the hotel where the reception was going to be held, and tried to take a rest … or so we thought.
Group photo with the wedding party at the main entrance of the temple
Little did I know that the hotel was having trouble managing their room occupancies. Apparently, the Korean pop-star group, Super Junior, was having their press conference at the hotel too, and so somehow things just got “out of hand”. My parents guests were unable to check into their hotel rooms to rest and prepare for the evening reception. All I remembered — I was stressed, tired, and felt really bad. I only had a half an hour nap before the make-up artist arrived at 4 pm. I guess it really takes a couple of hours to gussy up a bride. Either way, all was good in the end even though we had to sacrifice some rest time. Before we knew it, excited guests have already arrived for cocktails outside the ballroom. My hubby managed to get more rest than I did, which was good because I didn’t need to be involved in the rehearsals for the reception march-in. I just had to follow whatever he does, haha.
Most traditional Malaysian Chinese wedding banquets (结婚宴席 “Jie Hun Yan Xi”) are just about the food, alcohol, and karaoke. Yeap, you heard me. There’s no better place to witness bold and daring seniors, holding their glass of Hennesy or XO, and singing away oldies on stage in front of the audience. In Malaysia, most Chinese restaurants offer wedding banquet packages with these basic requirements. My parents and I definitely did not want to go the traditional route. While ensuring we perform a couple of the key traditions, such as the toasting ceremony (with alcohol), we planned to have guests experience a Western wedding reception. And so, I had my MC work with me to include a march-in including bridesmaids and groomsmen, key speeches, father-daughter dance, bride and groom’s first dance, and party dancing towards the end of the night. We didn’t hire a DJ, and just used Audacity program to compile party songs into a CD. That really saved us a lot of money! One World Hotel in Petaling Jaya was my parents number-one choice, and perhaps, the only choice since there was no other available venue for that wedding date. And while we had issues earlier with the guestrooms, everything else that night was great. The food was superb, we had a nit-picky but very organized MC, a lovely live-band, and the crowd was fun! If there’s one thing that I would recommend about any wedding … is to always have fun music and dancing! Works wonders in any celebratory occasion!
The Topaz ballroom at One World Hotel
I was so glad the planning and execution for decorations at the evening reception were all handled by the hotel. All I had to do was let the hotel’s event manager know my preference on the theme colour for flowers and the guest table cloth. Our wedding banner, which was also part of the hotel’s wedding package, was showcased up front at stage and it was designed by my photographer.
Additionally, I’m glad I made the photobooth idea work. No one initially supported the idea, as it was too much work and it was not a common thing to do at a Malaysian Chinese wedding. However, my dad supported me in the end, seeing how I’ve already put so much thought into it and that I should just make it work. And so, I simplified the concept so that even if no one used it, I wouldn’t feel guilty. It might not have been the most professional set-up, but it served its purpose. All I prepared was a couple of coloured, sheer fabric with a hand-written banner as a backdrop, and as for a camera set-up … well anybody’s camera would do since the photos in their own cameras will serve as souveniers! We provided fun props such as Kanye West glasses, goofy glasses and blow-up karaoke microphones. The kids loved goofing around with those glasses.
Guestbooks are also not a common thing at a traditional Chinese wedding. If a wedding banquet is held at a hotel, typically a guestbook will be provided as part of the wedding package. I’ve observed that traditional Chinese folks are not used to doodling words on guestbooks. I’ve seen at some weddings where the sign says “Please sign our guestbook”, and there are folks who literally just put down their signature – no name, no well wishes, nothing else. Quite hilarious! If it is held at a Chinese restaurant, there is rarely a guestbook on display. I have to say, my biggest effort of the whole wedding planning was preparing a unique guestbook. I took about 120 old photos of our 6-year dating relationship, as well as some photos from our marriage registration in Canada (many thanks to my brother-in-law for being our photographer!), and edited them in PaintShop to create small areas to write on each photo. I did consider creating a photobook, or using small cards for people to pin or hang on a plant … but it wasn’t unique as everyone else had done it before. So I thought, why not utilize my own photos, which I already have at hand, and have people ooh and aah over them while signing on it! Then, I can keep these photos of us with wonderful messages on them from friends and family in a traditional photo album. I thought of this idea all by myself, and am very proud with the outcome! The cost was just to print the photos, and it came to only $15.00!
This is my favourite; from our dear friend, Katie K
If you go to a Chinese wedding banquet, be sure to have cash at hand as it is customary for guests to offer Li Shi money either in red packets, or using the wedding invitation envelope which are usually pink or red in colour. Never use a white envelope. In Chinese culture, money in white envelopes are only used in funerals. Guests may write well wishes and their names on it, and there is no set amount as to how much one should give. Although, typically relatives tend to give way more than friends. To give you an idea, a Li Shi money gift can range between $100 – $5000. I know, you must be thinking, “When does this cash-giving gift ever end???” Well, don’t forget, there are family members who may not have attended the morning event and pass on their gifts during the tea ceremony. Usually friends are not part of that event either since it is more of a family affair. So, it is only natural that every invited guest at the reception gives a gift, and in Malaysia or Chinese weddings, cash is most convenient (hey, it’s cash country alright).
There was a time I came across a Chinese blog which discussed the irrelevance of Li Shi money at a Chinese wedding banquet. This blogger claimed that it was silly, degrading and disrespectful (to him) because he felt the Li Shi money was used to “pay for his own meal at the wedding banquet.” He stirred up a lot of controversial arguments in the end, but you know he probably deserved it because he wrote something that wasn’t even true at all. Yes, to some people, it is a big deal to fork out a lot of money from their pay cheque for a friend’s wedding. And yes, the collected cash is used to settle the bill with the restaurant or the hotel immediately after the banquet. What they do not know is that the sole reason is that it’s unsafe to “bring home” tens of thousands of dollars in Malaysia, where there are vicious pricks who target and rob families either on the day of or after the wedding. Damn, I’m sure in North America, if there was a way robbers can steal those gifts of household appliances at a wedding, there would be front page news of these incidents. Haven’t seen that during my time here. It’s just not worth it – does a robber really need five toaster ovens? There’s not even a market to resell those items! Here’s my point: The purpose of Li Shi money (no matter the amount) is to give one’s blessing to the newlyweds. It’s a tradition, always have been and always will. Even though, the cash has been used to settle the bill, we kept every single red pocket/envelope that was given to us. It is our blessing. Our keepsake. And honestly, if one is so stingy as to think like this blogger did, I’m sure he/she will receive a taste of his own medicine during his or her own wedding.
After we marched-in, we headed straight for the stage to perform the cake-cutting ceremony. In Western weddings, wedding cake-cutting is actually an important tradition. Somehow, modern Malaysian Chinese weddings have adopted this practice at the banquet, but here’s the catch – the cake is not real. Well, okay … only like 1/4 of the cake is real so that we actually cut through real cake. I recall one of my Caucasian friends from Canada asking, “Why didn’t we get served the wedding cake after the dinner?” Apparently, she was targeting the cake the whole night as it looked real nice and yummy. Nobody eats cake for dessert at a Chinese wedding. I guess, to simply put it, there’s no traditional symbolism to it. If anything, the actual traditional Chinese wedding cakes are the ones that were received during the betrothal ceremony. There you go, another cost-buster. No need to spend $500 on a wedding cake.
The feast at a traditional Chinese wedding banquet is both playful and exciting. In Malaysian Chinese culture, a grand toast ceremony is performed after one or two courses have been served and eaten. The newlyweds and their parents stand on stage, and together with the guests they toast three times, saying in Cantonese, “Yum Seng!” (饮 胜!, meaning ‘drink to success!’). Typically, the “Yum” syllable is dragged as long as possible, and finally ending with a celebratory “Seng!” The first toast is directed to all the guests; second, to the parents of the newlyweds, and the final toast to the happy bride and groom. These toasting ceremonies can be very loud and joyous! It’s no wonder everyone ends up with a sore throat the next morning 😉
Throughout the dinner, the couple will usually walk from table to table, offering the toast to thank their guests for attending and bringing generous gifts. This type of drinking is a Chinese way of showing good spirit and respect. Chinese food has many special symbolism: mostly wishes of happiness, longevity, or fertility. The number of courses is also significant. At a Chinese wedding banquet, eight dishes are usually served (not including the dessert). In Chinese, especially the Southern dialects, the word eight, “Bā” (八), sounds like “prosperity”, similar to character in the phrase “Fā Cái” (发财). For example, serving fish would hope that the couple will experience a life together with abundance because fish, “Yú” (鱼), sounds like plentiful “Yú” (余) in Chinese. Noodles symbolize longevity because noodles come in long strands.
Towards the end of the night, I changed into a lighter dress for dancing. First, I danced with my father to Frank Sinatra’s, The Way You Look Tonight. Then, my husband and I performed a surprise dance to Michael Jackson’s The Way You Make Me Feel half way into our first slow dance (Michael Learns to Rock – Paint My Love). We ended up improvising on the spot because we did not have time to practice the dance routine. It turned out pretty good – no one noticed our mistake! In hindsight, it was a success because the MC had warned me about not having people support the idea of dancing up front. According to him, Malaysians are still very “shy.” He actually advised us that we should devise a backup plan and have more of the younger group (like our friends) come out to the dancefloor when the music starts. But you know, no one expected the surprise MJ dance, and I think that really kick-started the party mood, and so the transition to the dance party songs was very smooth. 🙂
Toasting at the tables!
Our MJ dance moves
Ending the night with a spectacularly good time dancing with friends and family, young and old alike!
I now understand why big weddings are overwhelming. Of the 350 guests that showed up, I think I only spoke, or even said hello personally to 25% of the crowd. People that I didn’t know at all were my dad’s business partners. At least, I knew my parents friends, as they had known me since I was a baby. My parents were the early birds in the baby-making process, you see. Even now, their children look to me as “big sister.” My husband and I had a few varsity classmates, who went separate ways after graduation, but came all the way from Singapore, Hong Kong & Canada to attend our wedding. There were also a few of my secondary school classmates in Malaysia, whom I have not seen for years! I may not have gotten time to speak to them that night, but at least I knew it was lots of fun for them as they got to reunite with old friends.
Even though I am not too familiar with some of my family members from Pahang (Malaysia) and China, I am very honored and glad that they came. Gosh, I’m so grateful to have my great-granduncle and aunt, both at 99 years old, attend my wedding even though I’ve only seen them less than 5 times in my life! What an honor! In a way, I see it as a big reunion for my family and friends. I’ve heard negative comments before from North American acquaintances on the insignificance of inviting extended relatives who they’ve never met before. If it’s really a financial matter, then of course, so be it. But I have to point this one out — the stark and most important difference between the culture of North American and Chinese weddings is strong family ties across many generations. What better way to experience a grand family reunion, people that matter to your parents and grandparents, if not for an occasion like this? I believe there are only two biggest events in one’s life where family come together – weddings and funerals. Now, wouldn’t you want to meet and bond with family while you are still alive, while it is a happy, celebrated occasion? Even Chinese New Year reunions are not as huge as weddings, and while it is still an important event, it’s more for immediate families to gather and celebrate the New Year. As for weddings, you only get married once (hopefully), and it’s worth the time, travel, and gift-giving, especially in celebrating the union of two lovers and their families.
The night ended at 2 AM, and even though the hotel people said we could only have the ballroom until midnight, somehow there were a few people left mingling around, chatting, and attending to one … very … drunk … guy. Poor guy. He was completely out of it. The music had stopped, but we continued to toss the bride’s bouquet, and voila! Whaddya know, my maid of honor caught the bouquet. And so it seems, she is getting married very soon in the next year or so. Pretty accurate or what??
Traditionally, Chinese weddings end pretty early at around 11pm or midnight, depending on how early the dinner banquet starts. And when the dessert (last) dish is served, the newlyweds and their parents will make their way to the main entrance/doors and prepare to shake hands with guests as they leave, thanking them for their attendance. I think we were suppozed to do this, but we were all so happy dancing, drinking and partying at the end that we forgot about “our last task”. But you know what, no one said anything negative about it! And if you really have to say goodbye, go find the bride and groom and tell them. Besides, we’ve already thanked guests in our speech, and had already set the mood to party for the night. Everyone understood, and had a great time even if we did not personally say thank you and goodbye to each of the 350 guests.
The last part of a traditional Chinese wedding speaks to the bride returning home three days after the wedding (结婚宴席 “San Chao Hui Men”). During olden days when a daughter gets married, she leaves her parents’ home for good, only returning home to visit during special occasions such as on the second day of Chinese New Year. More importantly, this day actually symbolizes the couple, as husband and wife, returning home to the bride’s family to pay respects once again with a simple tea ceremony (just to the parents). In our case, due to time constraints, this act was performed the day after the wedding. We checked out of the hotel, and headed back to my house where my parents were. The interesting part was that once we returned home and served tea to my parents, we were instructed to take the car out for a quick drive around the neighbourhood, to symbolize that we completed the customary visit. So there we were, circling around the neighbourhood for two minutes, and then returned to the house again, haha. I guess in ancient times, it wasn’t just two minutes … it was most likely a year’s time before their daughter returns home with her husband for a visit. Pretty awesome simplification, if you ask me.
How do you tell if a wedding was successful despite the horrendous stress and lack of sleep during the days leading up to the big day? Well, my version of success …
1. Very happy guests!
2. Lots of laughter!
3. Lots of dancing! (I am surprised my 65-year-old aunt got very groovy on the dance floor!)
4. And a lot of unexpected happy surprises!
If there is one good advice I’ve learned going into this wedding, it would be “Lower your expectations … and keep it simple.”
Since, we had about 10 days until the next part of the wedding in Seria, Brunei. We spent some more time with my parents, chilled out with our foreign friends before they returned to their respective home countries, and enjoyed the little break before the same process takes flight again.
PART 2: THE (CONTINUED) WEDDING DAY IN BRUNEI
I have to admit, the second part of the wedding celebration was more relaxing for me. Perhaps, it was because we already went through the process once, and so we knew what to expect. The wedding in Malaysia and Brunei each had their own character and style. If I have to point out the differences, I would say that the morning event was more fun and joyous in Brunei, while the evening reception was more relaxed and party-like in Malaysia. There’s a reason why the reception was not as party-like in nature … alcohol was NOT allowed to be served at the venue. Brunei is an Islamic country – so if you are one who loves alcohol, bars and clubbing a lot, Brunei is the one place you should not settle for as there is none of the above mentioned.
Moving on … my husband’s cousin-in-law was our wedding photographer this time. He also brought a friend from the Philippines to shoot our wedding video in Brunei. It is here in Bandar Seri Begawan, which is an hour’s drive northeast of Seria, where we took our wedding portraits. A couple of days before the wedding, we visited Tasek Lama Recreation Park, Jame’ Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque, and the six-star Empire Hotel. It worked out great because we scheduled the make-up and hair trial session early in the morning, and spent the rest of the day at these three places taking photos. In that sense, we saved a lot on cost as we did not need to hire an outside photographer to do all that. Once again, we are so thankful to have such generous family support for our wedding. My make-up artist was also way better than the one in KL, Malaysia. Oh, the hairstyles that she can design! Her portfolio is amazing! I wish I had her kind of skill for the Malaysia wedding. If anyone is interested – here’s her Facebook page – Shereen’s Make-up Services.
Our photoshoot at Tasek Lama Recreational Park, Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei.
For any Chinese wedding, traditionally the groom’s family does more preparation in comparison to the bride’s family. It is a (very) huge deal for any Chinese family who has a son marrying a girl into the family. The night before the wedding, I stayed with my parents at a hotel in Kuala Belait, which was about 20 minutes from Seria town. My relatives from Malaysia who followed us to Brunei were also at the hotel.
Similarly, I woke up at 4 AM to get ready. We were in a fairly large hotel suite, and so all my relatives came to have breakfast in our room while we wait for the groom’s entourage to arrive. Initially, I didn’t plan for any Chinese bridal door games for this day, but one of my bridesmaids, who is actually my cousin-in-law, felt that my husband and his “brothers” did not experience the “real bullying” from the bridesmaids. And so, I agreed. I have to say, she is very experienced with this. Kudos to her for making that morning so merry and fun! I’m sure she received lots of Li Shi money from the boys. This time, I requested that I sit and watch the boys. I’m glad I did 🙂
My gorgeous hairdo – very Korean style
It was definitely a very merry morning. Actually, it was quite hillarious. My husband didn’t realize I was sitting in the living area the whole time. He was too caught up with the challenges and the enthusiastic crowd surrounding him. At one point, he walked into my room and seeing that I wasn’t there, he exclaimed that I must be “hiding” in another room of the suite, haha!
My favourite challenge was when my husband had to write 10 promises in this little hand-made booklet, with only ten pages. The kids were so intrigued by this idea, and it was cute to see all my little flower girls and page boys crowding around my husband, watching in awe as he sign his “marriage contract” in front of me. Then, we kiss, exchange rings (yes, again, for the fourth time, geez), and … uh oh, wait a minute … we weren’t ready to go yet. I’m still missing a shoe! Haha! Good trick, dear bridesmaid.
Found the bride’s last shoe! (it was hidden in the security safe)
Lots of laughter, lots of fun. Once the shoe was found, my husband put it on for me. Oh, I felt like Cinderella. Then, we took many family photos. There’s just so many photos to take! Good thing we have digital cameras!
As you can tell, the process is quite similar to the Malaysia wedding. It was necessary to “continue” the tradition, and that’s why went through the whole groom-picking-up-the-bride again. And yes, the red umbrella was used again, only this time, it was actually of good use because it was raining lightly that day. I have heard rain during the wedding day brings good luck to one’s marriage in some cultures. In Chinese weddings, the rain symbolizes happiness and prosperity being showered upon the newlyweds. Of course, a downpour is never fun in any occasion, so light rain is usually common during auspicious for a Chinese wedding.
Our wedding car, this time decorated using the “Hong Cai” (红彩)
Once we got into the car, I thought we would head straight to my husband’s home. Then, we got a phone call, and apparently we were suppose to take a drive around the entire town (it’s a very small town) to announce our wedding event. We were both waving like celebrities as the driver sounds the car horn. It was quite embarrassing! Later that day, I realized, at that time, my husband’s family were not ready for us to arrive at the house. Moreover, we had to make sure that all our guests, including my entourage (family members) from the hotel arrived at the house first. Little did we know, there was a whole lot of fun surprises waiting for us …
Everyone was waiting for us in their fancy cameras at the courtyard area. When we reached the main gate to the house, my husband got out of the car and proceeded to light up a reel of fire crackers, which ran about 40 feet long from the gate into the courtyard. These Chinese-style firecrackers are a series of firecrackers bonded into a long roll, two or more crackers extending out from each row. They are loud and often lasting for a few minutes. Firecrackers are traditionally used to ward off evil spirits and usher in good luck before the couple enters the house. In a way, you can think of it as officiating the wedding ceremony.
An image of Chinese firecrackers (decorative item) – Image courtesy of Google
There was a lot of smoke from the firecrackers. After it was fired up completely, and when the smoke was just beginning to clear, my husband’s cousin suddenly appeared on this cute, playful scooter, honking away while the crowd cheered. The surprise, was a task in which my husband and I had to ride on the scooter from the main gate to the courtyard. Since it was too dangerous to ride it on our own, our entourage helped pushed the scooter while my husband steered. It was really fun, even though it only lasted a couple minutes, haha!
A playful little scooter, decorated with flowers and a banner “We are married!”
The fun “bike ride”
Once we’re happily in the courtyard, we disembarked the scooter. Some guests have already made their way into the house. My husband’s relatives prepared a small charcoal-fired pot, a few feet away from the main door of the house. Both of us had to cross over the fire pot. Since we had to do it together, and the fire pot was so small, the crowd suggested that my husband carry me and together we could cross over easily. The history of this tradition is unclear. It is perhaps most influenced by religious practices since ancient times. In Taoism religious practices, “crossing over fire” symbolized many things such as “cleansing one’s soul or karma”, “starting brand new with purity”, and “warding off any evil spirits that may have followed you back home.” It is very common to see Chinese families practice this during weddings and moving to a new house. Also traditionally, Chinese people always cross over a fire pot before stepping into their own home after attending a funeral service.
Hooray! Now, we’re inside the house. If you attend a traditional Chinese wedding, sometimes you may find some people (especially pregnant women) hide away for a while at the moment the bride and groom enters the house. The reason some folks do this is because on the day itself, the Four Pillars of their birth time (生辰八字 Shēng Chén Bā Zì), clashes with the wedding date. To minimize bad luck, they avoid looking at the bride and groom as they enter the house. It is often believed that on this day, the bride and groom have very strong “Qi” (气) or “lifeforce”, and pregnant women, especially, should be careful not to “clash” with this energy as it may be harmful to the baby. In ancient times, people believe that it can cause miscarriages. You may also hear of a very traditional superstition that pregnant women cannot attend wedding celebrations. Therefore, if you notice some folks may seem unfriendly in welcoming the newlyweds into the house, it’s not because they dislike the couple. It’s merely a safeguard for in this superstition.
We were both served a sweet dessert dish as we sat down on the couch to rest. Then, we headed outside again to perform ceremonial prayers to heaven, earth, and my husband’s ancestors. It was a very emotional moment when we prayed to his ancestors. His aunt teared up as she announced our wedding during the prayers. I guess she was too happy when informing my husband’s grandmother (deceased) of this joyous occasion.
After that, we headed back into the house for family photos. Soon after, it was time for the tea ceremony. We proceeded upstairs so that I could change into the traditional wedding dress, “Qún guà” (群褂) for the event. As we headed upstairs to change, my husband was unaware that his cousins had prepared a surprise for him. He had his very own version of a traditional costume to wear. Additionally, 6-7 of his relatives were also changing into cheongsam or “qípáo” (旗袍). My traditional dress did not come with a head accessory. In ancient times, the bride wears a lavishly decorated head accessory with an attached red silk fabric acting as the veil. His cousin from Hong Kong, rented one for me to wear and “play the part” well. Apparently, they had planned for more fun bargaining ahead. The next thing we knew, his relatives were all gussied up in their traditional wear and lining up in front of us. We were to follow them as they lead us downstairs into the cheering crowd. All the ladies had a red handkerchief in one hand, and they were flicking it back and forth while announcing the “arrival of the bride and groom.” It’s hard for me to explain that scene in detail. If you’ve watched old, classic Chinese movies, you will understand it is the way of doing things back in the days, especially influenced by royalty Chinese etiquette during formal events.
As we moved through the crowd, we were congratulated once again with handshakes from our relatives. So much laughter was involved in this whole process as there was a lot of teasing; for example, the ladies would act very kindly, hold my arm and walk me to my seat. They will use their handkerchiefs and pretend to freshen my face up. They jokingly gave me the traditional royal treatment, so to speak. Ultimately, the goal for them was to collect more Li Shi money from my husband 😉 It was very fun though! Here’s one of the ladies showing off their “prize” …
And so, the tea ceremony begun. Since I was wearing the traditional dress, it was convenient for me to kneel and serve tea. We knelt and served tea to my husband’s grandmother, followed by his parents. What better timing to tease the parents-in-law then the tea ceremony? Once again, kudos to the masterminds behind the surprises! As my parents-in-law sat down for the tea ceremony, out came two baby bibs with the print “feed me, feed me!” Before they could get a taste of the sweet tea, they had to be “fully prepared”!
So you see, even traditions can be fun, and it doesn’t have to be old-fashioned. I hope the photos depict the traditions well, and that you enjoyed reading my very own experience as a traditional Chinese bride. Until I write about the next traditional Chinese celebration of a newborn, 再见(goodbye)!