百年好合 A Hundred Years of Happiness
In ancient China, Confucianism defined marriage as the beginning of ethics and a wedding ceremony as the essence of etiquette, which has a substantial influence on social stability. The basic principles of an ancient marriage mainly involved the matched social status, the dictates of the parents and the advice of the matchmaker.
Nowadays, the use of a matchmaker is rare, marriage occurs between different social classes (various Dynasties banned inter-social marriages) but to an extent the wishes of the parents still prevail in Chinese society and many ancient symbolic rituals have carried through to today.
Proposal & Betrothal
In Chinese Culture, a marriage is considered the joining of two families. Thus, the parents of the bride’s and groom’s get involved in their wedding planning from very early on. Two families pick an auspicious date as the Betrothal Day. This is a formal meeting between the parents of the perspective bride and groom. The groom’s family presents various proposal gifts that represents fertility and prosperity in Chinese culture. All gifts should come in even numbers, meaning “good things double” in Chinese culture. Thus, the two are considered officially engaged.
Chinese Wedding Cakes
After the betrothal, both families will make the wedding announcement to their relatives and friends by sending out the wedding invitations which are usually presented in a long red envelope, like the traditional red envelopes (Huang Bao) in which money is gifted to people at Chinese New Year. The invitations are sent along with “Double Happiness Cakes” these are Chinese style wedding cakes also known as “Dragon & Phoenix Cakes”.
Wedding Day Ceremony
On the morning of the wedding day, an “hair dressing” ritual is performed for the bride. The woman performing this ritual must have living parents, spouse and children as this is considered “Good Luck.” A widow or childless woman or indeed a woman without living parents cannot perform the “hair dressing” ritual in case she brings “bad luck to the new bride. The woman should also say auspicious words while tying up her hair in a bun, a style of married woman.
Wedding Door Games
Up until early 20th Century the bride would be collected from her home in a sedan chair to the room’s home. Nowadays the groom arrives in a fleet of cars and the bride’s female friends and family pretend to obstruct the groom from collecting her. They will have organised a sequence of games and riddles to test the groom’s love for his new wife and negotiate a lucky red envelope of money from the groom. It is symbolism from ancient times, to show that the bride’s family loved her and would not let her go easily.
When the bride comes out to ascend the car, a red umbrella is held over her and relatives throw rice, red and green beans over her to ward of any evil spirits.
Wedding Vows & Tea Ceremony
Upon arriving at the groom’s family home, the newlyweds perform the Chinese equivalent to a wedding vow. They kneel three times, to the heaven and earth, to the ancestral tablets and their parents, then to each other. The kneeling part has been replaced with bowing in modern Chinese wedding. The bride then present tea to the parents and relatives in sequence of seniority. Those who receive the tea usually give the bride gifts such as jewellery or Lucky Red Envelopes with money. The wedding party then proceeds to the Banquet venue.
NB Chinese weddings are not the place where legal vows take place, as this is done at the Church or Registrar’s Office before the selected auspicious day of the wedding.
Chinese Wedding Banquet
Certain types of food are commonly served at the Chinese wedding banquet, which include fish, roast suckling pig, pigeon, chicken cooked with red oil, lobster and desert bun with lotus seeds. The pronunciation of fish is the same as “abundance”, meaning the newlyweds will have plentiful of wealth. Roast suckling pig is usually served whole, a symbol of the bride’s purity (virginity). Pigeon implies a peaceful future. Chicken also means phoenix, cooked in red oil to symbolize the wish for a prosperous life ahead for the newlyweds. Lobster is literally called “dragon shrimp” in Chinese. Having lobster and chicken together at wedding banquet indicates that the dragon and the phoenix are harmonious together, and the Yin and Yang elements in this family balanced.
Red plays a vital role in Chinese weddings, because the colour is associated with success, loyalty, honour, fertility, and love, amongst others. Because of this, decorations at Chinese weddings are generally in red, and so is the bride’s dress. Gold is also abundantly used, as it portrays wealth and fortune.
White, however, is commonly associated with funerals. It is rare for guests or the bride to wear white on the day of the Wedding Banquet as white is associated with mourning but she may wear a white wedding dress for the Church or Registry Office.
A favourite greeting is to wish the new couple 百年好合 A Hundred Years of Happiness and 白頭偕老 To Grow Old Together with White Hair.