Sunday 19 June 2011

Wedding = love Part 2: The Chinese tea ceremony, hair combing ritual and other wedding traditions

There are seven necessities related to the starting of a family's life: firewood, rice, oil, salt, soy sauce, vinegar and tea. ~ Chinese proverb 

Chinese weddings are steeped in tradition and symbolism, superstition and folk lore.  I'm not usually a sticker for tradition,  I really wanted to have Traditional Chinese Tea Ceremonies at our wedding.  There's just something wonderfully romantic about wedding traditions, don't you think?  Knowing that my mother, my grandmothers, their mothers and generations of Chinese women before them have followed the same rituals at their weddings for hundreds of years, made even little old kiwi me feel connected with my heritage.  A link to the past on the first day of our future together.  What an incredibly moving and humbling experience.  

Having said that, since ours was an East meets West kinda wedding, we didn't stick exactly to tradition and cherry picked the things we had time for.  I'd like to think of it as Chinese culture meets Kiwi ingenuity.

 {All photos taken by Jel Photography unless otherwise stated}

So much symbolism

{the double happiness symbol is made up of two Chinese characters for joy and is ubiquitously used as wedding decorations symbolising, unsurprisingly, lots of happiness}

When I say Chinese weddings are steeped in tradition, I mean they are breaded, floured and deep fried in tradition.  There is so much symbolism, it's not even funny.  Everything has significance, everything has a meaning.  Usually the symbolism is pretty obvious, with things that sound like the words luck, prosperity and happiness in Chinese being frequently used.  The Chinese like a good pun.

Even the colours have meaning with red being the predominant colour in Chinese weddings as it symbolises happiness and joy in Chinese culture.  Gives a whole new twist to seeing red, doesn't it? 

Pictures of dragons and phoenixes are everywhere too, as both of these symbols represent the Chinese tradition of treating the bride and groom as 'Empress and Emperor' for a day, and has roots in the mythology that the dragon represents the Emperor, and the phoenix the Empress.  I was quietly amused that the groom is a dragon as that is exactly how I'd describe pre-caffeine C.  No birdbrain jokes now, thank you very much.

The Hair Combing Ritual

{items for the hair combing ceremony, each with symbolic meanings}

The traditions actually start the night before the wedding with a Hair Combing Ceremony Central to this ritual (and also to the tea ceremonies) is the Good Luck Lady, someone who is blessed with a happy marriage and healthy husband, children and in laws.  My cousin Sarah was my "Good Luck Lady" for our wedding and she also generously lent me her gorgeous qua to wear: the traditional red Chinese wedding dress made of hand embroidered silk.

{Massive thank you for everything Sarah!!}
On the eve of the wedding, my mum, Sarah and mum's friend Nicola (a veritable goldmine of knowledge on Chinese wedding traditions) came to my hotel room with a bunch of seemingly innocuous items which all had symbolism of some sort.  As per tradition, I showered and put on a brand new pair of pyjamas and underwear and sat looking out the window facing the moon with a mirror in front of me.  Sarah combed my hair four times reciting four Chinese sayings:
一梳梳到尾 First combing, continuous from beginning till end, may you be together all your lives.
二梳百年好合 Second combing, may you have closeness and harmony in your marriage for a hundred years, till a ripe old age.
三梳子孙满堂 Third combing, may you fill your home with children and grandchildren.
四梳梳到四条银筍尽標齐 Fourth combing, may you enjoy abundant wealth together and an everlasting marriage.
{via here and here
{The red silk qua is the traditional Chinese wedding dress.  The groom also has a similar version complete with a hat but C passed on wearing one...}
To close the ritual we ate little round glutinous rice dumplings with sesame in a sweet syrup to symbolise a complete and sweet marriage.  I slept with the evergreen frond pinned to my hair which is to wish us an evergreen marriage.  

The Tea Ceremonies

In the olden days, the tea ceremony was the Chinese equivalent to the exchanging of vows.  Nowadays, it's still a significant part of Chinese weddings.   

The act of serving tea to your parents and family is a way for the couple to show respect and express your gratitude to them for all they have done bringing you up.  The couple serves tea to family members according to their generational rank.  By drinking the tea, the families showed they accept the couple into the family.  

During the tea presentation, the Good Luck Lady would say auspicious phrases to bless the newlyweds and the family members.  The sayings usually had something to do with wishing the couple a long and happy marriage and truckloads of children.  Wishing us loads of kiddies was kind of a theme for the day.  Just a wee bit scary that.

The sweet herbal tea symbolizes sweetness in the new union and the lotus seeds and red dates in the tea symbolize the hope that the couple will bear children quickly and continuously, as the Chinese words for lotus seed and dates sound like "children quickly" and "children continuously".   

We each presented a cup of tea to each relative, they drink the whole cup and then in return, present you with gifts in form of lei see (red envelopes with money) or jewellery.  

We had tea ceremonies for both C's family and my family.  A crash course intro to the weird and wacky world of Chinese traditions for C's family and a poignant and meaningful age-old ritual for mine.   There was lots of laughing and some crying, kneeling and bowing, and a marathon of tea drinking

In a quiet moment, we paid respect to my dad with kow tow and incense, silently sending love and gratitude and remembering all that he did for us and all the love he had for us.  Thanks dad, love you always.

And just as the sun was setting over the skyline, we headed off to our reception where a big fat Chinese banquet awaited us.  Hello 12 course meal...

Watch this space for the next wedding chapter: My Big Fat Chinese Banquet Reception


  1. I am loving these posts. I love learning about the traditions and you are absolutely gorgeous.

  2. so interesting to learn more about these traditions. your hubby should have worn the qua... Chinese people love it when non-Chinese people wear it! and these photos are beautiful. great photographer!

  3. Found myself smiling and nodding, smiling and nodding. Brings back memories of cousins' weddings - especially the tea ceremony. Your qua is gorgeous! Did you change into a cheongsam for the dinner? Can't wait for your next blog on the dinner banquet! :)

  4. This is beautiful, pictures and tradition. I have never seen or been to a wedding like this! Thank you for sharing all the details. I'm sure you'll cherish these forever.

  5. How beautiful of you to share your traditions with us! Everything looks so beautiful and sweet.

  6. Your post makes me think of my growing up years! I think we have the best of East and West with the kind of lives we have led. Thankful for it.

    Loving reading these posts and celebrating with you and Cam!

  7. i can't tell you Nessie how much i enjoyed reading your post. Have always adored east meets west weddings, the blend of two cultures lightens me. I have attended my thai friend wedding who has Chinese origin and she married a fin. It was almost like a dream princess wedding i see the same here. tea ceremony is such a way to express our respect for elders. During their wedding had one whole egg symbolising something for children...i'm not sure if it is similar to the dumplings you had. LoL for crash coarse you have made best use of the it, i see you have deeply you have gone into it. And you look beautiful lady :)

  8. Now I'm learning lots about the tea ceremony, seems like my cousins had them all figured.
    My Dad was born with Chinese parents and grew up in Indonesia. I was born with Korean mum and grew up in Indonesia. Chinese tradition is practically just eating dim sum and getting ang pao yearly for me. My dad couldn't be bothered to impose any Chinese thing on kids- it's good and bad. It's good to learn Chinese bits from here and there (Thanks).
    I love the idea of having tea... well cos it's my favourite chill-out drink.

    The second photo is a beaut!

  9. Lora: Aw thanks so much hun! I loved learning about the traditions too! We had amazing photogs and makeup artists :)

    jacksta: Thanks hun xox

    Donna: Hehe, he totally should have huh! If we had found one for him I would have definitely made him wear one, hat and all!!

    allsugarspice: The qua is my cousins and it was just stunning and so special to get to wear it! I stayed in the qua then back into white wedding gown for cake cutting and dance :) Thanks heaps for your lovely comment!!

    Mariko: Yay, stoked to have shown you something new! I've seen my cousins do the ceremony and have wanted to do it at my own wedding since! Just something a little different for my kiwi friends :)

    kita: Thanks heaps lovely! I just loved learning about all the symbolism - its loaded with symbols. And all seem to have something to do with having babies. Hmmmm :P

    bunnyeatsdesign: Thank you!!! xox

    Mel: It's like we get the best of both huh?! So cool. Where bouts in SEA did you grow up? Loved sharing it with you all :)

    Ananda Rajashekar: Aw thanks heaps Ananda! Hehe its really funny how everything seems to revolve around making sure we have busloads of kiddies huh?!? :)

    PFx: Wow you are lucky to have 4 cultures to draw from: Chinese, Korean, Indo, Kiwi :) I only really learnt the majority of the stuff for our was pretty cool getting to rediscover my roots - very special! Makes me wish I kept up my chinese side more like reading and writing you know? I thought it was sooo uncool as a kid. Second photo is one of my favs too. Very talented photogs :)

  10. What a beautiful ceremony. We see it all the time here, but when it is happening in a whole other country where Chinese is not the majority population, it is definitely impressive.

  11. Aww congratulations, everything looks beautiful! And the bit about your dad made me a bit teary. Wishing you lots of happiness :D

  12. Jun: You're so lucky to get to see it all the time - it's such a cool ceremony. I'd only ever watched it a couple of times before my own wedding so it's was pretty awesome getting to learn all bout what it all means! Thanks heaps for your lovely comment!

    teresa: Awwww thanks heaps lovely! Was really special to get to include dad in our day :)

  13. The wig looks so cute on you! And I like your outfit very much?




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