While the ceremony itself was often quite an intimate affair, the banquets that followed were lavish events and an opportunity to flaunt the wealth of the couple’s respective families. The color red features prominently in Chinese weddings with its links to success, fertility and loyalty, while gold is also prevalent for being symbolic of wealth.
Modern Chinese brides and grooms have incorporated many western elements into their wedding celebrations but many opt to include certain rituals or ceremonies that reflect their roots. From playing games before handing over the bride to tea ceremonies in respect of the couple’s elders, here are some of the most popular Chinese wedding day traditions.
For couples of the Catholic faith, their wedding day is an opportunity to share their love with family and friends, whilst recognizing their God, religion, and the role it will play in their marriage.
In traditional Chinese custom, the wedding celebrations officially begin with the collecting of the bride, with the groom leading a procession through the streets to his future bride’s home. Firecrackers and gongs were an essential part of the procession to help ward off evil spirits, while a young child often accompanied the groom to symbolize their future offspring. Participants would carry lanterns and banners, with a dancing lion bringing up the rear of the procession.
When the groom finally arrives at his future bride’s house, she’s not handed over without a significant amount of haggling from the bride’s friends. In some cases he might be required to perform certain tasks requested by them, but in most cases it’s red packets of money that they require before surrendering the bride, at which point she departs with the groom for his family’s home.
After being carried to the groom’s house on a sedan chair, the bride would step onto a red mat placed in front of the entrance so her feet don’t have to touch the ground. Firecrackers would be set off to signal their arrival and sometimes the bride would be required to step over a smoking stove that symbolized the casting out of evil influences.
While in western tradition the wedding ceremony is considered the “main event”, in Chinese culture it is a simple event in which the bride and groom exchange vows, often at a government office. After signing the official paperwork, they might then have an intimate ceremony in front of the family altar where they pay their respects to heaven, earth, the family ancestors and particular deities. The ceremony concludes with the couple bowing towards one another and the knot is tied!
Traditionally taking place after the wedding ceremony or sometimes the following day, the tea ceremony is an integral part of Chinese wedding tradition and something that many couples opt to incorporate into modern-day wedding celebrations.
The couple serve tea containing two lotus seeds or two red dates to the groom’s family, beginning with the parents, then proceeding from the eldest to youngest family members. In modern celebrations, tea is also served to the bride’s family in a similar show of respect. In exchange, the couple receive lucky red envelopes known as lai see that are filled with money or jewelry.
In traditional custom, the bride and groom’s family would host separate banquet feasts, with the celebrations spanning several days. But in recent years, many families have opted to host joint banquets that are lavish affairs, with the amount of food served (and leftovers) being a sign of their wealth. Dishes heavy in symbolism are usually served, including whole fish that represents a wish for abundance and sweet lotus seeds that represent a desire for many children.
On arrival, guests traditionally offer red envelopes filled with money and the amount is recorded by an attendant so the newlyweds know who gave what. In Chinese tradition, when they attend weddings of their guests, they will be expected to gift an amount of money that is higher than what they received.
Chinese brides are known for their multiple outfit changes, with many opting to wear a western-style white dress during their ceremony but also a qi pao during the tea ceremony or at some point during the reception. It’s also quite common for the bride to change multiple times during the course of the banquet.
Many Chinese couples also prepare their wedding album before the actual event, having portraits taken in multiple outfits around their city and displayed during the banquet.
The day after the banquet sees the bride formally introduced to the groom’s side of the family, with it expected that she kneel in front of older relatives. It’s at this time that she would traditionally receive a small gift and a new title that reflects her standing in the family in relation to her husband’s seniority.
Three days after the wedding the couple would visit the bride’s family home, at which point she would now be considered a guest in her former house.
• From the color red to the dishes served at banquets, Chinese weddings are filled with symbolism that reflects long-established cultural traditions.
• Chinese banquets are often lavish events, with glamorous decor and dance performances that we love to capture so you can remember them for many years to come.
• We know that Chinese weddings are imbued with a respect for elders and love to document these moments throughout your special day.
We know that Chinese weddings are often large affairs, so we always bring a team of photographers to ensure we capture every single moment and all the dance floor action.
We always have a meeting with our couples before their wedding day to ensure we understand all of the cultural elements they have selected for their Chinese wedding and are ready to capture them creatively.
From bridesmaids playfully refusing to let the groom take his bride to emotional reception speeches, we know that Chinese weddings are filled with emotion that we love to document through beautiful images.
We know that the bridal attire of Chinese weddings reflects your cultural heritage and will capture stunning portraits of you, no matter how many outfit changes!
• We recommend you decide which Chinese wedding rituals are most important to you and your family, then chat with a wedding planner about how to best incorporate them with the western traditions you want.
• Because Chinese weddings often feature hundreds of wedding guests, we highly recommend you hire a wedding planner to take care of all the logistical details, ensuring things run as smoothly as possible so you can really enjoy the day.
• Make sure you let your photographer know which Chinese cultural elements you are going to include so they can be in the right place at the right time to capture them.