The Chinese Wedding is considered to be one of the three most important ceremonies of life; the other two are birth and death.
The Chinese Pre-Wedding customs and rituals of traditional Chinese weddings were originally found in the Book of Rites, the Book of Etiquette and Ceremonies, and the Bai Hu Tong. The three books are now condensed into a series of written documents and known as the Three Letters and Six Rites. A traditional Chinese wedding that includes all of the six rites is therefore considered to be a complete wedding.
The Six Rites are:
- The Formal Proposal
- Presenting the eight characters of the bride to be to her prospective groom’s side of the family.
- The eight characters being placed at the ancestral altar to ensure the couple’s compatibility.
- Betrothal gifts sent to the bride to be, she in turn sends gifts to the prospective groom.
- The selection of the wedding date.
- The wedding ceremony.
The Steps to a Successful Wedding
The Selection of the Most Auspicious Dates
The first step to having a successful wedding in China is the selection process to find the most suitable date. A date will be selected on a combination of the birth dates, time of birth and ages of the prospective couple. Other factors to consider on the Chinese calendar are lucky or prosperous days. Even numbers are usually preferred and for many Chinese couple’s the preferred time is close to the Chinese New Year or Spring Festival, when families are gathered together, everyone is happy and good luck is abundant.
Once the date is selected, the next detail to be decided is the type and quantity of all the gifts, such as betrothal gifts, reciprocal gifts, the price the groom must pay for the bride, and the number of guests and tables needed at the wedding banquet.
Betrothal, Exchanging Gifts and a Dowry
The exchange of gifts will begin with the family of the groom presenting their gifts to the bride’s family up to three months before the wedding; this symbolizes both good luck and prosperity. Another important ritual is the ‘bride price’ the dowry paid to the family of the bride, inside a red envelope. The family of the groom receives gifts from the family of the bride. The bride will also receive a dowry from her parents.
The gifts that are given are usually presented in pairs to represent a couple. Food items can be wine, tea or oranges. Jewelry given to the bride may be earrings, bracelets, rings and necklaces of gold. Traditions in some areas also include dates and peanuts. In the Chinese language date is close to the word for ‘early’ and peanut for ‘birth’. The dates and peanuts are a blessing for the birth of a child within the first year or two of the marriage.
The ‘bride price’ the dowry given to the bride’s family varies from one region to another. Traditionally it is much higher in the south of the country. Once the exchanging of gifts and the dowry had been paid the date of the wedding is announced, invitations are written and distributed within two weeks of the wedding ceremony taking place.
The Bride’s Gift from her Parents
A few days before the wedding ceremony the bride may be given gifts from her parents, these gifts will include bedding, new clothes delivered in a suitcase, a tea set for the wedding ceremony and a tub filled with items for a baby. Other gifts include a sewing basket and gold jewelry.
The houses of the bride and groom as well as the venue for the wedding banquet will be decorated with paper cutouts known as ‘double happiness’. These cutouts will be pairs of ducks, dragons or phoenix. Red paper decorations will be hung around the doors to announce the wedding.