A Pedacito of A Chinese Wedding
Updated: May 13, 2021
The day finally arrived when my little brother was to be married. We had both been living in Harbin, China, as English teachers, but my brother had been living there for a year before I arrived, which was enough time to meet and fall in love with a lovely Chinese girl whom I now call sister.
Wedding ceremonies throughout the world are steeped in rich traditions that reflect the culture and beliefs of the people getting married. What feels like natural steps to the marriage process to us might look strange to people from another country. This was my and my brother’s experience with his traditional Chinese wedding ceremony.
The first thing one may notice about a Chinese wedding is the overwhelming use of the colors red and gold. Red is linked to love, success, happiness, prosperity, luck, fertility, honor, and loyalty, while gold is a symbol of wealth. These two colors are represented in the invitations, clothes, and decorations.
I was surprised to find that the actual exchange of vows wasn’t a huge deal. My brother and his fiance were ushered into a small room along with the immediate family members, where they briefly exchanged vows in both Chinese and English and paid respects to both family’s ancestors.
However, just because the exchanging of vows was short didn’t mean that the wedding was short, as multiple traditions and ceremonies were followed before and after the wedding.
My absolute favorite tradition (because it embarrassed my brother) was the one where the groom must arrive at the home of the bride and pass several “tests” before he is allowed to see her.
My poor brother was required to bang repeatedly on the door while his future bride’s friends and family forced him to sing songs, answer trivia questions, and beg for his bride’s hand.
Other ceremonies before the wedding included a special tea ceremony involving the two families, a comb ceremony, and an exchange of gifts and money between both families. I can tell you that my parents were taken aback by the importance and respect that was placed on them throughout the ceremony. Traditional western ceremonies place less importance on the parents of the couple getting married.
After the exchanging of vows came the reception. Unlike the intimacy of the previous ceremonies, this was a grand affair. Hundreds of guests attended, each one bringing with them a red envelope. Inside the red envelope was money for the newlyweds. The names and amounts of money given were recorded in a book.
I found out later that the reason for this was so that if the bride and groom were ever to attend the wedding of one of the guests, they are expected to give more money to the guest than was given to them.
Another ceremony involving red envelopes filled with money was carried out by my parents. Much to the amusement of the westerners who were present, my parents had to get in front of all the other guests and present a red envelope to my brother and his new wife. They also had to let all of the guests know exactly how much money they were giving.
The rest of the reception began to feel more familiar. A traditional eight-course dinner was presented to everyone, toasts were made, and dancing into the early morning hours ensued. The whole wedding from start to finish lasted about twelve hours.
I consider myself lucky to have been able to experience a traditional Chinese wedding. Had my brother not married a Chinese girl, I’m not sure I would have ever had another chance. Although there are obvious differences between eastern and western weddings, I found the basics to be the same. Regardless of where you live, weddings center around love, family, and hopes for a brighter future.
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