Tying the knot: what to expect at a traditional Chinese wedding

For those who opt for the traditional format, there are many pre-ceremony rituals aimed at bringing luck to the marriage and encouraging prosperity within the family

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 October, 2016, 12:04pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 October, 2016, 3:16pm

A traditional Chinese marriage ceremony involves not only the bride and groom but often their entire extended family and friends. For those who opt for the traditional format, there are many pre-ceremony rituals aimed at bringing luck to the marriage and encouraging prosperity within the family.

Bridewealth or betrothal gifts

Before planning the wedding, the groom’s family sends an elaborate array of cakes, food and religious items as wedding gifts to the bride’s family as bridewealth or betrothal gifts. The two families then select a wedding day according to the lunar calendar to ensure good fortune for the couple.

Combing the bride

The night before the wedding, a special ritual is performed at home. The couple are not allowed to see each other on that day. The ritual is usually conducted by elderly women or the mother of the bride, who combs the bride’s hair with a wooden comb.

The bride’s red dress

On the wedding day, certain rituals involving friends and acquaintances are followed by the families before the ceremony. The day begins at the bride’s home, with the groom and his friends expected to arrive early in the morning. But before he can see his bride, the bridesmaids and family may play pranks on them and demand money in the form of lai see. It is believed the groom must go through all these challenges to prove his worth and win his wife.

‘Double happiness’

The bride and groom’s home will usually be decorated with red calligraphy, including the Chinese character “double happiness”, which is a symbol of marriage.

The tea ceremony

After he is allowed to meet the bride, the couple will travel to the groom’s home to conduct the “tea ceremony”. The couple kneel down in front of their parents and relatives, then serve them Chinese tea in order of seniority to express their gratitude. In return, the parents and relatives give them lai see and their blessings.

Wedding ceremony

The couple then proceed to the ceremony, either in a church or registry office, to which family members and friends are invited. Brides will often select a more traditionally Western white wedding gown for this procedure. The couple sign the marriage certificate in front of a lawyer or priest.

Wedding banquet

Normally held at night in Chinese restaurants or hotels, The wedding is seen as an opportunity for distant relatives on both sides to meet. There could be as many as 400 guests. During the dinner, guests will sometimes be invited to watch a video or slideshow showing the couple’s journey in life. The bride will usually wear a red Chinese wedding dress or cocktail dress for the evening and it is common that she will change several times during the night.

Suckling pork

Traditional Cantonese food is served at the banquet and guests can expect at least eight courses in the banquet, often including suckling pork, chicken and fresh fish. For some more luxurious menus, there may be lobster or even shark fin soup. Wine and brandy are commonly served.

Red packet

Guests are expected to give about HK$500 for a restaurant event and HK$1,000 for a hotel wedding in the form of lai see at the dinner reception. The newlyweds often give out sweet favours, such as chocolates, before their guests go home.

Getting ready

Before the wedding day, couples will normally create a pre-wedding album with pictures posed at a variety of locations to be showcased on the day of the ceremony. In Hong Kong, favourite photo locations include Victoria Peak Garden, Kowloon Park in Tsim Sha Tsui and the beach at Shek O.

Going the distance

The number of marriages among Hongkongers has generally been falling in recent years, while the divorce rate has been rising, in line with international trends. According to census figures, 2013 saw 28,837 weddings between Hong Kong residents, down from 32,523 the year before. In the same year, the number of weddings between Hong Kong men and mainland women also fell from 16,930 to 15,737, but the number of Hong Kong women marrying mainland men rose marginally, from 4,930 to 5,293.