Traditional Wedding Customs
Traditional Chinese wedding customs are very different from those of modern China.
Selecting auspicious dates
Auspicious dates are required for the wedding, the betrothal and the installation of the bridal bed. A Chinese monk, a temple official or a fortune teller are able to advise on a suitable date based on the couple's birth dates and times. Some may also refer to the Chinese calendar or almanac for good days. Usually, even numbered months and dates are preferred, and the seventh month is avoided as it is the month of the Hungry Ghost Festival.
After the selection of the auspicious date, wedding details such as types and quantities of gifts, clothing and number of tables at the wedding banquet provided by the groom's parents or the bride's parents are decided on.
Up to a month and at least three days before the wedding day, the groom and a friend or a matchmaker will deliver the betrothal gifts on the auspicious date chosen.
Western and Chinese wedding cakes and peanut candies, together with two bottles of brandy, at least six tins of canned pork legs and an even number of oranges are included in the wedding gift baskets. Two pairs of dragon and phoenix candles are also included. Also included is gold jewellery from the groom's parents to the bride, such as the Cantonese Dragon and phoenix bangle or the four items of gold.
Some include the bride's price with the betrothal gifts, whereas some will only present it when the groom fetches the bride.
As for the 'return gifts', the 2 bottles of brandy will be replaced with 2 bottles of orange syrup. An even numbered portion of all the other gifts are returned to the groom's family together with the 2 phoenix candles. The bride's side will light the 2 dragon candles and the groom's side the phoenix candles on the morning of the wedding day.
Some hokkien families will also ask for a bunch of bananas and red dates to be included in the return gifts. A red packet for the groom's parents to buy shoes is required. The bride will also present towels to the parents, grandparents, aunt, uncles and groom's siblings.
After the betrothal, the Chinese wedding invitations are distributed.
Delivery of the bride's dowry
The bride's parents may include the bride's dowry with the return gifts on the day of the betrothal or deliver the dowry a few days before the wedding. The Chinese dowry typically include:
- bedding such as pillows, pillow bolsters, comforter set, blankets, bed sheets, etc., all tied with red ribbons
- new clothes in a suitcase for the bride (in the past, wardrobes or wooden wedding chests were used.);
- tea set for the wedding tea ceremony;
- baby bathtub, potty, face washbasin, toothpaste and toothbrushes, mirror, comb;
- two pairs of red wooden clogs, wedding slippers or bedroom slippers;
- sewing basket with even numbered rolls of colourful thread, needles, pincushion, scissors, and sewing wax with auspicious words on it;
- gold jewellery given by the bride's parents.
Installing the bridal bed
To bring good fortune, a woman will install the bridal bed in the bridal room up to 12 days before the wedding day on another auspicious date. New red or pink bedsheets are used and a plate of dried longans, lotus seeds, red dates, persimmons, a sprig of pomegranate leaves together with 2 red packets are placed on the bed. A pair of bedside lamps are lit to symbolise the wish to add sons to the family.
Hair combing ceremony
For good fortune, women will conduct this ceremony for the bride and groom in their respective homes the night before the Chinese wedding. After showering with water infused with pomelo or pomegranate leaves, the bride and groom will change into a new set of clothing and shoes. The women will bless them aloud as they sit in front of an open window with a visible moon or in front of the mirror.
The four blessings are:
一梳、梳到尾(First combing, be blessed to be together)
二梳、百年好合(Second combing, for harmony in marriage)
三梳、子孫滿堂(Third combing, be blessed with many children and grandchildren)
四梳、白發齊眉(Fourth combing, be blessed with longevity.)
Sweet pink rice ball soup is served after the hair combing ceremony to wish the couple a complete and sweet marriage.
Chinese wedding decorations
Double joy stickers are placed on all wedding items such as the betrothal gifts, dowry, the couple's toiletries and cosmetics. The bridal room furniture, especially the mirror and cupboards, are also decorated with double joy or other wedding paper cutouts such as pairs of mandarin ducks, dragons and phoenixes, etc. Similar red wedding paper cutouts will also be put up on the main door, bridal room door and generally around the house.
A red banner will be hung across the front doors of the two household to announce the joyous event.