A few years ago, my Chinese friend, whose English name also happens to be Ashley, served as a bridesmaid in China. One of the first things I noticed in the photographs was that she was wearing a corsage similar to what you typically see on groomsmen in the west. Even more curious was that it had the title “Bridesmaid” on it. Ashley then found herself smothered in my questions. I soon discovered that “title tags” are not alone when it comes to the unique things a foreigner 老外 (lǎowài) can expect at a Chinese wedding. Here are a few Chinese Wedding Traditions that you may find as interesting as I did:
In the west, many brides change into a “going away” dress toward the end of the celebration. It is not uncommon, however, for a Chinese bride to showcase three dresses on her big day. My favorite is the red traditional Chinese dress called 婚纱 (hūn shā), which a Chinese bride will show off first. The next gown is a nod to the west, a white princess gown. Finally, she will put on her party dress to end the evening. Every dress is stunningly accessorized, and makeup is usually applied by a professional. Interestingly, Chinese are not superstitious of the groom seeing his bride in her dress beforehand.
The Ceremony is perhaps the most significant differences between east and west. There is no fanfare at a church. Usually, the couple “registers” their marriage before the date of the banquet. The couple’s registration is often a solemn occasion attended by family and close friends. The 喜酒 (xǐ jiǔ) reception comes later.
Noticeably absent from the reception is the endless photography session all western weddings entertain. In my opinion, the Chinese have it right. Your wedding banquet will no doubt be the most expensive party you throw in your life, enjoy it. Take only a few memorable photos on the big day instead. The bulk of the wedding photos, called 婚纱摄影 (hūn shā shè yǐng), are usually finished two or three months in advance of a Chinese wedding banquet.
Red Envelopes & Superstitions
Evan, another Chinese friend of mine, discussed red envelopes (红包, hóng bāo) with me at length. Instead of “gift registries,” Chinese give money-filled red envelopes as wedding gifts.
Many Chinese people are superstitious about the number four (四, sì) because it is a homophone for the word death: 死 (sǐ). Thus, many Chinese do not appreciate being given money in any amount with the number four in it. Conversely, many see the numbers six and eight as auspicious.
In the west, the bride’s parents will typically pay for the wedding, not so in the east. The cost of the wedding, and often the couple’s first home, is the responsibility of the groom’s family. The red envelopes are used to offset these costs.
Traditionally, reciprocity is considered a way to build and maintain friendships. Thus, it is not uncommon for Chinese people to keep a list of the amounts they received for their wedding. In this way, they can be sure to give at least that much when the giver or their child wed.
Don’t expect a garter toss at a Chinese wedding. What you may encounter, however, is a broccoli toss. Yes, I said broccoli. Yes, the vegetable. The Broccoli toss is becoming increasingly popular. Instead of being the next to marry, the belief is that as the broccoli has many stalks, you will have many children. Others think it means you will have good health. Flowers often adorn the broccoli, and many couples include a pack of mayonnaise.
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