29.6.08

Traditional Chinese Wedding

In Chinese society, the wedding reception is known as xǐ-jǐu (喜酒, literally joyful wine), and is far more important than the wedding itself which tends to be a brief civil ceremony. The timing and the characteristics of the reception vary strongly from locale to locale. They are often extremely elaborate and expensive, often costing several years' salary of the groom's family. However, because cash in the form of red envelopes and jewelry (particularly gold) are given as wedding presents, and because the wedding hosts keep very careful track of the cost of the gifts (jewelry is given with a receipt which indicates the actual cost of the gift), the cost of the reception is effectively split among the wedding guests. Wedding receptions also build local community solidarity. As each couple weds, their wedding reception is in effect financed with gifts from the other members of the community with the expectation that the new couple and their family will give gifts in future wedding receptions within the village.

The amount of money contained in the envelope usually ends with an even digit, for instance 88, 168 are both lucky numbers, as odd numbered money gifts are traditionally associated with funerals. At weddings, the amount offered is usually intended to cover the cost of the attendees as well as a goodwill to the newly weds.

Role of the bride and bridegroom

1. Barricade the door
The bridegroom must pick up the bride at her home around noon. The banquet itself starts in the evening.

Upon arriving, the bridegroom's party will be barred by the bride's friends, who will not open the door and "surrender" the bride until they are given hong bao (red envelop of money). This is the occasion of much good-natured haggling before the two parties agree.

2. Serving tea
After the bridegroom enters the bride's house, the newlyweds together will kneel down to serve tea to the bride's parents.

The bride expresses her appreciation for her parents' care, and the bridegroom promises to take good care of their daughter.

3. Sweet soup
Then the couple will eat sweet soup made of lotus seeds (lianzi) and jujubes (hongzao). In Chinese, the combination of lotus seeds and jujubes means "having a son soon."

4. Leave the wealth
When the bride is about to leave her home, she will be carried on the back of her brother, cousin or uncle (a male relative, not her father). This signifies that by joining another family the bride will not take luck and wealth away from her parents' home.

5. Three bows
During the very important wedding ceremony, usually at the banquet, the couple bows three times: first to Heaven and Earth, then to their parents, finally to each other. Then they are really married.

6. Jiao bei jiu (union of wine cups)
The bridegroom and the bride each take a glass of wine and stand facing each other. Then, with their arms intertwined, they drink. This means the marriage has bonded the two tightly together.

7. Toasting and cigarette lighting
Everybody agrees this is the most tiring part of the wedding. The newlyweds must go to each table (of at least 10 people) and toast everyone to thank them for coming. More than one tipsy bride has toppled.

The bride must light cigarettes for all men present, because the word for "light" (yang) in Chinese sounds like the word for "luck." The idea is making it difficult to light, so the bride must keep trying and the guests must repeatedly use the word.

8. Nao dongfang (tease in the bridal chamber)
After the wedding banquet, which usually takes around three hours, the newlywed's relatives and friends crowd into the bridal chamber to tease the couple.

For guests, it is often the most fun, but can be difficult for the bride and bridegroom, especially since they have been drinking. The guests will come up with funny - and sometimes embarrassing - tricks, games or skits that the couple will perform in front of everyone.


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