Chinese customs or western customs? This is in fact the key consideration in deciding on the ‘wedding’ you would like so don’t just opt for the obvious without a little research. Ask yourself what will suit the kind of ceremony and reception you want and then know about the pre-wedding customs…..It is that simple!
Of course, for me, I shall choose the Chinese wedding because I AM a Chinese. So a western custom might sound a bit bleak in the middle of preparing a wedding.
Also I don’t want to track how many mistakes I will be making at the end of my wedding reception or having one less thing to tick off my list. So Chinese customs it is!
For most, the “Three Letters and Six Etiquettes” in a Chinese customs basically refers to the necessary steps that the Chinese follow in traditional Chinese Pre-Wedding Customs before they kick off an engagement.
So off I went to do a little fact-finding on the subject and with all the interesting information I stumbled upon, decided to compile and share them here for all you curious minds.
Back in the days where a boy or a girl is at a proper age to get married, or have reached a marriageable age, his or her family will go through a matchmaker to go through or negotiate.
The groom sends the matchmaker to the bride’s house with gifts. There are usually around 30 different items that signify different things.
One of the more unique gift is a pair of live swan geese because they pair monogamously and they have only one partner in their entire life. Even when one partner dies, the surviving bird will not mate again.
When the potential bride receives the items sent by the potential groom, she will then decide whether or not she accepts the proposal. Sometimes the bride’s family will decide on behalf of the bride but in modern days, it is the girl who has the most say in her own marriage considering she will have dated that boy for some time.
Birth Date Matching
The families will take the boy and the girl birth date and time to a fortune teller or a Chinese monk, or a temple official and calculate to see if they are heaven’s match. So basically at this stage, they are checking if the heaven approves of their marriage.
And if their birth dates and times do match, the fortune teller will then advise on a suitable date based on the couple’s eight characters.
He will usually refer to the Chinese calendar or almanac for good days. Usually, even numbered months and dates are preferred, and the lunar seventh month is avoided as it is the month of the Hungry Ghost Festival.
The third etiquette also signifies the giving of the first letter “The Betrothal Letter” and the betrothal gifts.
The groom’s family will decide on the bride’s price, that is a sum of money given to the bride’s family, types and quantities of betrothal gifts (usually in even number for the meaning of “in pairs”) and number of tables at the wedding banquet provided by the groom’s family.
Once the two families agree on the betrothal, a wedding is announced and invitations are distributed to friends and relatives, usually around three weeks before the wedding ceremony.
Presenting the Wedding Gifts
In this step the groom’s family will send all the gifts to the bride’s home with the second letter “The Gift Letter”. There is an elaborate array of gifts and each gift signifies something auspicious.
This step is a very important step in the Chinese pre-wedding custom because it signifies the bride family’s pledge to the groom’s family. The bride’s family will then have to return the gifts (known as reciprocal gifts).
This is to thank the groom’s family so they return half of the gifts to them and they will also give them some other items. Some brides will personally sew clothing or shoes to the grooms as gifts.
The betrothal gifts may include money, gold jewellery, fruits, wedding cakes and peanut candies, and two pairs of dragon and phoenix candles. These gifts will be delivered at least three days (or up to a month) before the wedding day.
Traditionally these gifts from the groom’s family serve to acknowledge the bride’s parents’ efforts in raising the girl.
Arranging the Marriage
The two families will arrange a wedding date according to the Tung Shing (Chinese Almanac) for an auspicious day. “Double joy” stickers will be placed on all wedding items such as betrothal gifts and dowry.
The bridal room furniture, especially the mirror and cupboards, will also have “double joy” stickers and other wedding paper cutouts such as pairs of mandarin ducks, dragon and phoenix, etc.
Similar red wedding paper cutouts will also be put up on the main door, bridal room door and generally around the house.
The Wedding Ceremony
Since the sixth etiquette incorporates what they call the “actual wedding day”, it is the day when the couple officially becomes husband and wife. On that day, the groom will come to the bride’s home to give them “The Wedding Letter”.
The groom picks up the bride and then goes to the wedding custom at the groom’s house. There, they will have a tea ceremony follows by light refreshment and a wedding dinner.
The bride returns home with the groom after the wedding dinner. On the third day following the wedding, the newlywed bride will return to her family home with her new husband.
A whole roast pig is presented to the bride’s family as a sign of the newlywed bride’s virginity. The newlywed bride’s family will then keep the pig’s body and return the pig’s head and legs, along with other gifts to her new husband.
Oh my! Talk about Chinese customs…