The Three Letters, Six Etiquettes – Hold a traditional wedding both impressive and unforgettable.
1. Wedding Gifts Presentation
The Wedding Gifts Set consists of Dragon and Phoenix Wedding Pastries, Chinese Bridal Cakes, Gift Money (Bride Price) and other gifts. All must be in even number or in pairs, giving an auspicious meaning. Bridal Cakes are an integral part of the Wedding Gift Presentation, and distributing Bridal Cakes is a long-held tradition. However, nowadays, most couples choose to send Chinese Bridal Cakes Gift Certificates with the Invitation Cards to their relatives and friends. Amongst all the Chinese Bridal Cakes required for the wedding, the Dragon and Phoenix Wedding Pastries bear special meanings and functions during the ceremony. Two sets of Dragon and Phoenix Wedding Pastries are required, one for the bride and one for the groom, they are to be used during the Hair Dressing Ritual and pay tribute to ancestors, blessing the couple in love and live harmoniously forever.
2. Hair Dressing & Reception
The ceremony is carried out on both the groom and the bride in the early morning or the night before the wedding day. It is a ritual that represents the couple’s transition into adulthood. The groom's hair will be taken care of by the senior male relative of his family, who live in harmony and enjoys good health, while the bride's hair will be tidied up with a comb and tied into a bun that is the specific hairstyle for married women, by the senior female relative of her family, who live in harmony and enjoys good health. It is customary that the hair-dressing ceremony for the bride should be carried out at a desk facing a window with a view to the moon, while the groom's ceremony should be carried out about half an hour before the bride's. Before the ceremony, the couple should take a bath with pomelo leaves and change into new pajamas.
During the ceremony, a pair of candles with dragon and phoenix pattern and incense should be lit, and three bowls each containing six or nine lotus seeds, Chinese dried jujube, and sweet rice dumplings, fruits, as well as barbecued pork and chicken should be placed on the desk; the numbers involved in these arrangements all symbolize longevity of the marriage. Other “props” required for the ceremony includes rulers, mirror and scissors for dressing the bride's hair, each contains special auspicious meaning of blessings to the bride, and the elderly relatives doing the honours would chant blessings of good wishes and prosperity while dressing the hair, and it is believed that by doing so, they will pass on some of their good luck to the bride and groom.
Reception at the Wedding Door
The climax of the wedding is when the groom and groomsmen arrives at the bride's home to pick up the bride. The groom’s side would “bribe" the bridesmaids with lucky money in red packet in order to get through the “wedding door" and take the bride away from her original household. When the groom crosses the threshold, the bridesmaids will bring the bride to her father so that the father-of-the-bride can give her away. After the groom and bride greet each other, they have to bow to the Heaven and the Earth, their ancestors and then serve tea to the bride's parents. At this time, the bride should also prepare three red packets, which symbolize the prosperity of her relatives, her respect for the ancestors and her ability to bring forth many descendants respectively, for the new mother-in-law awaiting for her arrival at the groom’s house.
3. Return & Dowry
The Returning Gift – After receiving the Wedding Gifts from the groom's family, the bride's family will show their gratitude and agreement through the ritual of Returning Gift. Usually, the bride's family will accept half of the Wedding Gifts presented by the groom's family. It is necessary that the Returning Gift must consist of tea, fruits, as well as a pair of lotus root, taro, and pomegranate. The bride's family also has to include sufficient Celebration Curtain Cloth for members of the groom's family.
There should also be gifts from the bride's family with blessing for the couple's persisting happiness and prosperity in marriage – a new suit or materials for their new son-in-law, a belt, two pairs of socks and a pair of shoes, symbolizing the couple's long-lasting union in marriage; as well as a purse containing some coins symbolizing sufficient wealth. Furthermore, other items such as Cypress, of which the leaves never fall, Ginger, Tea, Cakes, Crispies and Areca Fruit should also be included in the Returning Gift. The bride's family should also return two Red Pocket Money to the Groom’s family with wishes of “wholeness of the entire family” and “abundance of descendants” written on the packets. Wedding rituals such as transfer of dowry, hair-dressing for the bride and groom, reception for the groom at the wedding door, as well as departure, arrival and return of the bride are still being practiced nowadays.
Dowry – The bride's dowry must be sent to the groom's family at least one day before the wedding ceremony. The dowry represents the wealth and prosperity of the bride's family, therefore it should include jewelries and beddings and pillows embroidered with dragon and phoenix, pairs of chopsticks and bowls that symbolize wealth and the family's blessings for the marriage. Cantonese families like to give brides a chest made of camphor wood due to its durability and auspicious meanings.
4. Other Gifts
Dried seafood – Dried Seafood is available in packs of 4 sets, 6 sets and 8 sets, depending on the budget and size of family. The seafood packs may include an assortment of abalone, dried oyster, dried scallop, mushroom, dried shrimp, dried squid, sea cucumber, shark fin, fish maw etc, with Fat Choy being the dominant content of the pack for it represent prosperity. Custom dictates that the dried seafood must be presented in 2 packs, hence the auspicious pairs, 3 Animal Sacrifice: 4 chickens, including 2 cocks and 2 hens. If both parents are still alive, use two pairs. If not, a pair will be fine. 3-5 catties of pork slightly sliced in half, but both sides should still be attached to reflect the auspicious meaning of “pairs”. Fish: With a Chinese meaning of happiness and joy. “Big fish” or Grass Carp are usually used. Wine: 4 bottles of imported wines and rice wine. Coconut: Taking the meaning of having offspring. If both parents are still alive, two pairs of coconut are used. If not, only one pair is needed. 4 Jing Guo: Fruits, dried dragon eyes, dried lychees, dried walnuts, and in-shell peanuts. Oil, Sesame and Tea as Gift: It represent wishes of a truthful and loyal marriage for the couple, also implying that the bride will keep her vows.
5. Bridal Cake & Cash Box
Bridal Cake – Quantity of Bridal Cake for distribution depends on how closely related the recipients are to the bride’s family. The Bridal Cakes are usually distributed in numbers of 4, 6 or 8 cakes, always in the even numbers for its auspicious meaning of “pairs”. According to tradition, if only 2 cakes were distributed to a family, it means the couple does not intend to invite them to the wedding banquet. There are about 30 to 40 varieties of Chinese Bridal Cake. The most popular ones are: Chinese Century Egg Pastry, Lotus Seed Paste Pastry, Mung Bean Paste Pastry, Walnut Cookie, Assorted Nuts Pastry, Lotus Seed Paste Cake. Chinese Bridal Cakes are sold in units of dan (equals to 100 catties) and each catty (equals to 4 pieces). Depending on budget and quantity required, couples nowadays typically order 50 catties (about 30 kg)to one dan (about 60 kg) of cakes. Apart from distributing the Bridal Cakes, the lesser-known Great Grandmother Cake is also being distributed. If the bride’s grandparents are still alive, the groom would buy extra 10 to 20 catties of bridal cakes as a gesture of sincerity and respect for the elderly. The elderly will distribute the cakes to share the joy, so we call it Great Grandmother Cake.
Cash Box – Money Box should not be omitted in the Wedding Gift Presentation. The box contains Lotus Seeds, Lily, Betel Pepper, Cypress, 2 pairs of Areca Nuts, Sesame, Red Bean, Green Bean, Chinese Dried Jujube, Dried Walnut and Dried Dragon Eye; all in quantities of even numbers. Red threads, red packets, wedding money, and jewelry etc. should also be placed in the Money Box. The Groom also needs to prepare a pair of Dragon Phoenix Wedding Candle and couplet.
6. Departure, Arrival & Return
Departure of the Bride – Bridesmaids will hold a red umbrella over the bride as she leaves the “wedding door", which symbolizes the extension of her family's tree. The umbrella also serves to protect the bride from the attack of the “mythical golden chicken”. As the bride walk to the wedding vehicle, the bridesmaids will also keep casting red beans, green beans and rice towards the air and above the red umbrella to “distract the golden chicken”. Escorted by the bridesmaids, the bride should also bow and speak words of gratitude before getting onto the vehicle.
Arrival of the Bride – This is the time when the newly arrived bride meets other members of the groom's family. Again, the new couple should show their respect by bowing to the Heaven and the Earth, their ancestors and kneel down to serve tea to their parents. Upon the delivery of their blessings, the groom's parents will present the couple with red packets and give jewelries or gifts to the bride. The bride must wear everything given to her immediately to show her gratitude. Afterwards, the couple should serve tea to other senior relatives before lunch. The groom's parents should prepare nine dishes for lunch, since the pronunciation of number “nine" is similar to that of the Chinese word which means long-lasting. Three days after the wedding ceremony, the newly wedded couple should return to the bride's home with a whole roasted pig that signifies the bride’s chastity, together with wine, chicken, cakes, fruits, egg E-fu noodles, pork tripe and pork etc. The bride's family will reward the groom with gifts that is worth half of what he bought. However, many people choose to simplify this procedure nowadays and have the bride return home on the wedding day in the afternoon before the banquet begins in the evening. May all lovers have a happy wedding and harmonious union.