Every culture and family has its own tradition. We’ve all been to a wedding that has something unique about it. This new wedding series looks at cultural traditions and their significance in different countries, including how they’re incorporated into weddings held here. We’re starting by looking at Chinese weddings in the UK and how they differ from traditional British weddings.

Symbolism sits at the heart of everything with a focus on bringing abundance and prosperity to the wedding. Weddings in China are bright, lavish affairs that are just as much about the bride and groom’s families as the couple getting married.

China breaks weddings down culturally into two parts – an intimate tea ceremony attended by the respective families and a banquet, like a wedding reception, for guests and extended family members.

Chinese weddings in the UK maintain this two-part structure, like how British families may hold a get-together before the big day.

Planning a Wedding in China

Not all cultures focus on the wedding day as the main event. Planning a Chinese wedding includes several highlights, from the betrothal to the hair combing ceremony and even a traditional tea ceremony. These traditions are still carried out by Chinese families in the UK today.

We’re breaking down each aspect of planning a Chinese wedding in the UK.

The Betrothal – Exchanging Gifts

The marriage betrothal is traditionally known as the ‘Guo Da Li’ and happens before the wedding ceremony itself. The groom will present the bride’s parents with a series of gifts.

It’s customary to present gifts that symbolise good fortune and prosperity, including gold jewellery, wine, tea leaves, and dragon candles. These gifs act as a formal proposal with the bride’s parents returning half of them as a sign of acceptance of the marriage proposal.

Setting the Date

Choosing the date for your wedding isn’t easy. It’s not uncommon for couples to choose various dates before finding one that works for them, their chosen venue, and their friends.

More thought goes into the process of choosing a Chinese wedding date. Most couples will choose to work with a Feng Shui master, fortune teller, or Chinese monk to find the perfect date.

Everything from the couple’s zodiac signs to the bride’s birthday will play a role in finding the right date for the wedding. The family may also want to choose a date that allows relatives in China to attend the wedding in the UK.

Choosing the Wedding Invitations

After choosing the wedding date, it’s time to decide on invitations. Your invitations are the first hint of the colour scheme or theme of your wedding. While invitations can be highly personalised, Chinese wedding invitations typically follow the same format.

Most invitations are red with gold lettering and feature a double happiness symbol. Red envelopes are given to the couple after the wedding and may be included in invitations for guests who are unfamiliar with Chinese wedding customs.

Couples celebrating a Chinese wedding in the UK may choose to include an add-on in their invitations describing the significance of Chinese traditions for guests.

The An Chuang – Marriage Bed

Two to three days before the wedding the marriage bed is prepared in a ceremony known as the ‘An Chuang’. Female relatives that are seen as having ‘good fortune’ will prepare the marriage bed with red beddings and foods that symbolise fertility and good wishes for a long marriage. Red dates, nuts, and dried fruits are traditionally used.

The marriage bed is then left untouched until the end of the wedding night. No one will sleep or sit on the bed until then. This tradition is still carried out for Chinese weddings in the UK.

The Ritual Hair Combing Ceremony

Another unique part of Chinese weddings is the hair combing ceremony that happens on the eve of the wedding. While most cultures separate the couple on the night before the wedding, extra care is taken by their respective entourages for Chinese weddings in the UK.

The bride will shower using pomelo leaves to cleanse her body of bad spirits before changing into new clothes, typically red, and sitting in front of a mirror or window. The groom will also be washed with pomelo leaves before putting on new clothes and sitting facing the interior of the house, away from the windows. 

The parents of the bride and groom will prepare the hair combing ceremony with red taper candles, scissors, incense, a hair comb, and red yarn. A blessing will be recited to the bride and groom as their hair is combed four times. A woman of good fortune from the bride and groom’s family will place red yarn and cypress leaves into their hair to finish the ceremony.

Chinese families are continuing this tradition for weddings hosted in the UK.

The Timeline of a Chinese Wedding in the UK

Weddings in the UK traditionally have a morning ceremony followed by an evening reception. Chinese weddings follow a different timeline, but still feature a reception, known as a banquet. Most Chinese weddings in the UK will stick to the typical Chinese structure.

Chinese Tea Ceremony

The first part of a Chinese wedding is a traditional tea ceremony. It’s the first chance for the couple to show their appreciation for their respective families. The Chinese tea ceremony can take place in one place or separately with the bride and groom in their respective homes.

The red symbolism appears again with a red tea set featuring a Double Happiness symbol. Black tea is served with the same ingredients used during the marriage bed ceremony.

Traditionally a bridesmaid will present the teacups to the couple who will serve it to their parents while bowing or kneeling. The groom’s family will be served before the bride’s. Between each sip of tea, the parents will present the couple with a red envelope to bless the union and welcome them into the family. The red envelope will usually contain gold jewellery or cash.

After serving the parents, the couple will move on to serve the grandparents, uncles, aunts, and any married older siblings. The groom’s family is once again served first before the bride’s. The order will be determined by age within each category.

Chinese weddings in the UK will typically feature the traditional tea ceremony at the family homes or a traditional Chinese restaurant.

Vows Exchange

While the exchange of vows is at the centre of British weddings, it’s more intimate in Chinese weddings in the UK. It’s typically only the couple’s intimate family who attend, either in front of a family altar or at a local government building.

A popular destination for this is the Chinatown District in Birmingham where the happy couple will typically travel in a local Birmingham wedding car hire to get to their ceremony and reception in style and make a grand entrance that will leave a lasting impression on their wedding guests.

Chinese weddings in the UK are starting to incorporate British traditions by swapping the private vow exchange for a ‘white wedding’ with invited guests. It’s up to the couple to decide which type of vow exchange they want, as both are followed by a wedding banquet.

Wedding Banquet

Western wedding receptions typically are a three-course affair. A similar event happens at Chinese weddings in the UK and is known as a banquet.

By comparison, it is typically hosted as an eight-course meal by the parents of the newly married couple. The food chosen is symbolic of unity, fertility, and peace. During the banquet, the bride will change into a traditional red wedding dress, known as a qipao. Chinese brides in the UK continue to wear the red qipao for their banquet.

A traditional toast is given to congratulate the groom at the end of the banquet with “yam seng” being declared.

After The Wedding

The couple is given a few days to recover after the wedding before the bride and groom will visit her family three days after the wedding. It symbolises the fact that the couple is now a family with the bride no longer considered to be part of her parent’s family. The bride’s family will traditionally host a mini banquet in their honour with the groom providing a roasted pig.

Traditions in Chinese Weddings

There are several traditions you’ll find in Chinese weddings in the UK that hold cultural significance. These traditions typically are designed to bring good fortune for a happy marriage.

Carrying the Bride

Brides in Chinese culture will be carried from their homes to the groom’s on an elaborate sedan chair. A ‘good luck’ woman will typically travel with the bride. Other attendants will hold parasols to protect the bride and toss rice as a sign of prosperity and health.

Bow and Arrow

It’s not unusual for a groom to be nervous in the run-up to their wedding. Chinese grooms have even more reason to be nervous. Husbands will traditionally shoot their bride with a bow, using headless arrows. The arrows are collected by the couple and broken during a traditional ceremony to symbolise never-ending love. This tradition is less common for Chinese weddings in the UK.

Red, Gold, and Double Happiness

Some symbols are eternally linked with marriage, whether it’s doves, roses, or church bells. Chinese culture puts red and gold at the forefront of its wedding planning. You’ll typically see the Double Happiness symbol across stationery and decorations for Chinese weddings in the UK.

 Other symbols that are significant in Chinese culture and appear at weddings include mandarin ducks, dragons, and phoenixes. A traditional wedding gift for brides is a 24-karat gold pig necklace as the animal is a symbol of fertility. This necklace will often make up part of the bride’s wedding jewellery.

Wedding Day Challenges

In almost every culture the bridesmaids will put the groom and his groomsmen through a tough time before the big day. Chinese weddings are no exception.

Bridesmaids will put the groom and his groomsmen through a tradition known as ‘wedding door games’. The groom will typically give the bridesmaids envelopes of money after passing a series of challenges. This tradition is occasionally incorporated into Chinese weddings in the UK.

Three Wedding Dresses

It’s not uncommon for brides in the UK to have two wedding dresses, one for the ceremony and another for the reception. Chinese brides in the UK take this to the next level with three dresses.

Brides typically wear a Western dress to walk down the aisle before changing into a traditional qipao for the banquet. There’s one outfit change into cocktail attire for the end of the night.

Exploring the wedding traditions of other cultures can give you ideas of how to make your wedding more unique. Would you incorporate any of these Chinese traditions into your wedding? Have you ever attended a Chinese wedding in the UK? Let us know in the comments below!

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