The custom of setting up the matromonial bed or "An Chuang" is considered an important aspect of traditional Chinese wedding prep.
It's a ceremony whereby the bed is decorated and set up for the wedding day – newlyweds spend their first night as a married couple on the bed. This practice symbolises a harmonious marriage as well as the blessing of the couple to produce many offspring after marriage.
In the past, Chinese folks referred to the almanac calender for the most auspicious date and time, and the ceremony usually took place between three days to one week before the wedding. These days though, modern Chinese families aren't as strict in following the auspicious timing due to busy schedules. The installation of the bed can take place at one of these venues: the bride’s home, the groom’s home or the couple’s new home. (Find out the auspicious dates for weddings in 2018!)
It's often recommended that a woman of ‘good fortune’ should do the honour of setting up the bed - one whose husband and children are all alive, and has grandchildren. For Teochews and Hokkiens, the setting up is preferably performed by the groom’s parents or grandparents. Therefore, if the groom’s mother or grandmother fits the bill, then they'll be first on the list. This also means that they can pass their good luck and fertility to the couple. Other family members are welcome to join in on the ceremony.
Following that, the new bed has to be tilted slightly at an angle to represent the positioning of the nuptial bed, which will only be shifted back on the wedding day. For Cantonese beliefs, the bed should also not be facing the door, whereas the mirror should. Both should also not face each other.
Traditionally, newly purchased bed sets were in red or pink with dragon or phoenix motifs embroidered in golden thread, or with flowers such as peony or magnolias (avoid mourning hues like grey, blue and black!). But modern couples now prefer more contemporary designs, and for floral or heart shapes to be printed or embroidered in softers colour such as pastel pink, cream or lavender. Lace can also be added for a more romantic touch. Old beds are also considered acceptable these days. (Modern brides, find out more about these si dian jin you can wear even after your wedding!)
Image: Cheryl Wee & Roy Fong by Pixoo Photography
Next, lucky items will also be placed on the bed, including some from the betrothal gift ceremony. These items are to be placed on a large red plate together with an even number of oranges, two angpows (red packets, which have to contain an amount with the number ‘9’), a packet of candy, "fate" or Yuan coins (from the dowry: to be placed at the four corners of the bed, bedroom cupboard and drawers), antique Chinese coins (insert two coins - heas up- into angpows; one coin per corner of the mattress and one coin under each pillow.), and all items from the gift box, ‘li jin’ – dried logan, red date, lily bulbs, walnuts or peanuts, lotus seeds, dried tangerine, pine tree lead, dried persimmons. Don't forget about a pair of bed-side lamps, which can also be a modern furniture of your choice to match with your room. Other items include bedroom slippers, birthing tubs, face washing basins from the bride’s dowry.
Here are some of what these items mean:
Lily bulbs (’pak hup’ or ‘bai he’): stands for hundred years of harmony in the marriage.
Lotus seeds (‘lian zi’) and pomergranate leaves (‘fan shi liu’ or ‘hong hua’): stands for blessing the union with fertility. Chinese also believes that the pomergranate leave wards off evil.
Oranges and red packets: for good fortune.
Dried Longans, dried dates, and dried persimmons: They are sweet and will bless the marriage with sweetness.
Bed-side lamps (‘deng’): which has a similar sound as son (‘ding’) – which symbolises ‘tie deng’ or ‘tie ding’, the same meaning as adding sons to the family.
Children, especially boys, can then jump and roll on the bed, which is believed to increase the couple’s fertility. Having more children at the ceremony symbolises the higher fertility of the couple. (Check out these tips on making your first night as newlyweds extra-special).
Lastly, everyone at the ceremony will have to chant four phrases that bless the couple with a happy marriage and life together.
Eternal blissful marriage (‘bai nian hao he’),
Bless with offspings (‘zao shen gui zi’),
To grow old togeher (‘bai tou xie lao’),
Eternal love (‘yong yu ai he’)
Image: Sharon & Timothy by Tinydot Photography (www.tinydotphotography.com)
After the ceremony is completed, no adult should touch, sit or rest on the bed. It is also taboo for the bride to lie on the bed before the wedding as it is believed that it will lead to her poor health. If the groom has to sleep on the installed bed before the wedding, it's said that he should be accompanied by a young boy born in the year of the Dragon zodiac sign.
It is considered extremely unlucky to leave one side of the bed empty during the first four months after the wedding as it symbolises death for either half of the couple. Some ways to keep the bed “occupied” while the couple is away for their honeymoon is to have either side of their parents sleep in the room or to leave their clothes on the bed as a symbol of their presence. An old tradition also prohibits pregnant women, or someone who has just lost a family member to enter the newlyweds' room, during the first month after the wedding. (First Lunar New Year as Mr. & Mrs? Find out about what you need to take note as a newly-wed.)
Have you heard of chickens under the bridal bed? In the past, when people kept chicken in their backyards, the groom presented a pair of live chickens (a rooster and a hen) to the bride’s parents during the bride’s home visit. Another pair of the birds will then be returned to the groom as a sign of "leading the way" back to his house. When the couple returned from the visit, the chickens were released under the bridal bed – that’s why grains and beans were included on the plate as lucky items. The chickens would scurry under the bed for the snacks and it was believed that the firstborn will be a boy if the rooster appears first.