”It is not surprising to see couples trying to embrace traditions in their weddings. To the Chinese, traditions show respect for our ancestry and are the cornerstones of our culture,” says Hannah Chong, founder and creative director of Heaven’s Gift.
Geraldine Wong, director of catering at Holiday Inn Singapore Orchard City Centre agrees: “We get a lot of couples honouring customs because sharing special moments with the people who love you still matters most.”
BEFORE THE WEDDING
Guo Da Li
Before, a couple wasn’t considered officially engaged until the guo da li or Chinese betrothal gift ceremony was done.
“In ancient times, marriages had mandatory steps, of which the most important was the gua da li to symbolise a man’s desire to take a woman as his bride,” adds Geraldine.
“Gua Da Li is also often referred to as the grand gift ceremony, and marks a formal meeting between the parents of both the bride and the groom” adds Hannah.
”It takes place two to four weeks before the wedding, and includes picking an auspicious date for it. His family then presents gifts (here are 12 places to check out for betrothal packages) that represent fertility and prosperity to her family. Ideally, all should be presented in even numbers for good fortune. After this, they are officially engaged.”
By accepting the gifts, they pledge their daughter to him and give a dowry on the same day to symbolise gratitude and goodwill towards their future son-in-law.
It usually includes a portion of his betrothal gifts, a set of clothing to symbolise a lasting union, a wallet with a hongbao for sufficient wealth, and two hongbao for the well-being of his family and an abundance of descendants.
An chuang or bed-setting ceremony
Gifts for the an chuang or bed-setting ceremony; new bed linen is used, and auspicious phrases and blessings for the couple are recited.
This involves decorating the nuptial bed three days before the wedding.
For Teochews and Hokkiens, his parents spread on new bed linen in auspicious red or pink, and then place a red tray with gifts from the gua da li and other items on the bed.
Then the bed is moved slightly and everyone recites auspicious phrases to bless the couple with a happy marriage and offspring.
Hair combing or shang tou
This represents the transition of the couple to adulthood.
Hannah explains: “A female relative with good fortune, and a surviving husband, kids and grandchildren, performs this ritual the night before the wedding, and after the pair has bathed in water with pomegranate or pomelo leaves, and donned new pyjamas as well as slippers.
Using a sharp comb for him and rounded one for her, auspicious words to bless their marriage are recited as each one’s hair is combed through four times.”
ON THE BIG DAY
Ying Qin or gatecrashing
To fetch his bride, the Chinese groom must face certain challenges set by her bridesmaids during the gatecrashing.
This is also called the fetching of the bride. Bearing gifts and her bouquet, the groom and his groomsmen set off to collect his bride.
Before he can enter her home, he must complete challenges set by the bridesmaids. The most crucial is haggling over the price of their hongbao for letting him in.
Once in her room, he lifts her veil and hands her the bouquet. Before departing for his home, both bow and thank her parents.
This is done at an auspicious time, says Hannah. “A Teochew groom, for instance, must fetch her before daybreak because it is bad luck for her to see daylight before she meets him.
“In Hokkien and Teochew weddings, the groom also usually gives a basket with a pair of a pig’s front trotters and eight to 12 mandarin oranges to fetch the bride.
The Cantonese groom arrives with a roast pig, a hongbao, 18 oranges, two bags of peanuts, and two bottles of liquor among other things.”
A quintessential tradition, this represents the formal introduction of the couple as newly-weds to their respective families and demonstrates their respect for all the years of love and care they received.
It is usually held in their respective homes, but some couples do the ceremony for both families consecutively at the celebration venue and before the reception.
They offer tea to their parents first and then to their other elders. The sweet tea normally contains lotus seeds and red dates for happiness in their marriage and good relations between them and their in-laws.
AFTER THE WEDDING
San zhao hui men
In the old days, this homecoming tradition for the bride was performed three days after the wedding.
Today, wearing a kua or a simpler dress, she and husband return on their wedding day with gifts of food for her family.