It’s Wedding Planning Wednesday! Part of this wedding planning has me researching and trying to understand the meaning behind traditions. While I still have not decided on what kind of wedding we will be having, I have been to many traditional Chinese weddings and wanted to share a little of what you can expect and the why’s.
Enter into a large Chinese Restaurant Hall and at the foyer there’s a guest sign-in table. Traditionally, Chinese Red Envelope (hong bao or lei see) money gift is given and this is where you drop off your gift and sign in. Red envelopes symbolize good luck and fortune and this goes way back.
Typically, there’s no seating chart. Now that the bride and groom are already married, there are no sides now…because everyone’s family, so just grab a seat. Admire the ornate decor, lots of red and gold, and of course, dragons. You may even notice some guests wearing a red ribbon, these are close family members. It’s acceptable to see guests in bright, rich colors (red, magenta, gold, royal blue, etc.), this is a way for guests to express happiness and well wishes for the newlywed. (Because this may not be appropriate with other cultures, it’s best to ask the bride first before you wear anything bright as you don’t want to be a thunder thief.).
The wedding party will make their entrance. The bride will have anywhere from 2-5 gown changes. Typically, there is a traditional Chinese Chi Pao, Disco/ Cocktail dress, wedding gown, and a ball gown. As a kid, this was my most favorite part, admiring her different gowns. While it’s easy to think that the bride is full of herself, that’s not really why. The reason is because traditionally, when a bride would get married, that would be the last time she would be in her home town before she left to live with the groom’s side. Brides would relish this opportunity to showcase her most elaborate gowns before she starts her new chapter or is “given away.” I still have no idea what dresses I will be wearing, but I must say….I can’t wait to play dress-up!
Throughout the reception, it’s common for guests to start drumming up their plates with their chopsticks. This is the guests way of letting the newlyweds that they want to see them give each other a kiss. It’s typical that there is an emcee who will facilitate traditional games, rally up the crowd, and manage some karaoke.
And then, as Wedbites reminds us, “The key to your guest’s hearts is through their stomachs!” There’s no way you can forget the food at a Chinese wedding reception. An 8-course Meal (not including an appetizer and dessert) 8 is considered a lucky number. In Chinese, the word “eight” sounds like “fortune.” (Photos below are from my Cousin’s son’s wedding I went to this past weekend)
Here’s a run down of what to expect and what each entree represents:
- Shark Fin Soup: Shark’s fin soup symbolizes wealth because this delicacy is considered to be very expensive.
- Lobster & Chicken: Lobster in Chinese is literally “dragon shrimp” and in Chinese restaurants, chicken feet are referred to as “phoenix feet”. In Chinese culture, the dragon and the phoenix symbolize the yin (the feminine) and the yang (the masculine). Hence, having lobster and chicken at the dinner would represent balance in the new relationship. They are also associated with goodness and prosperity. Both of these symbols represent the Chinese tradition of treating the bride and groom as “Empress and Emperor” for a day, and is rooted in ancient mythology wherein the dragon represents the mighty Emperor with his majestically powerful Phoenix by his side.
- Fish: Serving fish would hope that the couple will experience a life together with abundance because “fish”” sounds like “plentiful” in Chinese.
- Sticky Fried Rice: Represents unity of all the blended ingredients.
- Dessert: Traditionally, it’s tapioca or red bean dessert (red symbolizing luck) Serving dessert wishes the newlyweds a sweet life.
- Tea, alcohol, and 7-Up: Offering tea is a sign of respect. Alcohol is served to celebrate the special occasion. In Chinese,“ going to a dinner banquet” is synonymous to “going to drink alcohol. And 7-Up sounds like “seven happiness,” since the words for “up” and “happiness” are homophones.
At the end of the banquet, waiters usually pass out take-out boxes to the guests because there is usually enough food for everyone and some left over; this represents abundance. It is acceptable to take some of the food home because it is not good to waste good food – or anything else for that matter.