Most Chinese wedding practices today begin with a betrothal ceremony called guo da li (过大礼). It is held two to four weeks on an auspicious day before the actual wedding day, and involves the groom, accompanied by a female relative, bringing gifts to the bride’s family. The bride’s family then returns some of these gifts, known as hui li (回礼), to symbolise the acceptance of the marriage. They also present the groom’s family another set of gifts. This is also when the bride receives her trousseau, known as jia zhuang (嫁妝). The gifts exchanged are usually elaborate, with items chosen specifically for their symbolism. For example, mandarin oranges are given for good luck, while charcoal signifies a good life after marriage.
The next step is preparing the matrimonial bed in a ritual known as an chuang (安床). This takes place three days to one week before the wedding. The steps include covering the bridal bed with new bed linen, on which is placed a big red tray filled with an assortment of items meant to signify prosperity for the couple. On the wedding day, before the bridal couple arrive, a young boy (ideally one born in the Year of the Dragon) is asked to jump and roll on the matrimonial bed as a way to bless the couple with many children.
The night before the wedding includes a hair-combing ritual called shang tou (上头) to symbolise the couple’s transition into adulthood. The ritual takes place in the respective homes of the groom and the bride. Each of them faces a pair of lighted candles while a woman considered to have good fortune (someone whose husband, children, and grandchildren are alive) combs the hair four times and repeats an auspicious phrase each time.
On the wedding day, the groom goes to the bride’s home to bring her back to his home. But first, there is a ritual called “gatecrashing”, where the bridesmaids make the groom and his groomsmen complete a series of playful tasks before he can see the bride. As the bride leaves her home, she is sheltered with a red umbrella. When she gets into the bridal car, the bride will throw a red foldable fan known as the “Lady Fan” out of the car window to symbolise leaving negative things behind.
The first part of the tea ceremony then takes place at the groom’s home. If deities and ancestors are worshipped at home, the couple will pray at the family altar before serving tea to the elders of the family. The elders will give their blessings to the couple.
The couple then leave for the bride’s house to hold a separate tea ceremony for the bride’s family, after the bride changes into a kua (褂). The kua is a traditional red Chinese wedding dress embroidered with auspicious symbols.
The banquet is the last part of the wedding, where families, friends and colleagues will be invited to attend the event, which often takes places at a restaurant, hotel ballroom or event hall. During the dinner, the couple’s entourage is invited on stage for a toast. This is known as the yam seng, and involves the guests in the entire hall shouting “yam seng” (or “cheers”) three times as loud as they can, to congratulate and confer blessings to the new couple. The couple then visits each table and toasts the guests.
With regards to the attire on the wedding day, many couples these days prefer to wear western suits and gowns for their weddings. Some couples may retain the tradition of wearing traditional Chinese wedding outfits for rituals such as the tea ceremony, such as the ma kua (马褂) for the groom, and red qun kua (裙褂) for the bride. The red symbolises good fortune and happiness, and the embroidery work on the qun kua often features motifs of phoenix and flora patterns.