You’re getting married, and it’s time to decide what kind of wedding you want to have. You might have a fully Chinese wedding party and want to incorporate as many Chinese wedding traditions as possible, or you might be planning a cross-cultural wedding where you and your spouse can have a balance of traditions represented. Whatever the case, we have outlined a number of beautiful Chinese wedding traditions that you can use to inspire and incorporate into your own wedding.
1: The Wedding Date
You’re newly engaged and it’s time to save the date, but how do you know which day to choose? Traditionally, for Chinese weddings, the newly engaged couple will consult with a monk, fortune teller, or the Chinese calendar to choose a favorable date, based on their birthdates. Certain dates are unlucky and should be avoided. For example, there are three unlucky 18th days of the year in China — March, August, and September 18. Of course, practically you will want to choose the date that will work best for you and your wedding party, but choosing a lucky date around the time of year that you’d like to get married is a good way to incorporate this Chinese wedding tradition and the intentionality will make your day feel extra special.
2: The Invitations
Source: Erin Kim Photography
When it comes to inviting guests, you have a lot of stationary options to choose from. For traditional Chinese weddings, invitations will feature a few key similarities:
The invitation is red and placed in a red envelope. Usually, the wording is in gold or red, and if in Chinese, it is placed vertically. The Chinese calendar date is noted as well as the order of birthdates for the bride and groom and their parents, then the name of the dinner venue, and times for dinner and cocktails. Often the double happiness symbol is somewhere on the invitation. If you would prefer to go with your own style of invitation, using red accents and Chinese characters or sealing your invite with a Chinese stamp are great ways to incorporate this tradition.
3: The Hair Combing Ceremony
The hair combing ceremony is a Chinese wedding custom that takes place a day before the ceremony. Usually done in the bride’s home, it symbolizes the bride’s transition from childhood into adulthood. A person of good fortune, usually the bride’s mother, will perform the hair combing ceremony. Dragon phoenix candles are lit and the following lines are recited as the bride’s hair is combed:
May you be together all your lives from marriage till the end.
May you have a harmonious intimate marriage until old age.
May you fill your home with children and grandchildren.
May you enjoy abundant wealth and an everlasting marriage.
We love this beautiful tradition because it provides a special moment between you and your mom. For modern brides, you can consider adding this as part of your getting ready segment on your wedding day (and the photographer can be there to document it as well!).
4: The Procession
Once the main event of Chinese weddings, the procession is now used as a nod to old traditions. The groom will lead a procession from his house and will light firecrackers and strike gongs to ward off evil spirits, while attendees carry banners and lanterns. When the procession arrives at the bride’s home, the bridal party traditionally refuses to allow the groom to see the bride until he surrenders enough red envelopes, or hong bao, full of money.
Maybe your sweetheart lives in another neighborhood and it isn’t really possible to have a bridal procession from one side of town to the other. A great way to still have a procession tradition element in your wedding is to drive instead of march — decorate a car with red streamers and flowers, pile in some friends, and have your groom cruise over to your house.
5: The Door Games
Chinese door games, known as chuangmen, originated from the idea that a bride is a prized daughter, worth so much that her family refuses to marry her off easily. Therefore, a man worthy of her hand must pass certain “tests.” Today, this Chinese wedding tradition is celebrated by making the groom play a number of entertaining “door games,” which can be a part of the procession or played at the banquet. The bridesmaids refuse to “surrender” the bride until the groom has completed the tests. Some door games include:
- “No Money No Honey” in which the bridesmaids hold the bride hostage until the groom presents the bridesmaids with enough red envelopes.
- Q+A tests about the relationship, if he passes he’ll have his bride!
- Giving a cute or funny love vow in exchange for his bride
6: The Marriage Ceremony:
The marriage ceremony is definitely much more emphasized in Western weddings. Chinese wedding ceremonies are typically small and more formal affairs and concern the legal union of the couple. The ceremony is performed at a courthouse or government office, with very few people in attendance. Traditionally, the marriage ceremony is followed by a prayer. Many couples, even western couples, only have a courthouse marriage and skip the public ceremony in favor of just a reception, which works well for Chinese weddings because there are so many components that make up a Chinese wedding. Which brings us to …
7: The Tea Ceremony:
Unlike the grand and expensive Chinese weddings you might see today, weddings before were much simpler. Traditionally, the tea ceremony was an important way to honor the parents and began with a prayer, but today it skips to the main event. Here what usually happens: the father of the bride hands his daughter to the groom, and the bride and groom kneel on tea pillows facing the parents. Then the couple takes turns serving tea to each set of parents. Popular tea varieties for tea ceremonies include black dragon, orange blossom, or green tea. If you’re looking to incorporate this tradition for your Chinese wedding, take a look at our guide for planning your traditional wedding tea ceremony.
8: The Gifts
What do guests usually gift the couple? Red envelopes, or hong bao. Rather than having to fuss with a wedding registry, guests present these envelopes full of cash to the bride and groom. When gifting hong bao, you should avoid giving money in multiples of 4 (the word 4 in Chinese sounds close to the word for death), while multiples of 8 are usually good luck. Older relatives will often also give other small presents like necklaces and bracelets to the groom and bride.
9: The Dress
What better way to engage with your culture than through clothing? On the wedding day, it is traditional for Chinese brides to wear a red dress, regionally called either a qipao or cheongsam, on their wedding day. Modern Chinese brides often have two to four dress changes as part of their wedding celebration, with a white dress for the ceremony.
If you would like to incorporate this Chinese wedding tradition into your wedding, check out the collection of beautiful high-quality cheongsams we offer at East Meets Dress. To decide what fit would suit you, take our quiz and for styling tips, check out How to Accessorize your Cheongsam. If you are looking for more of a modern Chinese dress, you could opt for a red dress or jumpsuit, a lucky color in Chinese culture.
10: The Banquet
So you’ve gone through the formalities, and now it’s time for the main event, the banquet! Similar to a western wedding reception, the Chinese wedding banquet is a celebration of the bride and groom’s union and journey forth as a married couple. The wedding banquet is an hours-long, multi-course feast, with each course symbolizing something for the couple, and includes a number of games and entertainment. Often the ceremony will include blessings of happiness, prosperity, and abundance for the couple from friends and family.
11: The Wedding Night
Traditionally, during the marriage ceremony, a woman of good fortune (typically the mother or mother-in-law) will prepare the wedding bed. The bed is made up of new red sheets, and a plate of dried longans, lotus seeds, red dates, persimmons, and a sprig of pomegranate leaves is placed on the bed. Young children, especially young boys, are invited to jump on the bed before the wedding night to promote fertility in hopes that the new couple will bear children. If you want less fuss in the bedroom, you can modernize this tradition by dressing up your bed with a new red sheet and comforter set.
12: The Three Day Visit
In keeping with Chinese wedding traditions, three days after the wedding, the bride and groom will pay a visit to the bride’s parents, even though she is technically no longer a part of the family. This is to assure her parents that the groom is taking care of her and that she is in good hands. To update this tradition, make a reservation, and invite your parents (and the groom’s if you want!) to brunch or dinner three days after the big day.
The beauty of Chinese wedding traditions lies in understanding the meaning behind them. Once you do, you can select the ones that are the most significant to you and your family and add them to your wedding in your own way.
More to love:
- Learn about these 5 traditional elements of a qipao dress.
- Get inspired by our 30 ideas for a modern Asian-American wedding.
- Check out our ultimate Chinese wedding decorations checklist for your banquet planning.