From choosing an auspicious wedding date to finding a good menu for Chinese and Western guests, we’ve got answers to your most important etiquette questions.
Q. Is there a special hour when a Chinese couple should exchange vows?
A. Chinese tradition says that couples should marry on the half hour so that they begin their new life on an upswing — when the hands of the clock are moving up toward the top instead of down and away from it. As for which half hour you choose, well, that’s up to you! Another guideline to keep in mind is using even numbers in your wedding date and time (even numbers are considered lucky).
Q. How do we go about finding an auspicious wedding date?
A. Most couples have a “lucky” person (perhaps someone with a happy marriage and family) consult the Chinese calendar to pick out a good date. To determine the lucky days, the bride and groom’s birth dates and birth hours are taken into consideration. Because your date might fall on a weekday, it’s best not to stress over getting married on the actual lucky day. Keep in mind though, there are some days considered unlucky — your fortune-teller (in consultation with the Chinese calendar) can help determine which days are a definite don’t.
Q. Which traditional Chinese dishes will appeal to both our Chinese and Western guests’ tastes?
A. Serving traditional Chinese dishes is a wonderful way to celebrate your heritage at your reception. And since most Chinese dishes are prepared with Western ingredients in the States, you can be sure to appeal to most guests’ tastes. A favorite for Chinese weddings is Peking duck. (It’s a red dish symbolizing joy and happiness). You can serve the duck with lobster too (serving the dish whole, with head and legs still attached, would symbolize completeness). For your side salad, include sea cucumbers, thought to symbolize harmony and lack of conflict between newlyweds.
Q. As a guest at a Chinese wedding, is there anything special I should bring for the bride and groom?
A. You could bring the couple a lucky red envelope (lai see) with money tucked inside. Traditionally at Chinese weddings the couple is given “lucky money” rather than gifts. Of course, your couple has likely also registered at a few stores — and it’s perfectly acceptable to purchase a gift for them off their registry in lieu of a red envelope.
Q. Are there any Chinese wedding vows that we can incorporate into our ceremony?
A. Actions speak louder than words at Chinese weddings. It is customary for the bride and groom to honor their ancestors, parents, and each other in the form of a bow (rather than speak vows to one another).
Q. I know that red is the traditional color for the Chinese wedding dress but would it be okay to wear a different color?
A. Yes! These days, Chinese and Chinese-American brides are going beyond the traditional color attire in order to better suit their personalities. We’ve seen pale pink, aqua blue, gold, and silver, just to name a few. For added flair, get a dress with a slightly different top. Rather than short sleeves, you could have your qipao custom-made and sewn into a sleeveless gown with a halter top.
Q. What are “bridesmaid door games”?
A. These games are based on the Chinese tradition where the groom, upon arriving at the bride’s house to take her to the wedding ceremony, is greeted by the bride’s “protective” friends. Before they allow him to enter the house to fetch his bride, the groom has to perform physical feats (such as push-ups), answer difficult questions, and even pay off the girls with a lucky red envelope filled with money. Some couples still play bridesmaid games today: a modern day version could be for the bride and her maids to gather their hands together and ask the groom pick out his bride’s hand from the bunch.
Q. In traditional Chinese weddings, the groom’s side is supposed to pay for the wedding. But in the States, the bride’s family is expected to pay. Who should pay for our Chinese-American wedding?
A. These days, like a Western wedding, it’s all about what works best for you. Before you make any decisions, sit down with both sets of parents individually to determine expectations and budgets. You may decide to split the cost between your two families, or into thirds so that you as a couple foot a portion of the bill as well.
Q. Our wedding will take place in the morning and our reception in the afternoon. Since our tea ceremony is private, we are not sure what to do with our guests during this time. We don’t want to have a cocktail hour because we feel like it would be too early for alcohol, what’s an alternative?
A. Have a tea hour! While you’re serving tea to your parents and elders, let your guests in on a bit of tradition by offering tea and small hors d’oeuvres, such as small sandwiches and fruit kabobs, in a separate location.
Q. What is the meaning behind a Chinese lion dance and how can I have one at my wedding?
A. The Chinese lion dance dates back 1,000 years to the Ch’in and Han dynasties. The decorative lions, which typically dance and perform acrobatic-like moves to the sounds of drums, gongs, and clashing cymbals, are an expression of joy and happiness. Depending on your style and budget, you could have the dancers perform at the reception or the tea ceremony. If you are hosting a rather high-end affair, you could even have a group of lion dancers escort you, your bridal party, and your guests from the ceremony to the reception site in your own mini parade!
— Anja Winikka