Befriending a Chinese colleague closely has busted a lot of myths with which I grew, primarily them being reserved or unfriendly. Going though her wedding pictures ( which took place 27 years ago in Shanghai), I could not with hold my surprise, of the similarity between their wedding and our desi one , in terms of similarity of rituals, elaborate celebrations and expenditure.
“Our weddings are extremely elaborate and interesting.” remarked my friend.
Exactly like us desis, Chinese believe that marriages are arranged in Heaven, and merely completed on Earth. They believe the predestined couple is tied with red string in the Heaven, long before the marriage occurs on Earth.
For them too, it is a union between two families, not just two individuals.
The traditional Chinese too have elaborate rituals of sending marriage proposals to the girls family. Once decided, it is a must for the two families to consult the fortune teller ( as a Jyotishi in Hindu wedding) about the auspicious date for the wedding.
Red color is overwhelmingly predominant in every Chinese wedding, as it represents luck and happiness.
The celebrations begin days before the actual ceremony.
Days before the wedding, the bride is expected to stay away from the eyes of the general public, in isolation.
The groom’s family brings gifts to the bride’s home days before the wedding, while the bride’s family returns the gifts along with clothes and gifts to the groom, his parents and unmarried siblings.
Like us desis, the bride’s side is also expected to deliver dowry and money to the grooms home, the amount of which states the dignity and position of the bride’s family.
On the day of the wedding day, as she gets ready, the bride goes through a hair combing ceremony where a ‘lucky’ woman, mostly a married woman ( = our suhagan) combs her hair 4 times. Each stroke carries a special meaning. The first combing blessed the marriage to last a lifetime; the second, a harmonious marriage; the third, many children and grandchildren ; and the fourth, good health and fortune.
The bride adorns a red gown, red shoes and covers her face with a red veil.
As the groom steps in the brides house, the brides sisters & friends stop his way and bargain for entry towards the bride.
The bride leaves her home for the wedding arena under a red umbrella to ward off evil.
However the basic difference between the desi and Chinese wedding is the main ceremony.
They do not have any written contract or chanting of verses.
The couple goes on its knees and bows thrice- for the Heavens, the ancestors and their parents. They even bow to each other in a gesture of promising faithfulness to each other. There are no spoken vows.
Like us desis, the banquet is extremely elaborate, with 9 or 10 course meals.
However unlike us, each meals signifies something. First course is pig which signifies virginity, followed by others eg fish & seafood for wealth and abundance, pigeon for peaceful marriage, and whole chicken head for togetherness.
For details in the 10 courses: http://www.boneats.ca/2010/08/food-culture-chinese-wedding-banquets.html
The preferred presents like us desis are generally in cash, which has to be placed in red envelopes called Hongbao. The amount of money given varies upon the closeness of the giver to the bride-groom.
What excited me most was to know that like our old tradition, the Chinese bride also leaves for her husbands home in a hand held carriage quite like our doli.
Although now only a few girls like this tradition, and now this has largely been been replaced by more posh mode of transport i.e. a car which is mostly extensively decorated with fresh red roses.
The ‘bridal bed’ as it is called is arranged quite a few days in advance in an elaborate ceremony, taking care the direction of the bed. The details here too depend upon the affordability of the groom. However all have traditional red bedding and are spread with fruits on it, which signify fertility— red dates, litchis and longans.
In the next morning, the bride gets up early to prepare meals for the new family.
Three days later she visits her parents along with her husband, as a special guest.
“Many of the Chinese youngsters are now getting more fond of traditional wedding, after two decades of having had more modern weddings.” added my friend.
(Special thanks to my friend Jenny for the details & helping dish out pictures)