Tea is China’s national drink, and serving it is a sign of respect. Traditional Chinese sweet wedding tea is flavoured with lotus seeds and two red dates. These ingredients have positive connotations and symbolise that the couple will bear children quickly and continuously. Other popular choices of tea are Black dragon, orange blossom and green tea. The sweetness of the tea symbolises a wish for sweet relations between the bride and her new family.
On the wedding day, the bride serves tea to her parents at home before the groom arrives. This is to show respect and to thank her parents for raising her. The traditional wedding tea ceremony formally introduces the bride to the groom’s family – the wedding seating plan is designed specifically for this purpose and also to symbolise love and respect for elders. The bride kneels on the left and the groom on the right with family seated in chairs facing them. The bride’s father-in-law is seated opposite the bride and the groom’s mother-in-law opposite the groom.
Historically, as the bride has already served tea to her parents earlier in the day, the couple serve tea to the groom’s family first. However, many modern couples choose to honour both sets of parents and serve tea to both sets of parents, with the groom’s first. The couple serve tea to the groom’s family in order of seniority:
- paternal grandparents
- maternal grandparents
- oldest uncles and aunts
- oldest brother
After each elder takes a sip, they place lucky red envelopes (“lai see”), which usually contain money or jewellery, on the platter that holds the teacups.
Although the tea ceremony is a ceremony involving the bride and groom’s close family only, there is no reason why the bride and groom should not invite their guests to watch the ceremony. Consider adding a printed explanation of the traditional meanings of the event to the table menu cards so that Western visitors will understand the beauty of the deep and traditional symbolism of love and respect for the bride and groom’s family as they begin their new life bringing the two families together.
A spectacular way to round off the formal tea ceremony would be to arrange for a traditional Chinese Lion Dance, expressing joy and happiness at the new union. The lion dance dates back 1,000 years to the Ch’in and Han dynasties (in the 3rd century B.C.). Custom dictates that one or two colourful and decorative lions dance and perform acrobatics to rhythmic drums, gongs, and cymbals. They will often unfurl a specially prepared scroll wishing the couple ‘100 years of happiness together’, which the happy couple keep as a treasured memento.
There is a huge treasure trove of ritual and custom woven into the very heart of a traditional Chinese wedding – what you read here is the tip of a beautiful and auspicious iceberg. Many Western couples are choosing to bring the elements of traditional Chinese weddings into their own celebrations, inviting good luck, prosperity and 100 years of happiness together. Raise a glass and toast for longevity and health – Wàn shòu wú ji?ng!