Surprisingly, I attended a lot of weddings when I was growing up. Many of my friends are experiencing an invitation to one, but not me! I think growing up in a big family gave me an advantage — plus, she was the perfect age at the time to be a flower girl at FIVE different weddings! With all that practice under my belt (and being so young at the time), I was able to really sit back and quietly watch the behind-the-scenes workings of what goes on at a wedding. However, when it was a family wedding, there was always an extra and special part built into the wedding day: a traditional Chinese tea ceremony.
A Chinese tea ceremony is a cultural wedding tradition where the bride and groom serve tea to their respective families. It may date back to the Tang Dynasty in China! This can include both sets of parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and other older family members. Attending to your elders in order of age is an important part of the ceremony to show respect and gratitude. The ceremony usually takes place on the wedding day and symbolizes the union of the two families.
The bride and groom may wear traditional clothing during the tea ceremony such as a cheongsam for the bride, which is a dress usually covered in gold dragons, flowers or phoenix symbols. You can also serve any type of tea you want. Once the tea is ready, the wedding party or non-participating family members can help with the ceremony by pouring the tea from the kettle into the tea cups and handing them out for the couple to present and serve. These helpers can also help make the tea and wash the dishes after use.
When serving the tea, the couple should kneel in front of their elders either on a pillow or cushion. This is very important because it is part of the etiquette process of the ceremony to the older relatives. When serving the tea to each recipient, you must hold the tea cup with both hands, and it is customary for the groom to serve the groom’s father and the bride to serve the groom’s mother, and then switch. Follow this same order until you get down to the list of family members. In exchange for the tea, the couple can accept gifts from each relative, which not only celebrate the marriage but also show acceptance of it. These gifts range from red envelopes filled with cash (symbolizing good luck and good fortune) or jewelry such as gold bracelets and jade pendants (usually passed down from parents). When given jewelry, the couple should wear it right away to show respect and appreciation.
Although it may be an ancient tradition, the meaning of the tea ceremony is an amazing symbol of the two respective families welcoming the newlyweds into each. Serving and drinking the tea symbolizes that the parents recognize and accept the new person in the family.
For years, I remember seeing family members from both sides standing in line with the future couple before their wedding ceremony. A room filled with excited chatter, clinking tea cups and the occasional tea noise. Through old photo albums, I was able to see my grandmother, aunts, cousins and mother on the individual day of the tea ceremony: dressed in traditional dress, with antique tea sets and heirloom jewelry, all in one effort to unite the two families. Experiencing tea ceremonies first hand and knowing that my family members before me had participated in them made me realize the importance and meaningful purpose of having my own tea ceremony when it was my time to get married .
And finally that day came!
Dressed in traditional red attire, my husband and I knelt on borrowed silk cushions in front of our extended family members, who welcomed us with open arms. We served each of them green tea from my mother’s tea set, which she and my father were married to. I remember my grandfather grinning from ear to ear, my in-laws looking at everything with curiosity, my grandmother quietly whispering to me what each piece of jewelry meant, and my father jokingly complaining about the amount of tea he had served In return we received our red envelopes and layers of jewels.
And just like tradition, I wouldn’t have it any other way.