Chinese weddings start early in the morning, with special events continuing throughout the day, ending with a reception in the evening. The list of traditions and order that they should be performed can be confusing, especially as many modern couples modify the order of events for a more contemporary feel. The following list gives an idea about the typical customs included in a traditional Chinese wedding day.
Bride’s home – early morning
The bride and her family awaken early and enjoy a small meal, traditionally rice or a sweet dessert. This so-called “Sibling Feast” is the bride’s chance to say goodbye to her family and for them to wish her a happy life. The groom awakens early and takes a normal breakfast. After the Sibling Feast, the female relatives (and/or bridesmaids) help do her hair and makeup, and her parents put on her veil. Some brides also host a tea ceremony for their parents during this time.
Fetch the Bride – morning
The groom and groomsmen leave to “Fetch the Bride” from her home. The bridesmaids often engage the groom in a series of games before he is allowed into the house. The groom brings food gifts to exchange with bride’s family and a younger brother or friend of the bride must open the bridal car door. Finally, the groom is allowed into the house to fetch the bride, where he lifts her veil and kisses her.
Groom’s home – mid-morning
After fetching the bride, the bridal party returns to the groom’s home, usually before 9am. Oftentimes, the couple will walk in “under the trousers” of an older unmarried brother to show respect. In a very traditional wedding, the couple would engage in “three prayers” to the groom’s ancestors and family gods, which would serve as the binding act of marriage.
The groom’s family will have decorated a special bridal room, where the bride changes into her second outfit. After a short rest and sometimes a photo shoot, the couple presents a tea ceremony to the groom’s family. Afterwards, the bride’s younger brother arrives with a wedding basket and the family eats lunch together.
Bride’s home visit – midday
Before returning to her family home, the bride changes costume again and the groom helps her remove the veil (some brides choose to have the groom remove symbolic hairpins so as not to mess up her hair). Then, the bride returns home for her visit, traditionally bringing candies and a roast pig. The family eats lunch together and sometimes a tea ceremony is performed.
Return to groom’s home – early afternoon
After her home visit, the bride returns to the groom’s home. If the couple is also having a church wedding, they prepare for this ceremony and make sure that all costumes and gifts are sent to the banquet hall. In lieu of a church ceremony, some modern couples use this time to check into their hotel room.
Church ceremony – mid-afternoon
Many Chinese couples also opt for a church wedding, where a priest or religious official marries the couple. The church ceremony usually takes place in the afternoon, after all traditional Chinese wedding activities have been completed but before the reception.
Reception – evening
The reception is a very important aspect of the Chinese wedding where the community can celebrate together with the couple. Most receptions are elaborate banquets with all sorts of toasts, gift exchanges and the bridal costume changes. Some couples have a cocktail reception instead of a banquet, but guests are always expected to bring cash gifts wrapped in red envelopes.