In a culture with as long and rich a history as China’s, it is no surprise that Chinese weddings come with an abundance of unique and interesting traditions, not the least of which is the wedding tea ceremony. Tea, which has always been the national drink of China, is a respectful, universal beverage that is more versatile and unanimously enjoyed than alcohol. The splendid, elegant ceremonies that accompany serving and drinking tea were a special addition to the Chinese wedding celebrations.
Traditionally, tea was served twice during a Chinese wedding. First, the bride would serve tea to her parents privately the morning before the wedding to show her gratitude to them for raising her well. The actual tea ceremony, however, involved only the groom’s family and was conducted after the exchange of vows. This ceremony served as an act of introduction between the families and as a symbol of respect toward the groom’s relatives.
During the wedding tea ceremony, the bride and groom, along with one of the bride’s attendants known as a “lucky woman”, prepare a special blend of tea that includes red dates and lotus seeds. The dates and lotus seeds are included because they have auspicious meanings and denote the quick arrival of strong, healthy grandchildren.
Typically, the bride and groom kneel and present the teacups to their parents as a sign of respect, the bride taking care to kneel on the left side in front of her new father-in-law, and the groom kneeling on the right side in front of his mother. Meanwhile, the “lucky woman” hovers near the tea service, uttering blessings and lucky sayings to exalt the ceremony. After serving their parents, the couple then serves tea to each of the grooms relatives in order of seniority, starting with his paternal grandparents and moving on down to his elder siblings and, finally, cousins. After the tea service, the family presents the couple with red envelope gifts filled with jewelery or money.
Many couples still partake in the traditional tea ceremony, though some prefer to adapt aspects of it for a more modern flair. Sometimes, the couple serves tea to both the bride’s and the groom’s family. It may also be typical for the tea service to be conducted in a large hall or outdoors where the wedding guests might also be present to observe. No matter how it is conducted, though, the Chinese wedding tea ceremony is a beautiful tradition that honors the unification of two families.