In addition to the exchange of gifts between the couple’s families, guests to a Chinese wedding are expected to bring gifts. There is a particular set of know-how with regard to choosing, giving and accepting gifts at a traditional Chinese wedding, with some types of gifts favored over others and some types to be avoided at all costs.
Gifts Between Families
Prior to the wedding day, or on the morning of the wedding, the two families will engage in an exchange of gifts, especially the bride’s dowry. Many times, families choose to give a set number of gifts, such as 12, in the betrothal bundle. These will often include money, food and snacks, tea and/or a tea set and cakes.
The bride’s family should accept the betrothal gifts and dowry and, as a thank you, should return a number of gifts of a similar type. For instance, if the groom’s family sends a dragon statue, the bride’s family should return a phoenix statue, as these represent the spirits of masculine and feminine exchange between the two families.
Gifts from Guests
For wedding guests, it sometimes seems that there are more things to be avoided than chosen. For instance, avoid giving clocks and anything that comes in a frame. Stay away from sets of four (the word four, si, sounds like ‘death’ in Chinese) and instead opt for other even numbers or a set of eight. It’s also best not to give knives to a Chinese couple, although this is a common wedding gift in the West.
When in doubt, the best gift you can bring to a Chinese wedding is money. Typically, money is wrapped in a small red envelope, which comes specially designed with auspicious symbols and sayings printed on the front. Make sure that the money is crisp and new and, again, avoid multiples of four, except eight, which is a lucky number. In lieu of cash, checks are also fine.
Accepting Wedding Gifts
Gifts are bestowed upon the couple before their wedding feast. As guests arrive, they approach a designated sign-in table, where a special namesake book is available for guests to sign their names. The couple chooses a friend or attendant to man the sign-in table and help collect gifts. Often, they will stand nearby the table to greet the guests and thank them for coming.
The table can be decorated in red and gold paper and adorned with ribbons, glitter and flowers. Guests who are also bringing other gifts should also prepare a small cash sum in a red envelope for the drinking round.
Very occasionally, after several courses, the couple will walk from table to table greeting the guests. A bridesmaid and groomsmen accompany them with a box where the guests will place their red envelopes. Each table should designate one or several people to give a toast and force the bride and groom to drink a shot of traditional rice wine, known as bai jiu. It is customary for the couple to get really drunk during this ceremony and is totally appropriate for any guest to offer a toast of congratulations and force the newlyweds to drink. If they become too drunk, their attendants must step in and drink in their place.