The feast at a traditional Chinese wedding is both playful and exciting. This is a time for the couple’s families to display their wealth and joy over the marriage and to delight in the couple’s love for one another. It is also a time for the guests to show their encouragement for the couple’s new life together and their thanks for the chance to attend such a big, lavish party.
One way that guests and family members can show this thanks is through the wedding toasts. Typically, each wedding banquet will feature a series of toasts, often accompanied by speeches where the toaster says kind words and offers some advice or a joke to the bride and groom.
The master of ceremonies kicks off the wedding feast by offering a small toast or short speech to introduce the newly-married couple and welcome the guests. Next, the best man and maid of honor offer toasts to the couple, giving funny anecdotes or sentimental speeches. Though this practice was not always tradition, it has been adopted from western style wedding receptions, where the best man and maid of honor typically give a toast. Sometimes, the parents or family members also wish to make a toast at this time.
The most important toasts of the evening are made by the bride and groom themselves. Usually, after one or several courses have been served and eaten, the couple will walk from table to table, offering toasts to thank their guests for attending and bringing generous gifts. Depending on the region of China, the couple drinks wine, beer or Chinese rice wine (bai jiu). The bride and groom will toast each table, saying ‘gan bei!’ (dry cup) and bottoming up their cup each time. Often, guests will make return toasts to the couple, and the bride and groom must always drink up.
Occasionally, the drinking becomes too difficult for the bride or groom; perhaps they feel too drunk to continue or have an allergy to alcohol. To overcome this, the best man and maid of honor always accompany the couple and, if need be, will step in to drink in their place, saying “Here, let me help you!”
This type of drinking is a Chinese way of showing good spirit and respect, and it is not uncommon for the bride or groom to be completely drunk by the end of their wedding reception!