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Traditional Chinese weddings culture
China is a country rich in culture and tradition - so it's no surprise that traditional Chinese weddings are chock-full of meaningful symbolic customs.
A Chinese wedding doesn't start when the bride shows up at the ceremony in her decorative red-silk wedding attire. The process begins with an elaborate proposal and doesn't end until three days after the ceremony. Of course, to list every wedding tradition practiced in every region of a country as big as China would be almost impossible, but the following introduction covers the main points.
Traditionally, a Chinese wedding proposal involves far more than a sparkly ring and an all-important question. Instead, both families must agree to the marriage and select an auspicious date for the "betrothal day." On the betrothal day the families gather to exchange gifts and discuss potential wedding dates. However, it's bad luck to select a date without first consulting a fortune teller.
A few days before the wedding, the groom and family and friends participate in a bridal bed setting ritual. They all deck out the newly-bought nuptial bed with various symbols. Red is ever present (it's considered lucky, joyful color) and the bed is scattered with fruit to encourage fertility. During this time, the bride stays in seclusion in her parents' house. She is accompanied only by her closest friends who are there to mourn her separation from her family.
On the day of the wedding, the bride participates in a "hair dressing" ritual. A "good luck woman" (usually an aunt or someone with many children) fixes the bride's hair. The bride then dons her red wedding wear - a red gown (the details vary by region), red shoes and a red veil (either silk or a curtain of tassels). At this time, in a separate ceremony, her soon-to-be takes place in a "capping" ritual. This is where the groom, wearing a long gown, red shoes and a red sash, is given a cap decorated with cypress leaves by his father.
Gongs, firecrackers and drums herald the beginning of the day's proceedings. The groom leaves his home and makes his way to the bride's parents' house. There he will find the bridesmaids blocking his entrance - playing a game where they forbid the groom from picking up the bride. He then bargains with them until they agree to let him marry the bride. When the bride does join her groom, she steps out of the house carrying a red umbrella over her head to ward off evil spirits.
The ceremony itself is less complicated. The couple kneel or bow three times, once to heaven and earth, one to their ancestors and once to their parents. They then serve tea to their parents and senior relatives. There are no spoken vows. Sometimes, the bride and groom drink wine from two cups tied together by a red string - a gesture symbolizing the binding of their lives. They complete the ceremony by bowing to each other.
A huge banquet follows the ceremony. The banquet hall is decorated in red banners and, of course, the Double Happiness symbol - a Chinese character that symbolizes the couple's love and joy, is on display. Even the food is symbolic: there is fish to help bring the couple wealth, pig to symbolize the bride's virginity, and pigeon to ensure a peaceful marriage. Guests present the couple with Li Shi (money in red envelopes).
The morning after the wedding, the bride is expected to wake early and prepare a meal for the groom's family and spend the day with them. Three days later, the couple visits the bride's parent's house - where she is now received as a guest.
Chinese weddings are conscious. While many of these customs no longer followed today there are still a few that have survived the centuries and are part of the modern weddings.
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