A Bow to Tradition

6 Nov

Hive, you may have guessed that Mr Big and I are an interracial couple. Mr Big is a Kiwi with a Dutch background. He feels a strong connection with his Dutch roots as his Oma (Mr Big’s maternal grandmother) imparted him with a love of Dutch foods. And I’m a Chinese girl whose parents migrated over to Australia from Indonesia.Our wedding, therefore, is a melange of different customs, cultures, ideologies and ideas. As such, we’ll be having two ceremonies: a Chinese tea ceremony and a civil ceremony!

A civil ceremony, as most of you may know, is the typical ceremony without the religious overtones. Mr Big is an atheist, and I’m a Buddhist, so we believed it fit with us best. As for the Chinese tea ceremony, that may take a bit more explanation. For those of the hive who have followed past Bee blogger, Mrs Peony and Mrs Toucan, you may recall them having a Chinese tea ceremony as a part of their wedding day. They each explained the tea ceremony in great detail, with pretty pictures too!

Unfortunately, for the Bighorns, our tea ceremony won’t exactly be the usual.

As previously mentioned, we took one look at the Oriental Garden and did this:

This never gets old. Taken from College Times.

We wanted, nay, needed to have the tea ceremony at the Oriental Pagoda. It was perfect. And hence, we had to change our plans!

Now traditionally, in Chinese cultures, the tea ceremony was essentially the ‘civil ceremony’. Elders would be served tea by the soon-to-be husband and wife to honour and respect the family. Because Chinese society was very patriarchal, the ‘true’ tea ceremony only included the groom’s family being served tea, as the bride needed to please her future husband’s family in order to be accepted. She would serve tea to her family in the privacy of her parents’ home, as a ‘thankyou’ for raising her.

To me, however, a modern-day girl with a fairly traditional upbringing, the Chinese tea ceremony is about respecting my elders and honouring the families on both sides. To me, it’s beautiful. I love my parents; they raised me to be the person I am today. Mr Big shows the same love for his. And this tradition allows him and I to physically show them the respect and love we have for our parents. I also get to show some of Mr Big’s family my culture and they get to experience something new and exciting!

Most of the Kiwi (and Australian!) guests have commented on how excited they are to see the tradition.

In a typical, modern-day Chinese tea ceremony, the bride is picked up by the groom at her parents’ house. During this time, a Chinese tea ceremony takes place in which the bride’s parents and elders (great-grandparents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, married siblings and cousins) are served tea. The groom then takes the bride from her parents’ house to the groom’s parents’ house where another Chinese tea ceremony takes place to respect the groom’s family (parents, great-grandparents, grandparents, etc.).

led out of house

A bride being taken from her parents’ house to her in-laws’ house by her groom. Image & Photography via Kellee Walsh.

Unfortunately for the Bighorns, the Chinese tea ceremony could not be performed in “typical” fashion, even before we saw the Oriental Garden. This was because of several problems:

  • Mr Big’s parents’ house is in Christchurch, New Zealand, located two hours flight from Sydney.
  • My parents’ house is located in the greater area of Sydney, Australia, two hours’ drive from the Hunter Valley.
  • Our wedding is in the Hunter Valley

Normally, these sorts of problems are resolved by either, (a) having the Chinese tea ceremony performed “properly” either the day before or the day after the wedding, (b) having the Chinese tea ceremony at the bride’s parents’ (or, if the case may be, groom’s parents’) house, depending on accessibility and location of the wedding, or (c) having the Chinese tea ceremony at the hotel on the day (a la Mrs Peony) before the greater parts of the wedding take place.

We Bighorns, however, really wanted to get the Chinese tea ceremony ‘recorded’ through professional photography (Mr Big loved the photos I showed him of past Chinese tea ceremonies), so option (a) was out. Option (b) wasn’t viable unless we did it in conjunction with option (a), so that was also out. That left option (c) which was going to be the plan until our venue-hunting threw this beauty at us:

oriental_pagoda_sunset

The Oriental Garden and Pagoda at sunset. Image & Photography via DC Images.

So, with the decision made that we would have the Chinese tea ceremony at the Oriental Pagoda, we decided that the Chinese tea ceremony will follow the civil ceremony. Because the tea ceremony will be in one location, Mr Big doesn’t need to ‘take me away’ from my family home and to his.

Instead, we’ll be serving our elders all at once during the ceremony. For those interested, I’ll give you a basic rundown!

The Order of Service

In typical Chinese tea ceremonies, the groom’s family is served first. However, as Mr Big’s parents and family aren’t well rehearsed in the way of the tea ceremony, my family will be going first.

The first in the order of service is always the parents of the couple. Therefore, in our ceremony, this will be:

Miss Big’s Parents

  • Papa Bighorn & Mama Bighorn

Mr Big’s Parents:

  • De Papa Big & Mumma Bighorn

Following the parents is usually the elders from the groom’s side starting with the paternal family and then moving on to the maternal side. “Elders” comprise of grandparents, uncles and aunties, and married siblings and cousins. Again, due to the nature of our tea ceremony, my family will be going first, and as I have a rather large family, the order of service will be:

Papa Bighorn’s family:

  • Uncle B and Auntie D
  • Uncle L and Auntie C
  • Uncle D and Auntie S
  • Cousin D and Cousin D’s Wife Y
  • Cousin L and Cousin L’s Husband P

Mama Bighorn’s family:

  • Mami & Papi (my godparents!)
  • Uncle Fung & Auntie Pin
  • Auntie Soo

Followed by Mr Big’s side of the family:

De Papa Big’s family:

  • Auntie Pen

Mumma Bighorn’s family:

  • Ado Big (Mr Big’s only uncle from his mumma’s side!)

My family is pretty big in comparison to Mr Big’s! Normally grandparents on both bride and groom’s sides of the family go before the aunts and uncles and after the parents, however, Mr Big and I have grandparents who are either deceased or unable to make it to the wedding. We will, however, commemorate them in our civil ceremony.

 

How to Serve Tea

Just like in a civil ceremony, the groom stands on the right and the bride on the left. When serving tea, the bride and groom usually kneel in front of their elders and offer the tea cups with two hands, a sign of respect. However, some couples just bow upon giving the tea to their elders. The elders sit in chairs facing the couple, and when receiving the tea, take the tea cup with both hands to reciprocate that respect.

After each elder receives and drinks their tea, it is typical to gift the couple with either monetary or non-fiscal possessions like jewellery. Monetary gifts are often received in ‘red envelopes’ or ‘angpao’. The red envelope is always offered with two hands and received with two hands as a sign of respect. Often times, gifts of jewellery received by the elders are adorned on the couple immediately upon gifting.

gifting the couple

The newlyweds accepting gifts from their elders. The top two images depict gifts of jewellery. And the bottom image depicts the gifting of what is commonly called a “red envelope”, or “angpao”. Image & Photography by Kellee Walsh.

Decorative Elements

The Chinese tea ceremony has a few bare essentials such as the Chinese tea set, and an altar or table to display photos or candles in recognition of the two families.

praying to ancestors

Top left, the altar to worship the ancestors; top right, praying to the ancestors; and bottom, the tea set for the Chinese tea ceremony. Image & Photography via Kellee Walsh.

This recognition can come in the form of family photos or a ‘unity candle’ with the dragon and phoenix, the symbol of the male and female in Chinese culture, respectively. Other things that can be placed on the altar are: white flowers, fruit and wine offerings, and burning incense.

The tea set is usually gifted to the couple by the parents of the bride as part of the “dowry”. In the case of the Bighorn wedding, my parents didn’t know about this tidbit, but Mama Bighorn was more than happy to purchase a tea set for Mr Big and myself. When we went looking, Mama Bighorn and I found ourselves in a shop that sold Chinese wares, from incense pots to statues, scrolls to tea seats. We eventually found some a few tea sets lying haphazardly near the door.

They were in different colours: blue, black, white, and red. After rummaging through, I saw a red and gold tea set with pretty patterns and good-sized cups. They were $AU30 each but Mama Bighorn managed to get it down to $AU25.

Want to see the pretty?

Chinese tea set!

Personal photo.

As for the tea itself, it can be served as either a sweet tea (for example, longan tea) or a standard tea (such as traditional green tea or jasmine tea).

lotus and date tea

Tea served with lotus seeds and red dates, symbolic of the newlyweds bearing children quickly and often. The sweetness of the tea is also supposed to invoke “sweet relations” between the families. Image via Are You Gonna Eat That?. Photography via Pelaez Photography (out of business).

Other things that can be used to decorate the Chinese tea ceremony are the ‘double happiness’ symbol, the dragon and phoenix motif, decorative firecrackers, and lots of red and gold which symbolise luck and happiness.

double-happiness

The Double Happiness Symbol. Image via Tumblr.

Some people even do lion dances (a la Mrs Toucan!).

lion dancing

Two lions holding a banner which, according to Mrs Toucan, reads “100 years of happiness together”. Photography via Robert Mirani Photography.

What to Wear

Traditionally, the bride wears a qipao, qua or a cheongsam, traditional Chinese dresses. Oftentimes these are decorated with embroidery of the dragon and phoenix or flowers.

the qua

Mrs Toucan in her qua. Photography via Robert Mirani Photography.

Grooms also have traditional formal attire, which consists of a Mandarin jacket and matching patterned pants. Although some grooms have updated that look:

traditional clothing

A groom in a traditional Mandarin jacket with knot-buttons and a classic mandarin collar but with black slacks. Image via Alante Photography.

However, in this modern age, some brides have taken to wearing the white dress to the tea ceremony and many grooms have taken to wearing the tuxedo or suit that they’ll be in all day.

Originally, I wanted to wear the traditional Chinese dress as I’ve never ever worn one, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be. This is because, 1) it’s difficult to find an off-the-rack Chinese gown in my size (I’m petite but curvy with a little bit of chub – read: not “standard Asian size”), and 2) it would’ve been difficult to change from my white gown into a traditional red dress with the Chinese tea ceremony after the civil ceremony and at the same location. Therefore, I’ll be wearing my white wedding dress, but have incorporated some red into it to honour my Chinese heritage.

As for Mr Big, he’ll be wearing his suit, although he’s keen to wear his schmick silk black Chinese brocade jacket he bought in China. We’ll have to see what happens on the day!

All-in-all, I’m excited to have this as a part of my wedding. It’s a good nod to tradition and I love the meaning behind it. I’m super bummed that I won’t be able to wear a traditional Chinese dress, but honestly, I have no idea where to get one in Australia that isn’t mini-sized!

What do you guys think about the tea ceremony? Does anyone know where to get Chinese dresses in Australia!?

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4 Responses to “A Bow to Tradition”

  1. brettthistlethwaite November 6, 2013 at 11:39 #

    The taking of the Bride can be a lot of fun… or a massive pain in the arse – depending on cultural outlook. I never had to do that, being married in Australia but I’ve been part of two chinese weddings were it took place – both with 老外 marrying Chinese girls.

    Basically the brides family put her in the bedroom and the younger (and sometimes not so young) SINGLE girls lock or barricade the front door. Entry is gained by handing over red envelopes with money in them (usually lower denominations else the girls will think they are on to a good scam and run it for every penny – by the same token though, on getting the low denomination envelopes they say the groom is ‘cheap’ and doesn’t value their ‘sister’ and refuse entry – either way the groom – or usually the best man – ends up handing out a lot of packets).

    This is accompanied by shouts and protestations on both sides. I enjoyed it immensely but then again I wasn’t the poor bastard bribing my way in.

    Once in, it aint over – noooooo. She’s in her room (locked) and won’t come out. The same girls that you bribed 5 minutes earlier now team up with the bride and harrangue the groom to show his sincerity – this is normally humiliating for the groom (and likely designed to set the tone for the next 50 years of marriage). Requests range from poetry, to singing a song, to doing X number of push ups etc.

    Once ‘appeased’ and the laughter is spent, he’s given the key (or mamma opens the door) and there is the Bride! She’s done up and looks fantastic! Lets go! Gotta get you to the Altar RIIIIGHT now!

    “No so fast” – Turns out she’s missing a shoe. And now the bloody Groom and his merry men have to search the house for it (and or bribe for clues). Once found then they head into the lounge room to pay respects to the Family. At that point Mother and Father and assorted Aunties and Uncles are all in the lounge room. Its up to the bride and groom to bow to each (in rank) and also pay respects to the family Altar (and ancestors + whatever gods the family holds dear – PuSa, goddess of Buddhist Mercy, is pretty common). They’ll get the red envelopes at that point from the older relo’s but not necessarily mum and dad who may save it for the reception. Depends.

    THEN they get out of the house.

    Oh and the respects to the Parents, in-laws and gods? All done with Rice Spirits. Good luck with that. Normally a small sip or even touch of the lips will suffice but sometimes there is nothing you can do but slurp it down as the older in-laws grin evilly and do a shot with you.

  2. brettthistlethwaite November 6, 2013 at 11:40 #

    The Tea Ceremony – never seen it with Chinese Weddings in China or Taiwan – what I did see what a crap load of rice spirits being drunk. 🙂

  3. brettthistlethwaite November 6, 2013 at 13:00 #

    On the matter of ‘rice spirits’ – its traditional for the happy couple to do the rounds with each table and toast them with a small cup of rice wine. Assuming you have 10 tables of 10 guests then you are looking at 10 shots! Thats a smaller scale wedding… then you have the evil minded bastards at some tables who insist on also doing a ‘toast’ with the couple of their own. This can substantially increase the number of shots – of which Bride and Groom ‘must’ drink.

    Typically the bride can get away with either just a touch of the lips to the cup or a small sip but also may substitute the wine/spirits for water.

    The groom can also ‘take the hit’ for the bride, as can one of the brides maids or maid of honour. The best man can ‘take the hit’ for the groom… but the stand in’s better have iron livers and stomachs – the typical custom is for the support team to drink on a two for one basis… ie if the Bride has to take a shot, and the maid of honour takes it for her? She has to take TWO.

    Not surprisingly, many a happy couple are wasted by the time the wedding feast is over.

    And I am not even going into the tricks guests play on the Bride and Groom and the ‘games’ the guests subject them to. Nor am I going into the custom where the hard core pain in the arse guests head back to the matrimonial bedroom of the bride and groom to play Mahjong and tease them until they get thrown out or until dawn, which ever comes first (this particular custom is all but dead thank goodness!).

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Part 2, Wedding Traditions: Something, Something. | The Wedding Rollercoaster - November 6, 2013

    […] about Chinese wedding traditions that we’ll be including in the wedding. I also talked about the Chinese tea ceremony and it’s importance (and I may have overused the Jared Leto gif, just a […]

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