Surprisingly, when I was young, I attended a large number of weddings. A lot of my friends have just experienced being invited to join, but not me! I think growing up in a big family gave me an advantage – Plus, I was at the perfect age at the time to be a florist in FIVE different weddings! With all the practice I had (and very little left at the time), I was able to really sit back and quietly watch the behind-the-scenes of what went on at a wedding. Even so, when it comes to a family wedding, there is always an extra, especially incorporated on the wedding day: the traditional Chinese tea ceremony.
The Chinese tea ceremony is a cultural tradition at weddings, where the bride and groom serve tea to their families. It probably dates back to the Tang Dynasty in China! This can include parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and other older family members. Offering your elders in order of age is an important part of the ritual to show respect and gratitude. The engagement ceremony usually takes place on the wedding day and it symbolizes the reunification of the two families.
The bride and groom can wear traditional costumes in the tea ceremony such as cheongsam for the bride, which is often covered with golden dragons, flowers or phoenix symbols. You can also serve any tea you like. After the tea is made, the wedding party or family members who are not participating can help with the ceremony by pouring tea from the kettle into tea cups and leaving it to the couple to present and serve. These helpers can also help make tea and wash the kettle after use.
When serving tea, the couple must kneel before the elder on a cushion or pillow. This is important because it is part of the ritual process of the ceremony of raising the elderly relative. When giving tea to each recipient, you must hold the teacup with both hands – and as is customary, the groom serves the groom’s father and the bride serves the groom’s mother, then passes. You follow the same order until you down the list of family members. In exchange for tea, the couple can receive gifts from each of their relatives, which is not only to celebrate the wedding but also to show acceptance of it. These gifts range from red envelopes filled with cash (symbolizing luck and fortune) or jewelry like gold bracelets and jade pendants (usually passed down from parents). When given jewelry, the couple must wear it immediately to show their appreciation and thanks.
While this may be an old tradition, the meaning behind the tea ceremony is a great symbolism of both families respectively welcoming the bride and groom into each one. Serving and drinking tea symbolizes the parents’ recognition and acceptance of newcomers into the family.
Over the years, I remember seeing family members on both sides line up for the soon-to-be couple before their wedding ceremony. A room filled with excited chatter, flickering teacups, and sometimes noisy sipping tea. Through old photo albums, I got to see my grandmothers, aunts, cousins, and mothers on their personal tea day – dressed in traditional costumes, holding antique teapots and wearing heirloom jewelry. , all of which aim to bridge two families together. Experiencing tea ceremonies firsthand and knowing that my loved ones have participated in them before made me realize the importance and purpose of having my own tea ceremony when it’s time to get married.
And that day has finally come!
Dressed in the traditional red ao dai, my husband and I knelt on borrowed silk cushions in front of the family elders, who welcomed us with open arms. We served green tea to each of them from my mother’s heirloom tea set, which my grandmother and father were married to. I can remember my grandfather grinning from ear to ear, my husband curious to see what was going on, my grandmother whispering to me the meaning of each piece of jewelry, and my father jokingly complaining about how much tea he was served. In return, we received red envelopes and layers of jewelry.
And just like tradition, I wouldn’t do it any other way.