Feature photos from Kang Wei & Jamie’s wedding.

In current times, most couples adopt a modern take on the flow of their wedding by either incorporating some traditions or none at all. Some do it for the experience, but there are also others who continue to carry on the practices based on the traditions unique to their dialect groups.

Although modern adaptations of the Chinese customs are becoming increasingly common in Singapore, it’s always great to backtrack and better understand why some traditions were done, and which ones continue to be part of modern Chinese weddings.

In this article, we will be diving into traditional Chinese customs practiced by the four main dialect groups in Singapore – Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, and Hakka to explain the meaning behind some of the customs and how they have withstood the test of time.

The typical flow of events and some minor differences that are unique to each dialect group are as such:

1. Betrothal Gift Ceremony – 过大礼 Guo Da Li

Guò Dà Lǐ (过大礼)

Traditionally, Guò Dà Lǐ (过大礼) is considered to be the official wedding proposal. This is also the very first part of the Chinese customs which involves the gifting and receiving of betrothal gifts. Based on Chinese superstitions, the ceremony must be conducted on an auspicious day. Naturally, almost all the other parts of the wedding like the Matrimonial Bed Set-up (An Chuang) and the actual wedding day itself are done on auspicious days too.

In modern times, 过大礼 happens 1-2 weeks before the actual wedding day. The groom will also be accompanied by an elder with good fortune (福气 Fú qi) from the groom’s side. This elder should be someone who already has a few grandchildren, lives a decent life, financially well to do, and is well-liked.

When it comes to matters of financing, both the bride and groom’s parents may share the cost of the wedding banquet, or in most cases these days, the couple may choose to pay for the expenses themselves instead. Rather than purchasing furniture items and bridal essentials (basin, spittoon, etc. necessary for child birthing in the past) for the couple, parents may also give the couple a sum of money for them to buy them instead.

Other Preparations

Other aspects of the wedding preparation include also include the shopping of wedding jewellery by the bride’s parents, and the compilation of the couples’ parents’ guests for the guest list. Then, wedding invitation cards can be printed. Also, not forgetting the appointment of very important people who will ensure the success of the wedding – the bridesmaids and groomsmen.

Past Practices

In the past, Guo Da Li would happen on an arranged meeting day. Together with the groom’s family members, he will deliver the betrothal gifts to the bride’s family to express his sincerity in marrying their daughter.

During the meeting, both families will pick an auspicious day for the wedding day and returning of gifts (回礼 Huí lǐ). But of course, this practice is extremely rare in Singapore now. As mentioned before, Guo Da Li usually happens 1-2 weeks before the actual wedding day, rather than months before. 

Additionally, there would also be a discussion during the meeting about whether the bride’s parents would prefer to receive betrothal money, or the groom’s family would cover the costs for the wedding banquet. If it’s the latter, the groom’s family would proceed to source for a banquet venue and make a reservation.

Other Chinese Superstitions

Before proceeding with the marital process, the Chinese may also consult a Feng Shui master or even the Eight Characters of Life 八字 Bā zì (a.k.a “Four Pillars of Destiny”). The Ba Zi study believes that your birth time and date will determine your future – career, marriage, fortune, studies, and health to be precise. Hence, even today, the eight characters for some couples their eight characters need to match before they can get married.

Huí Lǐ (回礼)

During Huí Lǐ (回礼), the bride’s family will return half the items that were gifted during Guo Dà Lǐ, except the wine and red packet, to the groom’s family. This is an expression of their hopes that both families will maintain a good relationship with one another.

In addition to these items, the bride’s dowry will also be included in the gift basket. The dowry items include personal items for her and the household/couple’s new home, the tea set, and the bride’s wedding jewellery (golden bangles or 四点金 Sì diǎn jīn).

The tea set and wedding jewellery are used and presented during the tea ceremony respectively. It is also interesting to note that the bride’s dowry items should not be touched by pregnant ladies or children to avoid any clash in fortunes (撞喜 Zhuàng xǐ).

This practice is still done today as it has a deep symbolic meaning of good luck and prosperity, and performing them properly is necessary to show respect and sincerity for the union between both families.

I. The Four Dialect Groups

Stemming from different parts of China, the dialect groups all share a similar flow of events but their differences are most apparent in the items included in the Betrothal gift (Guo Da Li).

Hokkien & Teochew

The Hokkien’s preference for sugarcanes dates back to the Song Dynasty when people evaded a massacre ordered by the emperor by hiding in sugarcane fields. Since then, it has been a symbol of protection to them. In a Hokkien gift basket, you can also find pig trotters and rice candies.

The Teochews on the other hand, generally prefer flaky pastries and peanut candies (my grandmother is Teochew so I really enjoy these too), and also “Old Grandma Cake” (嫲糕 lǎo ma gāo) only if the bride’s grandmother is still alive. Out of the four groups, Teochews seem to be the remaining group who continue to closely follow the tradition of gifting “4 pieces of Jewellery” (四點金 sì diǎn jīn) to the bride. This set consists of a necklace, a pendant, a pair of earrings, and a bangle, all made of gold.

four-piece jewellery set in a red box

Four-piece jewellery set (四點金). From Ephraim & Natasha’s Wedding.
Gold Dragon Earring

Gold Phenix Earring

Dragon & Phoenix Earrings. From Kang Wei & Jamie’s Wedding

Although some Hokkiens do gift this jewellery set, most would only gift two golden or jade bangles – one with a dragon and the other a phoenix (龙凤镯 Lóng fèng zhuó).

Golden bangles (including Dragon & Phoenix bangles). From Mitchell & Elsie’s Wedding.

Hokkien & Teochew Origin

Both originating from the south, the Hokkien came from Fujian province and Teochew from Chaozhou prefecture in Guangdong province.

Do you know?

The first Teochew dialect group to arrive in Singapore after 1819 came from the Riau Islands of Indonesia and Siam (now Thailand).

Cantonese & Hakka

For both Cantonese and Hakka, a matchmaker (媒婆 Méi pó), an elderly female with good fortune, was hired in the past to bring both families together to pick out the auspicious date and time for Guo Da Li. As there are not many around these days, the role is undertaken by an older female relative with a husband and children who are all alive. This could be the groom’s elderly female relative (usually a married aunt with children), or his older married female cousin if no one fits the bill. For the Cantonese, it could also be the eldest uncle’s wife from the bride’s family (大妗姐 “Dai Kam Jie” in Cantonese).

It has been a long-standing tradition to give a whole roast suckling pig to the bride’s mother, and it’s still a common practice today. This is usually either on the actual wedding day or when returning to the bride’s home. Giving a roast suckling pig whole is a sign of the bride’s chastity, and if she has lost her chastity, the pig’s tails or ears will be broken off. However, a whole roast suckling pig hasn’t always been used for this significance:

Traditionally, a red dot (宫纱珠 Gōng shā zhū) placed on the bride’s forearm was used to represent her chastity and disappears when she loses it. As pig (  “zhu”) sounds like a pearl ( “zhu”) in 宫纱珠 “Gōng shā zhū”, the tradition has then been replaced with the gifting of a whole roast pig. 

Though in current times, the meaning doesn’t hold as much importance anymore, it still remains a must-have gift to mothers-in-law.

Unique to the Hakka is the gifting of the Hakka Abacus Beads (盘子 Suàn pán zi), which is a Hakka delicacy that is included in the groom’s betrothal gift to the bride’s family.

Cantonese & Hakka Origin

Also originating from the southern Guangdong province, the Cantonese share some similarities with their southern counterparts (Hokkien & Teochew) and the Hakka. The Hakka (客家 Kè jiā), which means “guest families” in mandarin, is a migratory group found all over China and thus, do not belong to a specific province or city. Thought to originate from the north, most Hakka have migrated to the south and have been practicing southern wedding customs since then.

II. Guo Da Li Items

Usually, the items given in the gift baskets are tailored according to the requests of the bride or groom’s family for both Guo Da Li and Hui Li respectively. It has also become more common to gift items that are meaningful to the family members. Hence, the following list is a guide of what is commonly included in Guo Da Li. 

teochew guo da li baskets

A Hokkien Guo Da Li for the bride and her family.
Pictured from left to right, 
Back row: a pair of Golden Coconuts, Traditional wedding cakes (喜饼 Xǐ bǐng), Dragon & Phoenix Candles (wax & electronic versions), cans of Pig Trotter. 
Front row: Longan, Red Dates, Lotus Seeds, Dowry red packets, Golden jewellery wrapped in red cloth, 2 bottles of Hard Liquor. 

A Large red packet containing dowry/betrothal gift money. 

*Bolded are the items that are unique to the respective dialect groups

 
Download the checklist for Guo Da Li [Hokkien] here!
 
 
  • Black & Red or Straw Basket (过大礼盛篮 Guò dà lǐ shèng lán)
    Can be rented from shops
  • 1 Large red packet with betrothal gift money (聘金 Pìn jīn)
    Amount given must have the number “8”, and usually ranges between $6888 to $8888.
    Prepared by groom’s parents in the past, but now by the groom himself. Most of the time, the bride’s family will only take a small amount to show their appreciation, and return the rest to the groom.
  • 1 Red packet with diaper money (洗屎喜包 Xǐ shǐ xǐ bāo) To thank bride’s parents for her upbringing.
    Optional depending on families.
  • 2 pairs of Dragon & Phoenix wedding candles (龙凤烛 Lóng fèng zhú)
    To be used during Hair-combing ritual, and actual wedding day.
  • Minimum 6 cans of Pig trotter (猪蹄 Zhū tí)
    Gift for mother-in-law
  • 2 bottles of Hard Liquor (烈性酒 Liè xìng jiǔ) or Red/White Wine (红/白葡萄酒 Hóng/bái pú táo jiǔ)
    Gift for father-in-law
  • Traditional Wedding Cakes (喜饼 Xǐ bǐng)
    The type of cake will vary depending on bride’s family, and will be distributed amongst her family and relatives.
    The bride is recommended not to eat any as it’s considered inauspicious. 
  • Rice Candy (大米糖 Dà mǐ táng)
    Symbolizes prosperity
  • Black Moss (发菜 Fā cài)
    Symbolizes striking rich
  • 8-12 oranges (橘子 Jú zi)
    Symbolizes good luck
  • Charcoal (旺炭 Wàng tàn)
    Symbolize a good life after marriage for the bride.
  • Double Happiness Stickers (喜字貼紙 Xǐ zì tiē zhǐ)
    Used for home decoration.
  • 2 sets of red banners [3 metres each] (红彩两套 Hóng cǎi liǎng tào)
    1 for groom and 1 for bride to hang over their main door
  • A pair of coconuts (椰子 Yē zi)
    Symbolize a future with multi-generation (有爷有子 Yǒu yé yǒu zǐ)
  • 2 cans of tea leaves (茶叶 Chá yè) & 2 packets of white sesame seeds (白芝麻 Bái zhī ma)
    Symbolize seeds growing into trees
  • 1 Gift box containing the following for An Chuang For presentation and are to be brought back to the groom’s home:
    • Jewellery for the bride: Golden/Jade Dragon & Phoenix bangles (龙凤镯 Lóng fèng zhuó)
      Some families still prefer Si Dian Jin (四点金). 
      Presented during Guo Da Li but will only be given by groom’s parents during tea ceremony.
    • Dried Longan (龙眼干 Lóng yǎn gān)
      Symbolise blessings for a dragon boy (早生贵子 Zǎo shēng guì zǐ)
    • Red Dates (红枣 Hóng zǎo)
      Symbolise good fortune (鸿运当头 Hóng yùn dāng tóu)
    • Lotus Seeds (莲子 Lián zǐ)
      Symbolise having many children (连连生子 Lián lián shēng zǐ)
    • Dried Cantaloupe (干哈密瓜 Gān hā mì guā)
      Symbolise having a sweet life together (甜甜蜜蜜 Tián tián mì mì)
    • Lily bulbs (百合 Bǎi hé)
      Symbolise harmonious union for years to come (百年好合 Bǎi nián hǎo hé)
    • Walnut (核桃 Hé táo) / Peanut (花生 Huā shēng)
      Symbolise harmony between families (和和气气 Hé hé qì qì)
    • Dried Tangerine (干橘子 Gān jú zi)
      Symbolise great awesome luck (大吉大利 Dà jí dà lì)
    • 2 boxes of 5 element seeds (五谷丰收 Wǔ gǔ fēng shōu)
      Symbolise blessings for the couple to have bountiful harvests (
      百年好合五谷 Bǎi nián hǎo hé wǔ gǔ).
      These are different grains like red beans, green beans, wheat, soy beans, barley or rice.
  • Groom’s family buys these together with the rest of the the Guo Da Li items, but they will be left at the groom’s house for the Hair Combing Ritual. These will not be included in the gift basket.
    • Sharp comb (尖头梳 Jiān tóu shū)
    • Red string (红头绳 Hóng tóu shéng)
    • Mirror (镜子 Jìng zi)
 
Download the checklist for Guo Da Li [Teochew] here!
  • Black & Red or Straw Basket (过大礼盛篮 Guò dà lǐ shèng lán)
    Can be rented from shops
  • 1 Large red packet with betrothal gift money (聘金 Pìn jīn)
    Amount given must have the number “8”, and usually ranges between $6888 to $8888.
    Prepared by groom’s parents in the past, but now by the groom himself. Most of the time, the bride’s family will only take a small amount to show their appreciation, and return the rest to the groom.
  • 1 Red packet with diaper money (洗屎喜包 Xǐ shǐ xǐ bāo)
    To thank bride’s parents for her upbringing.
    Optional depending on families.
  • 2 pairs of Dragon & Phoenix wedding candles (龙凤烛 Lóng fèng zhú)
    To be used during Hair-combing ritual, and actual wedding day.
  • Minimum 6 cans of Pig trotter (猪蹄 Zhū tí)
    Gift for mother-in-law
  • 2 bottles of Hard Liquor (烈性酒 Liè xìng jiǔ) or Red/White Wine (红/白葡萄酒 Hóng/bái pú táo jiǔ)
    Gift for father-in-law
  • Traditional Wedding Cakes (喜饼 Xǐ bǐng)
    The type of cake will vary depending on bride’s family, and will be distributed amongst her family and relatives.
    The bride is recommended not to eat any as it’s considered inauspicious. 
  • Peanut & sesame candy (花生芝麻糖 Huā shēng zhī ma táng)
    Symbolise having offspring soon
  • Old Grandma Cake “Lao Ma Gor” ( Lǎo ma gāo)
    Wedding pastry for Teochew.
    Only applicable if grandmother is still around.
  • Banana (香蕉 Xiāng jiāo)
    Symbolise bringing children in (Lián zhāo guì zǐ)
  • Black Moss (发菜 Fā cài)
    Symbolizes striking rich
  • 8-12 oranges (橘子 Jú zi)
    Symbolizes good luck
  • Charcoal (旺炭 Wàng tàn)
    Symbolize a good life after marriage for the bride.
  • Double Happiness Stickers (喜字貼紙 Xǐ zì tiē zhǐ)
    Used for home decoration
  • 2 sets of red banners [3 metres each] (红彩两套 Hóng cǎi liǎng tào)
    1 for groom and 1 for bride to hang over their main door
  • A pair of coconuts (椰子 Yē zi)
    Symbolize a future with multi-generation (有爷有子 Yǒu yé yǒu zǐ)
  • 2 cans of tea leaves (茶叶 Chá yè) & 2 packets of white sesame seeds (白芝麻 Bái zhī ma)
    Symbolize seeds growing into trees
  • 1 Gift box containing the following for An Chuang For presentation and are to be brought back to the groom’s home:
    • Jewellery for the bride: 4 pieces of gold jewellery – 四点金 sì diǎn jīn
      (Ring, earrings, necklace & bangle)
      Presented during Guo Da Li but will only be given by groom’s parents during tea ceremony.
    • Dried Longan (龙眼干 Lóng yǎn gān)
      Symbolise blessings for a dragon boy (早生贵子 Zǎo shēng guì zǐ)
    • Red Dates (红枣 Hóng zǎo)
      Symbolise good fortune (鸿运当头 Hóng yùn dāng tóu)
    • Lotus Seeds (莲子 Lián zǐ)
      Symbolise having many children (连连生子 Lián lián shēng zǐ)
    • Dried Cantaloupe (干哈密瓜 Gān hā mì guā)
      Symbolise having a sweet life together (甜甜蜜蜜 Tián tián mì mì)
    • Lily bulbs (百合 Bǎi hé)
      Symbolise harmonious union for years to come (百年好合 Bǎi nián hǎo hé)
    • Walnut (核桃 Hé táo) / Peanut (花生 Huā shēng)
      Symbolise harmony between families (和和气气 Hé hé qì qì)
    • Dried Tangerine (干橘子 Gān jú zi)
      Symbolise great awesome luck (大吉大利 Dà jí dà lì)
    • 2 boxes of 5 element seeds (五谷丰收 Wǔ gǔ fēng shōu)
      Symbolise blessings for the couple to have bountiful harvests (
      百年好合五谷 Bǎi nián hǎo hé wǔ gǔ).
      These are different grains like red beans, green beans, wheat, soy beans, barley or rice.
  •  Groom’s family buys these together with the rest of the the Guo Da Li items, but they will be left at the groom’s house for the Hair Combing Ritual. These will not be included in the gift basket.
    • Sharp comb (尖头梳 Jiān tóu shū)
    • Red string (红头绳 Hóng tóu shéng)
    • Mirror (镜子 Jìng zi)
 
Download the checklist for Guo Da Li [Cantonese] here!
  • Black & Red or Straw Basket (过大礼盛篮 Guò dà lǐ shèng lán)
    Can be rented from shops
  • 1 Large red packet with betrothal gift money (聘金 Pìn jīn)
    Amount given must have the number “8”, and usually ranges between $6888 to $8888.
    Prepared by groom’s parents in the past, but now by the groom himself. Most of the time, the bride’s family will only take a small amount to show their appreciation, and return the rest to the groom.
  • 1 Red packet with diaper money (洗屎喜包 Xǐ shǐ xǐ bāo)
    To thank bride’s parents for her upbringing.
    Optional depending on families.
  • 2 pairs of Dragon & Phoenix wedding candles (龙凤烛 Lóng fèng zhú)
    To be used during Hair-combing ritual, and actual wedding day.
  • Minimum 6 cans of Pig trotter (猪蹄 Zhū tí) or a Whole Roast Suckling Pig (全体燒乳猪 Quán tǐ shāo rǔ zhū)
    If given on actual wedding day, groom still has to prepare pig trotter cans for Guo Da Li.
    Roast pig symbolizes virginity.
    Gift for mother-in-law
  • 2 bottles of Hard Liquor (烈性酒 Liè xìng jiǔ) or Red/White Wine (红/白葡萄酒 Hóng/bái pú táo jiǔ)
    Gift for father-in-law
  • Traditional Wedding Cakes (喜饼 Xǐ bǐng)
    The type of cake will vary depending on bride’s family, and will be distributed amongst her family and relatives.
    The bride is recommended not to eat any as it’s considered inauspicious. 
  • Seafood (海鲜 Hǎi xiān)
    (Sea cucumber, Abalone, Scallop, Shark fin, Cuttlefish, Dried prawn, Dried oyster, Dried mushroom, Dried fish maw)
  • Black Moss (发菜 Fā cài)
    Symbolizes striking rich
  • 8-12 oranges (橘子 Jú zi)
    Symbolizes good luck
  • Charcoal (旺炭 Wàng tàn)
    Symbolize a good life after marriage for the bride.
  • Double Happiness Stickers (喜字貼紙 Xǐ zì tiē zhǐ)
    Used for home decoration
  • 2 sets of red banners [3 metres each] (红彩两套 Hóng cǎi liǎng tào)
    1 for groom and 1 for bride to hang over their main door
  • A pair of coconuts (椰子 Yē zi)
    Symbolize a future with multi-generation (有爷有子 Yǒu yé yǒu zǐ)
  • 2 cans of tea leaves (茶叶 Chá yè) & 2 packets of white sesame seeds (白芝麻 Bái zhī ma)
    Symbolize seeds growing into trees
  • 1 Gift box containing the following for An Chuang
    For presentation and are to be brought back to the groom’s home:

    • Jewellery for the bride: Golden Dragon & Phoenix Bangles (龙凤镯 Lóng fèng zhuó)
      Presented during Guo Da Li but will only be given by groom’s parents during tea ceremony.
    • Dried Longan (龙眼干 Lóng yǎn gān)
      Symbolise blessings for a dragon boy (早生贵子 Zǎo shēng guì zǐ)
    • Red Dates (红枣 Hóng zǎo)
      Symbolise good fortune (鸿运当头 Hóng yùn dāng tóu)
    • Lotus Seeds (莲子 Lián zǐ)
      Symbolise having many children (连连生子 Lián lián shēng zǐ)
    • Dried Cantaloupe (干哈密瓜 Gān hā mì guā)
      Symbolise having a sweet life together (甜甜蜜蜜 Tián tián mì mì)
    • Lily bulbs (百合 Bǎi hé)
      Symbolise harmonious union for years to come (百年好合 Bǎi nián hǎo hé)
    • Walnut (核桃 Hé táo) / Peanut (花生 Huā shēng)
      Symbolise harmony between families (和和气气 Hé hé qì qì)
    • Dried Tangerine (干橘子 Gān jú zi)
      Symbolise great awesome luck (大吉大利 Dà jí dà lì)
    • 2 boxes of 5 element seeds (五谷丰收 Wǔ gǔ fēng shōu)
      Symbolise blessings for the couple to have bountiful harvests (
      百年好合五谷 Bǎi nián hǎo hé wǔ gǔ).
      These are different grains like red beans, green beans, wheat, soy beans, barley or rice.
  • Groom’s family buys these together with the rest of the the Guo Da Li items, but they will be left at the groom’s house for the Hair Combing Ritual. These will not be included in the gift basket.
    • Sharp comb (尖头梳 Jiān tóu shū)
    • Red string (红头绳 Hóng tóu shéng)
    • Mirror (镜子 Jìng zi)
 
Download the checklist for Guo Da Li [Hakka] here!
  • Black & Red or Straw Basket (过大礼盛篮 Guò dà lǐ shèng lán)
    Can be rented from shops
  • 1 Large red packet with betrothal gift money (聘金 Pìn jīn)
    Amount given must have the number “8”, and usually ranges between $6888 to $8888.
    Prepared by groom’s parents in the past, but now by the groom himself. Most of the time, the bride’s family will only take a small amount to show their appreciation, and return the rest to the groom.
  • 1 Red packet with diaper money (洗屎喜包 Xǐ shǐ xǐ bāo)
    To thank bride’s parents for her upbringing.
    Optional depending on families.
  • 2 pairs of Dragon & Phoenix wedding candles (龙凤烛 Lóng fèng zhú)
    To be used during Hair-combing ritual, and actual wedding day.
  • Minimum 6 cans of Pig trotter (猪蹄 Zhū tí) or a Whole Roast Suckling Pig (全体燒乳猪 Quán tǐ shāo rǔ zhū)
    If given on actual wedding day, groom still has to prepare pig trotter cans for Guo Da Li Roast pig symbolizes virginity.
    Gift for mother-in-law
  • 2 bottles of Hard Liquor (烈性酒 Liè xìng jiǔ) or Red/White Wine (红/白葡萄酒 Hóng/bái pú táo jiǔ)
    Gift for father-in-law
  • Traditional Wedding Cakes (喜饼 Xǐ bǐng)
    Type of cake will vary depending on bride’s family, and will be distributed amongst her family and relatives The bride is recommended not to eat any as it’s considered inauspicious. 
  • Seafood (海鲜 Hǎi xiān)
    (Sea cucumber, Abalone, Scallop, Shark fin, Cuttlefish, Dried prawn, Dried oyster, Dried mushroom, Dried fish maw)
  • Abacus Seeds (算盘子 Suàn pán zi)
    A Hakka delicacy
  • Black Moss (发菜 Fā cài)
    Symbolizes striking rich
  • 8-12 oranges (橘子 Jú zi)
    Symbolizes good luck
  • Charcoal (旺炭 Wàng tàn)
    Symbolize a good life after marriage for the bride.
  • Double Happiness Stickers (喜字貼紙 Xǐ zì tiē zhǐ)
    Used for home decoration
  • 2 sets of red banners [3 metres each] (红彩两套 Hóng cǎi liǎng tào)
    1 for groom and 1 for bride to hang over their main door
  • A pair of coconuts (椰子 Yē zi)
    Symbolize a future with multi-generation (有爷有子 Yǒu yé yǒu zǐ)
  • 2 cans of tea leaves (茶叶 Chá yè) & 2 packets of white sesame seeds (白芝麻 Bái zhī ma)
    Symbolize seeds growing into trees
  • 1 Gift box containing the following for An Chuang For presentation and are to be brought back to the groom’s home:
    • Jewellery for the bride: Golden Dragon & Phoenix Bangles (龙凤镯 Lóng fèng zhuó)
      Presented during Guo Da Li but will only be given by groom’s parents during tea ceremony.
    • Dried Longan (龙眼干 Lóng yǎn gān)
      Symbolise blessings for a dragon boy (早生贵子 Zǎo shēng guì zǐ)
    • Red Dates (红枣 Hóng zǎo)
      Symbolise good fortune (鸿运当头 Hóng yùn dāng tóu)
    • Lotus Seeds (莲子 Lián zǐ)
      Symbolise having many children (连连生子 Lián lián shēng zǐ)
    • Dried Cantaloupe (干哈密瓜 Gān hā mì guā)
      Symbolise having a sweet life together (甜甜蜜蜜 Tián tián mì mì)
    • Lily bulbs (百合 Bǎi hé)
      Symbolise harmonious union for years to come (百年好合 Bǎi nián hǎo hé)
    • Walnut (核桃 Hé táo) / Peanut (花生 Huā shēng)
      Symbolise harmony between families (和和气气 Hé hé qì qì)
    • Dried Tangerine (干橘子 Gān jú zi)
      Symbolise great awesome luck (大吉大利 Dà jí dà lì)
    • 2 boxes of 5 element seeds (五谷丰收 Wǔ gǔ fēng shōu)
      Symbolise blessings for the couple to have bountiful harvests (
      百年好合五谷 Bǎi nián hǎo hé wǔ gǔ).
      These are different grains like red beans, green beans, wheat, soy beans, barley or rice.
  • Groom’s family buys these together with the rest of the the Guo Da Li items, but they will be left at the groom’s house for the Hair Combing Ritual. These will not be included in the gift basket.
    • Sharp comb (尖头梳 Jiān tóu shū)
    • Red string (红头绳 Hóng tóu shéng)
    • Mirror (镜子 Jìng zi)

III. Hui Li Items

As mentioned before, Hui Li gifts are also tailored to the requests of the groom’s family, and meaningful gifts may be included as well. 

Hui li

A Teochew Hui Li for the groom and his family.
Includes a portion of Guo Da Li gifts which are returned to the groom’s family.

From left to right: 
Back row: Dragon & Phoenix candles, Sewing kit, a basket of an even number of Mandarin Oranges, a Watch for the groom, Prosperity Wedding Lamps for An chuang, Spittoon & metallic Washbasin.
Front row: Tea ceremony set, Dining Set (Plates & Bowls), Cakes, various Red packets

Left: Red packets for groom and his family members, and one red packet with a portion of Dowry money returned.
Right: Watch for the groom

*Bolded are the items that are unique to the respective dialect groups

 
Download the checklist for Hui Li [Hokkien/Teochew] here!
  • Watch (手表 Shǒu biǎo), Cufflinks (袖扣 Xiù kòu), Belt (腰带 Yāo dài), Gold Ring (黄金戒指 Huáng jīn jiè zhǐ), or wallet (钱包 Qián bāo) with Red Packet (红包 Hóng bāo)
  • Pants (裤子 Kù zi) or suit (西服 Xī fú)
    Symbolizes lifelong good fortune
  • Bottles of orange juice or syrup (罐装橙汁 Guàn zhuāng chéng zhī)
    In exchange for the liquor Symbolizes good luck
  • Fortune Cake (发糕 Fā gāo / “Huat Kueh” in Hokkien)
    Symbolizes prosperity 
  • Dowry Items (嫁妆 jià zhuāng)
    Placed in couple’s bedroom/bridal chambers during An Chuang

    • Furniture (家具 Jiā jù)
      (Bed, mattress or dressing table)
    • 1 Dowry sewing kit (针线包 Zhē xiàn bāo) / Sewing machine (缝纫机 Féng rèn jī)
      Used during Hair-combing ceremony
      Symbolize being bound together
    • 1 Wedding Ruler (子孙尺 Zǐ sūn chǐ)
      Used during Hair-combing ceremony
      Symbolise having many children and grandchildren (得寸尺 Dé cùn jìn chǐ)
    • Bridal Essentials
      Symbolizes fertility

      • Descendant pail set (宝桶 Zǐ sūn bǎo tǒng)
        Baby bathtub, potty/spittoon, washbasin
      • Mug set (家翁家婆杯 Jiā wēng jiā pó duì bēi)
      • Face Towel set (家翁家婆面巾 Jiā wēng jiā pó miàn jīn)
      • Toothbrush (结婚牙刷 Jié hūn yá shuā)
      • 2 pairs of slippers for wedding couple (夫妻同鞋 Fū qī tóng xié)
      • Linen covers for pillows and bed sheets (床单 Chuáng dān)
      • Tea ceremony set (孝心茶具 Xiào xīn chá jù)
      • Dining Set (家翁家婆碗 Jiā wēng jiā pó duì wǎn)
        (2 bowls, 2 pairs of spoons & chopsticks)
        Symbolizes having ample food and clothes (丰衣足食碗 fēng Yī zú shí wǎn)
      • 1 pair of prosperity lamp (添丁灯 Tiān dīng dēng)
      • 1 red umbrella (红伞 Hóng sǎn) For when the bride leaves her home (Chu Ge)
      • Fate coins (缘小缘 Dà yuán xiǎo yuán)
        For An Chuang
      • Charcoal (旺炭 Wàng tàn)
      • Sugarcane (甘蔗 Gān zhè)
        Symbolizes going through thick and thin (同甘共苦 Tóng gān gòng kǔ)
        *Hokkien only
  • Dowry Items (嫁妆 Jià zhuāng)
    Bride’s family buys these together with the rest of the Hui Li items, but they will be left at the bride’s house.
    These are not part of the Hui Li items. 

    • Lady Fan (玉女扇 Yù nǚ shàn)
      Used during Chu Ge
    • Round Comb (圆头梳 Yuán tóu shū), Red string (红头绳 Hóng tóu shéng) and Mirror (镜子 Jìng zi) set
      Used during hair combing ceremony
 
Download the checklist for Hui Li [Cantonese/Hakka] here!
  • Watch (手表 Shǒu biǎo), Cufflinks (袖扣 Xiù kòu), Belt (腰带 Yāo dài), Gold Ring (黄金戒指 Huáng jīn jiè zhǐ), or wallet (钱包 Qián bāo) with Red Packet (红包 Hóng bāo)
  • Pants (裤子 Kù zi) or suit (西服 Xī fú)
    Symbolizes lifelong good fortune
  • Bottles of orange juice or syrup (罐装橙汁 Guàn zhuāng chéng zhī)
    In exchange for the liquor
    Symbolizes good luck
  • Fortune Cake (发糕 Fā gāo / “Fatt Koh” in Cantonese)
    Symbolizes prosperity 
  • Dowry Items (嫁妆 Jià zhuāng)
    Placed in couple’s bedroom/bridal chambers during An Chuang

    • Furniture (家具Jjiā jù)
      Bed, mattress or dressing table
    • 1 Dowry sewing kit (针线包 Zhē xiàn bāo) / Sewing machine (缝纫机 Féng rèn jī)
      Used during Hair-combing ceremony
      Symbolize being bound together
    • 1 Wedding Ruler (子孙尺 Zǐ sūn chǐ)
      Used during Hair-combing ceremony
      Symbolise having many children and grandchildren (得寸尺 Dé cùn jìn chǐ)
    • Bridal Essentials
      Symbolizes fertility

      • Descendant pail set (宝桶 Zǐ sūn bǎo tǒng)
        Baby bathtub, potty/spittoon, washbasin
      • Mug set (家翁家婆杯 Jiā wēng jiā pó duì bēi)
      • Face Towel set (家翁家婆面巾 Jiā wēng jiā pó miàn jīn)
      • Toothbrush (结婚牙刷 Jié hūn yá shuā)
      • 2 pairs of slippers for wedding couple (夫妻同鞋 Fū qī tóng xié)
      • Linen covers for pillows and bed sheets (床单 Chuáng dān)
      • Tea ceremony set (孝心茶具 Xiào xīn chá jù)
      • Dining Set (家翁家婆碗 Jiā wēng jiā pó duì wǎn)
        2 bowls, 2 pairs of spoons & chopsticks Symbolizes having ample food and clothes (丰衣足食碗 Fēng yī zú shí wǎn)
      • 1 pair of prosperity lamp (添丁灯 Tiān dīng dēng)
      • 1 red umbrella (红伞 Hóng sǎn)
        For when the bride leaves her home (Chu Ge)
      • Fate coins (缘小缘 Dà yuán xiǎo yuán)
        For An Chuang
      • Charcoal (旺炭 Wàng tàn)
  • Dowry Items (嫁妆 Jià zhuāng)
    Bride’s family buys these together with the rest of the Hui Li items, but they will be left at the bride’s house. These are not part of the Hui Li items. 

    • Lady Fan (玉女扇 Yù nǚ shàn)
      Used during Chu Ge
    • Round Comb (圆头梳 Yuán tóu shū), Red string (红头绳 Hóng tóu shéng) and Mirror (镜子 Jìng zi) set
      Used during hair combing ceremony
  •  

2. Matrimonial Bed Set-up – 安床 An Chuang

Ān chuáng (安床) is generally done on an auspicious day (around 3 days to 1 week before the wedding day), and it is an important ritual of decorating and setting up nuptial beds. As “ Ān” in 安床 Ān chuáng, means safe or secure in mandarin, completing this ritual will bless the couple with fertility so they can have a whole and complete family, sharing a harmonious relationship with each other. Most parts of the custom also have a traditional symbolic meaning of blessing the bride with sons.

For Teochew & Hokkien, this ritual is preferably done by the groom’s parents or grandparents. On the other hand, for Cantonese and Hakka, the role is undertaken by a lady of good fortune (好命婆 Hǎo mìng pó), who is blissfully married, has many children and grandchildren who are all alive, to help set up the bed. Having a good fortune lady conduct the ritual symbolizes the passing of good fortune to the couple and their future offsprings. It can also be done by the groom’s parents or a married couple with good fortune as well.

Steps for An Chuang

This process begins with the changing of the bed linen to a bright, auspicious colour such as red, pink, or lavender, for a brand new bed. Based on Chinese superstitions, it is important to avoid darker and chrysanthemum-related colours, as these are associated with bad omens like death and funerals respectively.

In the same vein, sleeping on the new bed is considered to be taboo as the act of sleeping alone symbolizes the death of either one of the couple. Also, the bride shouldn’t lie on the bed until the wedding day as it is believed that it will lead to poor health. If the groom had to sleep on the bridal bed before the wedding, some Chinese cultures believe that they must be accompanied by a young boy as it represents fertility.

Next, items from Guo Da Li and other special items are placed on the bed. The following items are placed on a big plate:

 chin wee & jorin an chuang items - oranges, red packets, candy, gift box itemsFrom Chin Wee & Jorin’s wedding

  • Even number of Oranges
  • 2 Ang baos
  • 1 packet of candy
  • Items from the gift box:
    • Dried longans (blessings for a dragon boy)
    • Red date (good fortune)
    • Lotus Seeds (having many offspring)
    • Dried melon slice (sweet life together for the couple)
    • Lily bulbs (a harmonious union for years to come)
    • Walnut/peanut (harmony between family)
    • Dried Tangerine (great awesome luck)
    • Pine Tree Leaf
    • 2 boxes of 5 element seeds – different grains like red beans, green beans, wheat, soybeans, barley or rice (bountiful harvests)

After this, the bed is moved to be slightly slanted to symbolize that it has been set up, and adjusted back after the wedding day. Some phrases will be chanted to bless the couple with a happy marriage and life together:

百年好合 (Blissful Marriage)

早生贵子 (To Bless with Offsprings)

头偕老 (To grow old together)

永浴爱河 (Forever in Love)

Chinese Feng Shui could play a role in the positioning of the furniture in the wedding chamber. For example, the bed shouldn’t be facing the door but the mirror should, and both should not be facing each other.

Fate coins (缘小缘 Dà yuán xiǎo yuán) from Guo Da Li are placed at all four corners of the bed, furniture items that have four corners – dressers and wardrobes, and the room itself. Each antique Chinese coins are inserted top-facing into individual red packets and one is placed at every corner of the mattress, and one under each pillow.

 electric wedding lampsBattery-operated wedding lamps. From Wilfred & Jing Yeu’s wedding

Wedding Lamps are switched on and placed on the bedside table to complete the ritual. In the past, the process of the lighting of oil lamps (添灯 Tiān dēng) sounds similar to adding sons ( Dīng). In present day, electric lamps powered by batteries or directly from the socket are used and have to be left lit throughout the night until after the wedding banquet or the 3rd day after the wedding.

During the tea ceremony on the wedding day, the couple can eat the sweets prepared on the tray, and young boys will be encouraged to jump and roll around the bridal bed to bless the couple with fertility – provided their Chinese Zodiacs do not clash with the bride’s or groom’s.

At the end of the ritual, red packets are given out to everyone who helped to set up the bed, especially the good fortune lady and the children who rolled and jumped on the bed.

3. Hair Combing Ritual – Shang Tou

The Hair Combing Ritual ( Shàng Tóu) remains important in the Chinese culture as it symbolizes the coming of age of the bride and groom. Some Chinese parents even consider their child as an adult only after marriage.

This custom is done at the bride and groom’s respective homes usually on the night before the wedding day or at dawn on their actual wedding day. They must be conducted separately as they are not allowed to see each other before the wedding. Traditionally, it is done at an auspicious time but now, a good gauge of when to begin would be around 11 pm or at midnight, where the groom begins 15 minutes or 1 hour ahead of the bride.

Steps for Shang Tou

First, the table (or vanity) is set with the following items:

Shang Tou Items. Image credits to Carousell Shang Tou Items. Image credits to Carousell.
 
 
Bride Groom
1 Rounded Comb 1 Pointed Comb
1 piece of Red String (tied to bride’s hair at the end of the ceremony) 1 piece of Red String (placed in groom’s pajama pocket at the end of the ceremony)
1 Mirror
1 new set of Pyjamas and Slippers
1 plate of Lotus Seeds, Red Dates & Dried Longans

Note: The groom’s family will purchase his Shang Tou items together with Guo Da Li, and the bride will purchase hers with Hui Li. 

And the following are placed at the altar table (2 sets – one for the bride, one for the groom)

  • 1 Pair of Dragon & Phoenix Candles (龙凤烛 Lóng fèng zhú)
  • 3 Joss Sticks
  • 3 Bowls of cooked glutinous rice balls (汤圆  Tāng yuán) (6 to 9 pieces)
  • 2 Eggs with Mee Sua (instead of Tang Yuan for Teochews)

After the tables are set, the couple would then bathe with pomelo or pomegranate leaf-infused water and don on a new set of pajamas and slippers.

The ritual begins when the candles are lit, and the bride and groom are sat next to the window where the moon is visible so that the Lunar God of Fate (月佬 Yuè lǎo) can watch over them.

A good fortune lady or man, or the parents of the bride and groom will then combing through their hair 4 times, reciting the following with each stroke:

一梳梳到尾 (Yī shū shū dào wěi) “May your marriage last a lifetime”

二梳百年好合 (Èr shū bǎi nián hǎo hé) “May you be blessed with a happy and harmonious marriage until old age”

三梳子孙满堂 (Sān shū zǐ sūn mǎn táng) “May you be blessed with an abundance of children and grandchildren”

四梳白发齐眉 (Sì shū bái fà qí méi) “May you be blessed with longevity”

A red string is then tied to the bride’s hair and placed in the groom’s pocket respectively, signifying the end of the ceremony. This red string is also known as the string of fate through which Yue Lao “ties” the couple and bind their fate together. After this, the couple will be served with a bowl of Tang yuan to symbolize a long-lasting marriage through the good times and bad.

Dragon & pheonix Candles

A pair of wax Dragon & Phoenix wedding Candles (龙凤烛 Lóng fèng zhú). From Ben & Celine’s wedding.

Teochew & Hokkien

The door must be locked, and no one should enter while the ceremony is ongoing.

During the ritual, the groom faces the inside of the room, while the bride faces the ancestors at the altar.

Cantonese & Hakka

During the ceremony, the groom faces the wall, with his back against the door, while the bride does the opposite (faces the door, back against the wall). Additionally, silk pyjamas are preferred.

4. Gatecrashing – 闯门 Chuang Men & Fetching the Bride – 接新娘 Jie Xin Niang

Gatecrashing (闯门 Chuǎng mén) is probably one of the most memorable and exciting parts of the wedding process, and it is an expression of the bride’s family’s reluctance in simply marrying their precious daughter off. Hence, the groom has to jump through all these hurdles and overcome these challenges to prove his sincerity in marrying her.

At the groom’s place, he will prepare a bridal bouquet for the bride, and the gifts from Guo Da Li (scroll down for the list for the respective dialect groups). At the same time, the bride gets her makeup done, puts on her wedding gown, and her parents will place the veil over her face.

Parents placing veil over bride

From Ivan & Amanda’s Wedding.

The bridesmaids (姊妹Zǐ mèi or 姐妹 Jiě mèi) will have to arrive at the bride’s place early to prepare activities or tasks that the groom has to complete before he’s able to see his bride.

A variety of different food items for gatecrash activities

From Mitchell & Elsie’s Wedding

And when the groom arrives, he must wait in his car for a younger male member of the bride’s family to open his car door. When the car door is opened, the groom will give him an Ang Bao and in turn, the groom will receive two mandarin oranges for good luck. The mandarin oranges received are to be left in the car.

Groom receiving mandarin oranges from bride's younger brother

From Mitchell & Elsie’s Wedding

With the help of his groomsmen (兄弟 Xiōng dì), the groom will participate in gatecrashing activities prepared by the bridesmaids. These challenges usually involve dancing and singing (or even stunts!) and reciting his vows to his bride.

Groom singing for bride's family members

Claron singing to Shu Han’s family members and her through a video call. From Claron & Shu Han’s wedding.

Groom & groomsmen forming a human pyramid

Wen Jun and his groomsmen forming a human pyramid. From Wen Jun & Phoebe’s wedding.

Sean reading out his vows to Li Rong at her door. From Sean & Li Rong’s wedding.

The most important challenge is the  tasting of four requisite flavours – sour, sweet, bitter, and spicy (酸甜苦辣 Suān tián kǔ là). Parallel to the phases of the newlywed’s relationship, this challenge is a measure of how much the groom can endure so it should not be skipped to ensure a smooth-sailing marriage.

Bridesmaid holding a plate of chocolates for the 'Ku' part of the flavour tasting challenge

酸甜苦辣 Suān tián kǔ là – Jamie’s bridesmaids prepared lemon slices, heart-shaped watermelon slices, dark chocolates and chili padi for the Flavour-tasting Challenge. From Kang Wei & Jamie’s Wedding

Other challenges we have seen bridesmaids prepare also include the quizzing of the groom and his entourage on how well they know the bride, like guessing which lipstick mark belongs to her!

Groom guessing which lipstick belongs to his bride

Mitchell guessing which lipstick stain belongs to Elsie. From Mitchell & Elsie’s wedding.

At the door, the groom will negotiate with the bridesmaids for their Door Opening Ang Pao (开门红包 Kāi mén hóng bāo) to compensate for all their effort, and will only be allowed through if they are satisfied with the amount given.

After the groom successfully enters the bride’s home, he will present the bride with her bridal bouquet, lift her veil, and kiss her. After these, the couple and their entourage leave for the groom’s home.

 

Here’s a video of how one of our couple’s gatecrash went!

Teochew & Hokkien:

Traditionally, prayers will be involved during this process. The groom will pray to his ancestors at his place before putting on his suit and setting off with his groomsmen, usually in even numbers, to fetch the bride. Similarly, the bridesmaids will also arrive earlier at the bride’s place, also in even numbers, to prepare for the gatecrash. If the couple decides to follow an auspicious timing, the activities should be scheduled accordingly as well. For traditional families, the brides will be required to have breakfast with her whole family to bid her farewell.

After lifting the bride’s veil and presenting the bouquet to her, the couple will pray to heaven, earth, and their ancestors at the altar, and bow to the bride’s parents to thank them, before leaving for the groom’s place.

Items to Prepare

As mentioned above, the groom has to prepare a bridal bouquet and gifts for the bride’s family:

  • Placed on a big red tray:
    • 1 Ang Bao
    • Even number of cans of Pig Trotters
    • Dried Lily Bulb
    • Lotus Seed
    • Dried Longan
    • 18 Mandarin Oranges
    • 1 bottle of rice wine
    • 2 bottles of wine

More Information

Some traditional Teochew families may find the act of haggling for red packet money to be rude and will object to it. So the bride’s father will lead the bride out to the living area, and directly to the groom instead.

Cantonese & Hakka:

In the past, instead of a bouquet of flowers, the groom had to give a big red wedding ball (花球 Huā qiú) to the bride. It’s also customary for the bridesmaids to hide the bride’s shoes for the groom to find, and put them on for her before taking her away. This symbolizes the couple walking through their marriage together for a long time.

Similar to Teochew and Hokkien, when the couple is ready, they will pray at the altar to the heaven, earth and ancestors, and bow to the bride’s parents to thank them before leaving for the groom’s place.

Items to Prepare

The gift items prepared by the groom are slightly different in contrast to Teochew and Hokkien.

Groom has to prepare a bridal bouquet and the following gifts for the bride’s family:

  • Placed on a big red tray:
    • 1 Ang Bao
    • 1 Whole Roasted Pig
    • 2 bags of Peanuts
    • 2 Chicken
    • 2 Lettuce
    • 2 Spring Onion
    • 2 Celery
    • 18 Mandarin Oranges
    • 1 bottle of rice wine
    • 2 bottles of wine

bride and groom praying at the altar with dragon and phoenix candlesticks

From Jun Hao & Lai Cheng’s Wedding.

5. Leaving the Bride’s Home – Chu Ge

Usually, before the couple leaves for the groom’s home, the bride’s family will prepare Mee Sua (vermicelli) with hard-boiled eggs which symbolizes longevity.

two bowls of mee sua and hard boiled eggs served on a large red plate

From Ephraim & Natasha’s wedding.

As the couple leaves the bride’s home, the bride is sheltered under a red umbrella in open areas to ward off any negative elements. The person holding the umbrella differs depending on the bride’s dialect group. For Teochew & Hokkien, it’s usually a male elder like the bride’s father. For Cantonese & Hakka, besides the bride’s father, it could also be the matchmaker or bridesmaid.

Bride's father holding umbrella over her while groom leads her to the bridal car

From Chun Long & Adeline’s wedding.

As the bride leaves in the wedding vehicle, she will throw a red foldable fan out of the car window, leaving behind her past, bad habits and negative aspects to start a new chapter. As the car drives off, her family members will pick the fan up.

Bride throwing red fan out of the car window

From Chun Long & Adeline’s wedding.

It is also taboo for the brides to look back at their home on the way to the groom’s place as this signifies a failed marriage.

Traditionally, only single bridesmaids will accompany the couple to the groom’s place, while the rest who are not single including the groomsmen, will not follow along.

More Information

On the way to the bridal car, the matchmaker, bridesmaid, or family members may throw red beans or rice for good luck.

Bride's mother throwing rice as couple leaves the bride's house Parents throwing out rice as couple drives away in bridal carFrom Derrick & Elyssa’s Wedding.

After the bride leaves her home, her mother may also pour water out of their house door, which symbolizes the Chinese saying – “spilled water cannot be recovered” (泼出去的水,不能回收 Pō chū qù de shuǐ, bù néng huí shōu).

Cantonese & Hakka

In the past, the matchmaker will carry the bride on her back while the bridesmaid or helper holds the umbrella out for them on the way to the bridal sedan. Additionally, brides would also cry to express their gratitude to her parents for raising her.

6. Entering the Groom’s Home – 过门 Guo Men

[Applies to all dialect groups]

When the couple arrives at the groom’s home, it’s customary for his family to “hide” from the couple to avoid seeing them enter the house, and only appear after the couple has entered the bridal chamber. This is to prevent any future disputes between the bride and her new family members.

Before heading to the bridal room, the couple has to pray once more to heaven, earth, and ancestors. Inside the room, they will then either be served a “sweet soup” which usually contains longans, red dates, lotus seed, hard-boiled egg and/or glutinous rice ball (汤圆  Tāng yuán) – ingredients cooked together to symbolize a blissful marriage.

two bowls of sweet soup

Sweet Soup consisting of longans, red dates, and tang yuan. From Kang Wei & Jamie’s wedding.

The bride and groom then change into their Traditional Chinese Wedding clothes – Qún guà (群褂) or Guà () (aka Kua) but now, some couples will proceed with the Tea Ceremony without changing into the Gua. These outfits are usually rented in Singapore, but can also be bought.

The Traditional Chinese Wedding Dress – 群褂 Qún guà

Originating from the Ming dynasty as the royal wedding dress for the females so you can expect the details of these two-piece sets to be exquisite. Usually made of red fabric embellished with gold and silver embroidery, this set takes from 3 to 8 months for a master tailor to embroider. The denser the embroidery, and the lesser the traces of red fabric, the more expensive they are and the longer they will take to make. 

They are also embroidered with various symbols to represent auspicious things:

Dragon & Phoenix:
Represents a happy and successful marriage, with the dragon (masculine) symbolizing auspicious power, complemented by the phoenix (feminine) which symbolizes prosperity and happiness.

Pomegranate:
Symbolizes fertility as it is a fruit that’s filled with seeds

Peony/Lotus Flower:
Symbols of spring and summer, representing beauty, prosperity, and fertility.

Other animals (bats, goldfish, butterflies or birds):
Represent a good pairing, wealth, and luck.

Bride's Kua embroidered Dragon & Phoenix, and Peony flower

Shu Han’s Kua is embroidered with Dragon & Phoenix, and Peony flowers while Claron’s is embroidered birds. From Claron & Shu Han’s Wedding.

Bride's Kua embroidered with dragon and phoenix, and peony flower

Jamie’s Kua is also embroidered with Dragon & Phoenix, and Peony flowers. From Kang Wei & Jamie’s Wedding.

Stephanie’s Kua features dragons, phoenixes, bats, birds, and peony flowers. Her matching pair of red shoes are embroidered with peony flowers, and a dragon and phoenix on each side. From Sam & Stephanie’s wedding.

These dresses are also tailored to be loose-fitting to represent bountiful years of marriage ahead, as the bride is expected to put on more weight each year.

7. Tea Ceremony – 敬茶 Jing Cha

[Applies to all dialect groups]

tea ceremony set

From Ephraim & Natasha’s wedding.

A counterpart to Western solemnization, the Tea Ceremony is when the bride and groom meet each other’s families – not just their immediate family. Dressed in Guà (or Kua), the couple will first serve tea to the groom’s family. The sweet tea, symbolizing a harmonious relationship between the newly-wed and their respective families, is brewed from red dates, and longans or lotus seeds with the tea set from Guo Da Li.

Red dates and lotus seeds tea (莲子红枣茶 Lián zǐ hóng zǎo chá) symbolizes blessing the couple with early childbirth and lots of offsprings, while the red dates and longans tea (龙眼红枣茶 Lóng yǎn hóng zǎo chá) represents wishes for the couple to have male children as the longans represent “dragon”.


After the tea ceremony, a young boy is usually asked to jump and roll around on the couple’s bed to bless them with many children. This is called 压床 Yā chuáng or 翻床 Fān chuáng, which literally means “pressing” and “rolling over” the bed. As mentioned in the An Chuang section before, the boy’s Chinese Zodiac should not clash with the bride or groom’s.

Tea Ceremony Guideline

There are also other rules governing this ceremony:

  1. The bride has to be seated to the right of the groom (For elders, the males will be seated to the left of the female elders.)
  2. The couple may or may not kneel as they serve tea to the elders
  3. The teacup should be served to and received from the elders with two hands, and not with one hand only.
  4. The teacup should not be filled to the brim – only be 2/3 full
  5. Lotus seeds should not be halved as this signifies separation.
  6. The couple’s parents are served first, followed by relatives starting from the eldest.
  7. Male elders are served first.
  8. Formal titles should be used to address the relatives. Check out Goldheart’s cheatsheet for what to call your in-laws
  9. An extra cup of tea will be served if a living member of the elder couple is not present, and the other will drink on their behalf. However, an extra cup will not be poured for a deceased spouse.
  10. After drinking the tea, tea ceremony gifts (red packets or jewellery) for the bride and groom will be presented on a serving plate. Some relatives will put the jewellery gifts on them as well. However, unmarried older siblings of the couple are not expected to gift the couple gifts after drinking the tea. *
  11. If there are younger cousins or siblings around, they will serve tea to the couple instead and will be given red packets or gifts. **

Between each tea-serving, a female relative or matchmaker can also help with rinsing the cup and pouring the tea.

Claron & Shu Han receiving gifts from the groom's parents

* Claron’s parents presenting gifts to the couple after tea has been served to them. From Claron & Shu Han’s wedding.

  Relatives putting on jewellery for the bride

* Relatives wearing jewellery gift on Adeline. From Chun Long & Adeline’s wedding.

  Child receiving red packet from the couple after serving tea to them

** Child receiving a red packet from Chun Long after serving tea to the couple. From Chun Long & Adeline’s wedding.

Chinese Superstitions

Based on Chinese superstitions, anyone born in the year of the Tiger is not recommended to enter the bridal room and the room where the Tea Ceremony is held.

Some couples or their family who strongly believe in the superstition may even choose not to invite anyone born in the year of the Tiger altogether, including children.

This is because while Tiger babies are regarded as courageous, they can also be deemed aggressive or over-sensitive, and that might bring harm to family members.

8. Returning to the Bride’s Home – 三朝回门 San Chao Hui Men

bride looking out of car window

From Kang Wei & Jamie’s wedding.

Traditionally, the bride returns home for a visit three days after the wedding. But now, it is common for the newlywedded couple to return to the bride’s family home on the same day to serve tea. Usually, the bride will change into another outfit, like the Gua or a simpler dress which signifies that three days have passed.

Gifts to prepare

Teochew
  • Roast pig or pork
  • Even number of mandarin oranges
  • Peanut Candy
  • Sesame Candy
Hokkien
  • Roast pig or pork
  • Even number of mandarin oranges
  • Traditional Hokkien Candies – Rice candy, peanut candy, popped rice and sesame rolls, bean paste pastries (豆沙 Dòu shā bǐng)
Cantonese & Hakka
  • Roast Pig
  • Even number of mandarin oranges

After the tea ceremony, the roast pig will be divided into three sections – head, middle, and tail. The middle section will be kept for the bride’s family, and remaining sections will be wrapped in red paper or cloth, and returned to the groom’s family, symbolizing a perfect union (头有尾 Yǒu tóu yǒu wěi). The mandarin oranges will also be exchanged at the bride’s house for the couple to bring them back to the groom’s family.

More Information

In the olden days, sugarcanes and a pair of live hen and rooster were given to the couple when they return to the groom’s place after the ceremony. The sugarcane stalks were given to wish the couple a happy and sweet marriage (甜甜蜜蜜 Tián tián mì mì), and the pair of “Route-leading” Chickens  (带路鸡 Dài lù jī) symbolize a blissful pairing and were to be left under the nuptial bed to predict the gender of the couple’s child. If the rooster comes out first, it’s believed that the couple is due for a boy.

9. Wedding Banquet – 喜酒 Xi Jiu

[Applies to all dialect groups]

Lastly, the most extravagant part of the wedding is the wedding banquet which lasts for two or more hours. 

Venue

Back then in our parents’ days, wedding banquets were held at restaurants. Now, it has become increasingly common to hold one at a hotel due to its convenience and reputation. In recent years, we have also observed the shift in trend back to holding one at restaurants like Peony Jade. We’ve also seen couples holding celebrating their wedding at alternative venues such as CHIJMES, or even on a yacht for a more intimate celebration.

Order of Events

When the guests arrive, they will be invited to sign their names and well-wishes in the guest book at the reception table and present their red packets. At the reception, the guests will also be given their assigned seats. Once the couple is ready, they may also mingle around with the guests at the cocktail reception or snap some fun photos with them at the photobooth!

couple snapping photos with their friends at Senica's photobooth

Wen Jun & Phoebe snapping photos at our photobooth!
From Wen Jun & Phoebe’s wedding.

Chinese banquets usually feature emcee(s) who will entertain the wedding guests and ensure that the banquet runs smoothly and on schedule. As they announce the grand march-in of the couple, the wedding celebration begins. It is also common for the couple to proceed with the cake cutting ceremony after their first march-in.

Couple cutting a multi-tier wedding cake

From David & Delia’s wedding.

Depending on the time the bride requires to prepare for her next look, the couple may need to leave shortly after the cake cutting ceremony to get ready for the second march-in.

Due to this short time-frame, it is also very common for the wedding couple to only have a few bites during the wedding banquet. Hence, we have also observed a trend of couples preferring to stick to only one march-in. If that’s the case, they may choose to do away with the cake-cutting ceremony or ask the emcee to re-invite them up on stage for the champagne-popping ceremony. With the cost of a table averaging between $1.3k (luncheon) to $1.8k (dinner), it is only understandable that modern couples would like to experience dining at the wedding banquet themselves. 

Before the couple’s entrance, the wedding highlights (be it photo or video) will be screened. Here’s a couple who got creative with theirs!

After their second march-in (during the fourth course), the couple would proceed up on stage for the Champagne-popping ceremony, or more locally known as “Yam Seng“. 

newlyweds pouring champagne into stacked champagne glass

From Kee Nian & Christina’s wedding

When family and relatives are up on stage, the toast begins and there’s usually a total of three toasts, with each ending with a very long and loud “Yam Seng!”:

  1. 百年好合 Bǎi nián hǎo hé
    Wishes the couple a blissful marriage
  2. 永浴 Yǒng yù ài hé
    For the couple to have an everlasting love
  3. 早生 Zǎo shēng guì zǐ
    Wishes the couple to have an early childbirth

At the end of it all, the couple may also give a thank you speech. 

back-view of couple giving their thank you speech to their guests on the podium

couple giving their speech to their relatives

groom's mum laughing at the banquet table

From Kee Nian & Christina’s wedding

During the final few courses of the banquet, most of the time, the couple will move around the ballroom from table to table to take photographs with their guests, starting with their families, relatives then friends.

newlyweds taking photos at each banquet table

Customized table photo print-outs.
From Kenneth & Josephine’s wedding.

When dessert is served, it is a signal to the guests that they may leave as the banquet comes to an end. More often, wedding emcees will also make the announcement that the wedding banquet has ended and thank the guests for their attendance on behalf of the wedding couple.

At the end of the celebration, the bride and groom and their families will line up outside the ballroom and anticipate guests to thank them for their attendance. 

Chinese Banquet Courses

Throughout the banquet, guests will usually be treated to an 8 to 9-course meal. Number 8 (八 Bā) because it sounds like “good luck” (发 Fā) in Mandarin and 9 (九 Jiǔ) as it sounds like “long life” (久 Jiǔ). Most if not of the following meals are served, with each holding different significance:

First course – “Dragon Phoenix Plates” or Cold Appetisers

Cold appetizers are usually served first and they will usually include lobster, chicken feet, jellyfish, abalone, sliced pork and beef, seaweed, and bean curd. The Phoenix (the Yin) symbolizes luck, beauty, and femininity, while the Dragon (the Yang) symbolizes strength, creativity, and masculinity. Hence, this course represents the union between the bride and groom. Lobster and chicken feet are commonly served during this course as lobster literally translates into “dragon shrimp”, and chicken feet into “phoenix feet” in mandarin. In Singapore, we can also see baby octopus and Ngoh Hiang served as an appetizer too.

Second course – Soup

Traditionally, this is when soup with rare and expensive ingredients will be served, like Shark Fin Soup with crab meat or Eight Treasures Soup. However, since shark finning is illegal, restaurants and hotels will usually offer alternative soup options like fish maw soup with chicken and crab, or seafood soup instead.

Third Course – Seafood and/or Vegetables

Seafood is essential for any Chinese wedding banquets. One of the seafood dishes you may expect is Scallops served with vegetables.

Scallops (扇贝 Shàn bèi or 带子 Dài zi) symbolize fertility, and the second translation could mean “raising children”. Hence this dish blesses the couple with many offsprings in the future. 

Large succulent prawns (虾 Xiā) could also be served during this course. Pronounced “Haa” in Cantonese, it sounds a lot like laughter, and hence, eating them is meant to create more laughter and happiness between friends and family. Even though they are not traditional, honey prawns are said to be better as you get “sweet laughter”.

Fourth Course –Whole Bird or Poultry

Chicken, Duck, Quails, or pigeons are symbols of peace and unity. Serving them whole represents a lasting union between the couple. Similar to the roast suckling pig, the red colour of a roasted duck signifies good luck.

After this course has been served, there will be a break for the couple’s second march-in.

Fifth Course – Fish

Symbolically, Fish represents fertility and abundance for the couple (due to its similar pronunciation to the word “abundance” in mandarin), and are usually served with the head and tail intact to symbolize wholeness and that their marriage will come to successful completion. In Chinese culture, a marriage will not be entirely fulfilled until the couple bears children. Hence, this dish is a must-have in all Chinese wedding banquets.

Sixth Course – Premium Seafood 

Abalone (鲍鱼 Bào yú) is a homophone to “abundance” (保 Bǎo meaning “assurance” and 裕 yù meaning “abundance”). And because it’s also an expensive dish, serving it symbolizes a blessing of abundance for the couple throughout the years.

Sea cucumber (海參 Hǎi shēn or “Hoi Sam”) in Cantonese, sounds like “good heart” (“Hou Sam“). Hence this dish serves as a reminder to be good-hearted in the face of conflicts.

Due to their meanings, serving this dish shows a sign of respect and “face” (面子 Miàn zi) from both families, towards their guests. These also usually have a smooth texture and are from the ocean, so they symbolize a “smooth sailing” relationship between the couple and their families. In Cantonese, “sea cucumber” also sounds similar to “good heart”. Additionally, as abalone is an expensive dish, it also symbolizes yearly abundance for the couple.

Some hotels may also serve Roast Suckling Pig during this course. However, due to its price-tag, it’s more likely to be reserved for more intimate settings. As mentioned in Guo Da Li, roast suckling pig is a symbol of the bride’s virtue and purity. Its rosy-red colour is also a symbol of good luck in Chinese culture.

Seventh & Eighth Courses – Noodles & Rice

As Noodles come in long strands, they symbolize longevity, and a blessing to the couple for a long and happy marriage and life together. Additionally, when using chopsticks to eat noodles, you should also be careful not to point your chopsticks at others or sticking them upright in the bowl as these are practices done to honour the dead.

A large dish of rice symbolizes a plentiful supply of food throughout the couple’s life.

Dessert Course

Last but not least, desserts are served as not just a sign of the end of a meal, but also a sweet marriage. While there are many dessert options to choose from, Red bean and lotus seed soup is most commonly served. While red is the colour of happiness, beans and seeds are elements of fertility and growth. This dessert is very sweet as you wouldn’t want the relationship to turn sour.

Note: The order of courses may differ between different hotels or restaurants. Additionally, dishes served during wedding dinners are likely to contain more luxurious ingredients than wedding luncheon.

Post-Wedding Banquet

At the end of the wedding banquet, the newlywed’s close friends and relatives would visit them at their bridal chamber or hotel room. They would play tricks on them as an expression of their well wishes. 

Traditionally, after sharing a glass of wine, the newlyweds would each cut off a lock of their hair symbolizing that they’re now of one heart.

Three, seven or nine days after the wedding is when the bride returns to her maiden home to visit her family, but some couples who have already paid their visit earlier, may also choose to go on a honeymoon instead.

Editor’s note:

Having documented so many weddings, we have come across a wide array of customs and traditions practiced by different clients coming from various dialect groups, and very often, our clients question the meaning and purpose behind some of the practices that they have been requested to carry out by their seniors. Hence, we thought this article would provide a deeper understanding of our Chinese wedding customs and traditions.

We have also observed that many Chinese wedding traditions that remain widely practiced are those that are significantly more meaningful for the couple, rather than based on superstition.

Throughout the years, we have also observed the shift from an elaborate Chinese wedding celebration to a more westernized, simple, and intimate wedding celebration that solely focuses on the couple and their love story. This is only natural as Singaporeans have always been exposed to the Western culture and our focus on nuclear family probably contributed to the shift in preference for simpler intimate wedding celebrations.