(Disclaimer: as I am not Chinese, some of the things I write below may be incorrect. Please correct me if I’m wrong! And, as always, all photos are courtesy of our wonderful photographer Danny Weiss.)
The Chinese Wedding Tea Ceremony between the couple and the groom’s family is designed to formally introduce the bride to the groom’s family. It is probably, if not, the most significant part of a modern Chinese wedding.
Traditionally, the tea ceremony takes place early in the morning of the wedding. Although the ceremony is usually performed at the groom’s home, we decided that shuttling everyone to and from New Jersey would take up too much time and money. As a result, Mr Peony’s family set shop in a suite in the same hotel where the bridal party got ready.
Mr Peony’s uncle, waiting patiently for the ceremony to begin:
The tea set is traditionally purchased by the bride’s family as part of her dowry. It is meant to be a meaningful keepsake, to be used again when the bride’s future daughter gets married.
Unfortunately, my family knew none of this. As a result, my MIL generously purchased for us an extravagant tea set that was hand-painted and gilded with real gold.
The tea used in a traditional wedding ceremony contains lotus seeds and red dates as they are homophones in the Chinese language. “Lotus” sounds similar to “year”, “seed” to “child”, and “date” to “early”. In other words, the tea is meant to get us crackin’ to start making babies ASAP!
The sweet tea also holds another meaning: the sweetness is meant to symbolize the sweet relations the bride will have with her new family.
Chairs are set for the elders, and the bride and groom kneel while serving them tea. The first to be served are the groom’s parents, and afterward, the oldest living relatives to the youngest in age order.
Here we are, serving tea to Mr Peony’s parents:
The elders in turn gifted us with words of wisdom, money in red packets, and/or jewelry.
Mr Peony’s cousin not only helped us serve the tea, she helped put on all the jewelry I received that day.
This necklace was my favorite. It was given to my MIL by her grandmother when she herself got married. It is the oldest piece of jewelry she owns, and she gave it to me!
The ceremony continued, with Mr Peony’s aunt and uncle…
Then his uncle…
In-between sets, Mr Peony would whisper to me what I should say and how I should address each elder in Chinese:
I love this picture of Mr Peony:
When the time came to close my wrists were starting to get heavy…
And the bridal party was starting to get restless…
Luckily Mr Peony’s family is not large. I have heard that some tea ceremonies last for hours, with the bride being covered head to toe with jewelry at the end!
One final word about the jewelry received during the tea ceremony: these, for obvious reasons, are not meant to be everyday jewelry. They are meant to be kept in a safe place just in case the bride and groom fall into financial difficulties later down the road. If the bride and groom have no need to ever sell them (knock on wood), the jewelry is to be passed down to their children at their own weddings.
Next up: getting ready, part two!