Surprisingly, when I was younger, I attended a large number of weddings. A lot of my friends just went through being invited to one, but not me!I think growing up in a big family gave me an advantage — Plus I was the perfect age to be a flower girl at five different weddings! With all this practice (still very young at the time), I was able to actually sit back and watch the wedding work behind the scenes in silence. However, when it comes to family weddings, there is always an extra, special part on the wedding day: the traditional Chinese tea ceremony.
The Chinese tea ceremony is a cultural wedding tradition in which the bride and groom serve tea to their respective families. It can be traced back to the Tang Dynasty in China! This can include parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and other older family members. Serving elders in order of age is an important part of rituals that show respect and gratitude. The ceremony is usually held on the wedding day and symbolizes the union of two families.
The bride and groom can wear traditional attire for the tea ceremony, like the bride’s cheongsam, a dress usually covered with golden dragons, flowers or phoenix symbols. You can also serve any type of tea you like. After the tea is brewed, wedding parties or non-attending family members can help with the ceremony by pouring the tea from the kettle into the cups and handing them over to the newlyweds to present and serve. These helpers can also help with making tea and cleaning the tea set after use.
For tea, the couple must kneel on a cushion or pillow in front of their elbows. This is very important as it is part of the ritualistic process for older relatives. When handing the tea to each recipient, you must hold the cup with both hands – customarily, the groom serves the groom’s father, the bride serves the groom’s mother, and then switches. You follow the same order until you get to the family member list. In exchange for tea, the newlyweds can receive gifts from each relative, which is not only a celebration of marriage, but also an acceptance of marriage. These gifts include red envelopes filled with cash (symbolizing good luck and good fortune) or jewellery such as gold bracelets and jade pendants (often handed down from parents). When giving jewelry, the couple must wear it immediately to show respect and gratitude.
While it may be an ancient tradition, the meaning behind the tea ceremony is an amazing symbol of both families welcoming the bride and groom into their respective homes. Serve tea and drink tea, which symbolizes the parents’ approval and acceptance of the newlyweds.
Over the years, I remember watching families on both sides wait in line for the newlyweds before their wedding. The room was filled with excited chatter, clinking teacups and the occasional loud tea. Through old photo albums, I see my grandmother, aunt, cousins and mother on their respective tea ceremony days – dressed in traditional clothes, holding antique tea sets, and wearing heirloom jewelry, all to bridge the two families together . Experiencing the tea ceremony firsthand, and knowing that my previous relatives had attended, made me realize the importance and significance of having my own tea ceremony when I got married.
And that day has finally come!
Wearing traditional red dresses, my husband and I knelt on borrowed silk cushions in front of our elderly family, who welcomed us with open arms. We serve everyone green tea from a tea set handed down from my mom, the one she and my dad got married to. I remember my grandfather grinning from ear to ear, my in-laws watching curiously as it unfolded, my grandmother quietly whispering to me the meaning of each piece of jewelry, and my father jokingly complaining about how much tea he drank. In return, we received red packets and layers of jewelry.
Like tradition, I wouldn’t have it any other way.