If you have received an invitation to a Chinese wedding, you’re in for a treat! Depending on the couple, the wedding may be very Westernized or it may feel more Chinese. The more traditional the wedding, the more rituals it will incorporate that symbolize respect for elders, good luck, and show off the wealth of the family.
The Chinese bride traditionally wears a red dress. Guests should not wear red or qipaos, as this is considered to take attention away from the bride. They should also avoid black and white, as both are colors worn to funerals. You can wear any other colors, but peach, pink or purple are particularly appropriate because they symbolize prosperity and joy. You will see a wide range of formality in dress, from jeans and a t-shirt to a cocktail dress. If in doubt, wear an outfit that you would wear to brunch or a business casual work occasion.
Chinese weddings tend to be large with 200 or more guests because they are a party for the entire family, including extended relatives, parents’ friends and professional networks, and the couple’s friends.
If the reception takes place at a Chinese restaurant, pace yourself as you eat because there will be 8-10 courses served! Each course is one dish, such as fish or fried rice, that is shared family style. The good seafood is served later on in the meal so you don’t want to miss out on it because you’ve already filled up on the earlier courses. You will be seated at large round tables with a Lazy Susan in the center for the dishes. When you turn it, make sure that no one else is serving themselves from across the table.
If you have dietary restrictions, you may not be able to be accommodated easily, as almost every dish contains either meat, eggs, and gluten. Even vegetarian dishes such as leafy greens or tofu usually contain oyster sauce or pork. If you know the couple well, you can ask them in advance if you can order a special dish that you can eat. But it’s not worth explaining your dietary restrictions to the Chinese restaurant staff, as they may ignore your requests and pretend a dish does not contain certain ingredients.
The couple may not have a wedding registry, as asking for gifts is considered inappropriate. As a gift, you can bring cash, a check, or a gift card in a red envelope. Get crisp new bills from the bank. The monetary amount should cover the costs of your meal (and any family members that you bring.) It may seem gauche to calculate gifts this way, but wedding cash in Chinese culture is to meant to help pay for the wedding. Money is put in a red envelope to symbolize good luck, and don’t forget to write your name.
If you decide to bring a gift, stay away from the following:
- clocks (which signify death)
- knives and umbrellas (which signify separation)
- towels (which are given away at funerals)
- gifts in sets of four (the word four sounds like the word for death)
- A green hat (which is the symbol of a cuckold)
You may see the bride change dresses several times, a custom that was originally started to show off the family’s wealth. The bride will get married in a white dress and change into a red dress for the tea ceremony. She may change back into a white dress or into an evening gown for the reception.
There may be a lot of entertainment at the reception, including toasts, silly games, and a lion dance. If there is a lion dance, you will see guests “feed” the lion red envelopes filled with a few dollars. The atmosphere will be loud and rowdy, but it’s part of the fun.
At the end of the night, instead of sending off the couple, the bride and groom will wait until all of the guests leave in order to thank them for coming.