Asian Wedding Traditions | The Chinese Tea Ceremony

Meaningful Asian Wedding Traditions | Chinese Tea Ceremony

Wedding ceremonies and celebrations are about so much more than just signing a piece of paper. Weddings allow couples to share their love with their closest friends and family and join together in a forever partnership. In addition, weddings are about bringing two families together and honoring your family’s culture and traditions. Many Chinese couples host a traditional Chinese tea ceremony on their wedding day as a beautiful way to celebrate their love and honor their family heritage. If you’re considering a tea ceremony, here’s some background to get you started.

What is a Chinese Tea Ceremony?

Chinese tea ceremonies originated during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). This intimate ceremony began as a way for couples to honor their parents and grandparents by serving them tea. The intent is to show respect and gratitude for the people who raised you and helped get you to where you are today. Ultimately, the tea ceremony symbolizes unity between the two families and allows the family to show support to the newlyweds. 

What happens at the Tea Ceremony?

Traditionally, the bride would serve tea to her parents on the morning of the wedding. It was sweet and private, making it an extra special moment between generations. Then, the groom would serve tea to his parents after the couple exchanged their vows at the wedding ceremony. 

However, today, it is customary for the bride and groom to serve tea to both families together during the wedding. It’s all about what works best for you both as a couple. You might choose to serve tea to one side first or serve them both together. 

Traditional Tea Ceremony Order

In a typical tea ceremony, the couple kneels and then serves cups of tea to the parents, in-laws, and family elders in order of their seniority. For example, the groom would serve his parents first, followed by his paternal grandparents, then his maternal grandparents. After the parents and grandparents have tea, the groom serves his uncles, aunts, and older siblings. 

Once each person has been served, they hand the couple a small red envelope called a lai see (or hong bao in Mandarin). This envelope usually holds money or gold jewelry for the newlyweds. These filled, red envelopes symbolize wealth and good fortune for the newlyweds. It is a way for the elders to help the couple start their union on a high note! 

Once the elder hands the couple the envelope, they usually offer words of wisdom, advice, and congratulations. (And they may ask the couple to have lots of babies! 😝 )

All envelopes are placed on the tea tray with the teapot and cups. Once the groom’s elders have been served, the tea is served to the bride’s side (or other partner’s side) of the family. After both sides of the elders have been served their tea, the Chinese wedding contract is signed and stamped to make the union official. A typical tea ceremony usually lasts anywhere from 1-2 hours, depending on the size of each family. It’s a meaningful, heartfelt experience for everyone involved, and it’s a great way to include all generations of the family in the wedding! 

What do you wear for a Chinese Tea Ceremony?

What you wear during your Chinese tea ceremony is up to you as a couple. Traditionally, the bride wears a red silk or satin dress with gold accents. The groom can wear a suit with a red tie or a Chinese red Mandarin collar jacket with pants. East Meets Dress has beautiful tea ceremony styles for men and women. Then, you can dress it up with jewelry! Many couples choose to wear gold jewelry and meaningful family heirlooms. Guests of the bride and groom typically wear suits and dresses, but the level of formality varies from couple to couple. (The couple can let family members know what to wear in the invitation.)

How is the tea ceremony prepared on a wedding day?

(What kind of tea is used?)

When conducting a traditional Chinese tea ceremony, the bride kneels on the left with the groom kneeling on her right. The elders sit in chairs in front of the couple. A tea set is brought out containing warm, not hot, tea. You don’t want the elders having to blow on their tea and being unable to drink it because it is too hot. The type of tea differs for each couple and family, but popular teas include green tea, orange blossom tea, or black dragon tea. Red dates and lotus seeds are often added to the tea to represent a sweet marriage and fertility! 

Chinese Tea Ceremony Timeline Recommendations

Each couple is different regarding the timing of the Chinese tea ceremony. Some couples choose a private event with only close family and host the tea ceremony at home before the wedding. Other couples choose to have the tea ceremony during cocktail hour because your non-related guests are occupied and enjoying drinks with appetizers. However, if you would like all of your wedding guests to attend the tea ceremony, you may want to allocate time between the cocktail hour and the wedding ceremony. Determine what works best for your perfect wedding day!

Final Thoughts

The Chinese Tea Ceremony is a beautiful way to celebrate love and the joining of two families. The simple act of drinking tea turns into a meaningful expression of love and timeless tradition. The details vary for each ceremony, so feel free to make it your own and do what feels best for you both as a couple. You can still maintain the beauty of the tradition while giving the ceremony a modern twist. And remember, this is your big day. Don’t forget to have fun and enjoy the moment! 

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