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Tradition and Etiquette of Chinese Weddings

China has one of the world’s oldest and deepest cultures—and it takes marriage very seriously. Even today, many of the ancient customs are still practiced and remain intact. Unlike many western cultures, eastern traditions are still rooted deeply in the fabric of society and present in everyday life. Yet, there seems to be a slight shift as Chinese and western wedding traditions are slowly being fused together.

Just like many Chinese customs, marriage is filled with symbolism and tradition. In ancient times, marriages were strictly arranged by a matchmaker. The boy’s parents would find a girl they thought would be a good candidate for their son, and send a matchmaker to the girl’s home to seek a proposal. Following an agreement that they might be a good fit, both parents would consult a fortune teller. Names, birth dates, birth years, birth places, and zodiacs would be analyzed to determine if the couple’s “ming” (fate) was compatible. If everything checked out, and the two families shared similar wealth and social status—a marriage deal would be brokered, betrothal gifts would be offered, and a wedding would be planned. These days, marriage is based on finding your true love and soul mate—but back then, the art of matchmaking was the only way to choose an ideal partner; which was vital for both the couple and the family. To the boy, marriage determines the prosperity and even the future honor of his family; while for the girl, a good marriage means that the parents were able to give honor to their daughter through a prosperous match.

Three notable texts The Book of Rites, The Book of Etiquette and Ceremonial, and the Baihu Tong outline the covenants and six etiquettes that are considered necessary elements of Chinese marriage—each one being an important part in the process. The six etiquettes include: the proposal, visit the fortune teller for birthday matching—this is done to make sure the couple’s birthday’s do not conflict according to astrology—prepare and send wedding gifts, choosing a ceremony date, and the big day.

Symbols are a very important part of Chinese society in general, and weddings in particular. There are many motifs that will appear in a Chinese wedding; and foremost among them is the Double Happiness calligraphy symbol "囍". Double Happiness is used all throughout the wedding from the invitations, to the decorations, to the wedding cake, and even the lanterns. The symbol is believed to bring good luck in a marriage, and instrumental in fulfilling your dreams.

The dragon and the phoenix are a very significant pair of symbols, and the two most powerful of the four celestial animals. The dragon and phoenix are said to be the perfect couple in Feng Shui, and represent the ultimate symbol of marital happiness. The dragon represents the groom and the phoenix represents the bride; and these motifs will frequently be embroidered on the wedding attire of the couple. A pair of cranes is another favorable omen, as it represents longevity.

The wedding ceremony is always the main focus of interest. The ceremony portion typically includes the ring exchange, a tea ceremony, the bride's dress change into a red outfit, and the couple bowing down to show respect to their families and God. Themes of good fortune and luck are sprinkled throughout the events—including wedding gifts with money inside of good luck (red) envelopes to ensure the couple’s future prosperity and happiness.

While the wedding is a grand affai