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It's June - the time for confetti, blushing bridges and the exchange of wedding vows.  June is not the traditional month for Chinese weddings - that comes during the Mid-Autumn festival in the fall.  Still, many nuptials do take place during the warm summer months. And, like western weddings, there are many special traditions associated with the Chinese wedding ceremony. 

Many cultures have unique wedding traditions.  A gate of honor for the newly married couple to walk through - made from pine branches - is customary at a Danish wedding. The formal signing of a marriage contract or Ketubbah is the first step on the path toward a Jewish wedding. Traditionally given to the bride for safekeeping, the Ketubbah outlines the rights and obligations of both parties.  Meanwhile, African weddings often feature a broom jumping ceremony.  This tradition dates back to the days of slavery, when slaves weren't legally permitted to marry and had to come up with other means of signifying their union.  Jumping over the broom symbolizes sweeping away the old and welcoming the new.  It customarily takes place either after the minister pronounces the couple married or at the reception.    

A Modern Tradition - The Wedding Cake

Many of the customs associated with modern day western weddings - from the bridal veil to the honeymoon - also go back several centuries.  One such custom is the wedding cake, which dates back to Roman times.  At the end of the marriage ceremony, the cake was broken over the bride's head as a symbol of fertility.  Guests then eagerly took pieces of the crumbs for themselves, hoping they would bring good luck.  In Anglo-Saxon times, wedding feasts included baskets of crackers, which the guests took home and distributed to the poor. 

During medieval times, it became common for the happy couple to exchange a kiss while leaning over a number of buns or cakes that were piled high on a table.  Their ability to do so was considered a symbol of future prosperity.  At some point an anonymous baker cleverly decided to amass the pile into one large cake, and the modern day wedding cake was born.   

Chinese Wedding Feast

As you may have guessed, Chinese weddings are loaded with ritual.  In the 5th to 3rd centuries B.C., guides such as The Book of Etiquette and Ceremonial laid out the rites that were considered to be an essential part of any wedding.  There were a number of rituals to follow, from the marriage proposal to the preparation of the bridal bed.  On the wedding day itself, the bride underwent a special hairdressing ritual, bathing herself in scented water to get rid of any evil spirits.  Three days after the ceremony, she returned home for a final visit with her family before beginning her married life.  She brought several gifts, including a roasted pig, and often stayed for several days. 

Today, you can still find evidence of ancient traditions in contemporary Chinese weddings. There is an explosion of red - the symbol of good fortune - from the decorations to the bride's wedding dress.  Wedding guests strive to include a touch of red in their accessories.  By contrast, white is seldom worn at weddings, although this is changing. At the reception, you will probably notice a double happiness symbol behind the head table where the bridal couple sits.  This is a special Chinese character wishing the newlyweds much happiness. 

"To be truly happy and contented, you must let go of what it means to be happy or content." (Confucius)

The Chinese wedding feast is loaded with foods symbolizing long life and prosperity.  It is customary to serve eight courses, since eight is thought to be a lucky number.  Appetizers will feature cold plates shaped like the dragon and the phoenix.   In Chinese culture, the dragon and the phoenix symbolize the yin (the feminine side of our nature) and the yang (the masculine side of our nature) respectively.  They are also associated with goodness and prosperity. 

The main courses commonly feature fowl that mate for life such as duck or geese.  Peking Duck is often served, since this is a red dish.  Chicken and duck will also be found on the banquet table - the two fowls represent a balance between the man and the woman in their new relationship.  Sea cucumber may accompany vegetable dishes, since it is thought to symbolize harmony and a lack of conflict between the newly married couple.

When it comes to refreshments, 7 UP is the soft drink of choice at Chinese weddings.  In Chinese the word "up" sounds like "happiness" so 7 UP is considered to be a very lucky drink!  Tea and alcohol are also served. 

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