Breaking Down Traditions

Following Chinese wedding customs doesn’t mean being old-fashioned — here’s how the modern bride can uphold cultural heritage while keeping with the times
A couture gown in the most elegant shade of antique white. Romantic decorations in ivory hues. A five-tier cake adorned with pure-as-snow fondant flowers. You might have envisioned a fairy-tale White Wedding, but if you are of Chinese descent or marrying into a Chinese family, chances are your big day is going to be a more colourful affair than that.

And why not? Customary Chinese wedding rituals are often conducted before the wedding, which simply means an extended period of celebration. They are also a means of giving a nod to your cultural heritage, and are important rites of passage for all in the family.

That said, following traditions to a T can be challenging for the modern bride, so consider adapting them so that they become meaningful components of your wedding journey instead of them being things you simply have to do.

We detail the significance behind some of these practices, and how you can incorporate them into your own wedding.

Bed Setting (An Chuang 安床)
Photo credit:
What it is: On an auspicious day prior to the wedding, the matrimony bed is set with new sheets and a dragon-phoenix duvet. Thereafter, an elder from the family places red packets on each of the corners of the bed, and arranges an assortment of red dates, peanuts, dried longan and lotus seeds on the bed. It is here that the elder says some wise and auspicious words about the couple enjoying eternal happiness and impressive fertility. It may go something like this:
"铺床铺床,喜气洋洋; 早生贵子,播种成双"

That roughly translates to: "Spread the bedsheet, spread the happiness; may they bear a child soon, and another to make a pair."

To drive home this last point, a young boy is sometimes invited to jump on the bed. Thereafter, the bed is out of bounds to all until the wedding night when the couple enters the room.

Significance:Apart from prosperity, the ritual also symbolises the elders’ wishes for the wedding couple to have children soon.

Simplify!: A dragon-phoenix duvet might not be your idea of elegance. Thankfully, these days a red-hued bed sheet set will suffice. Plan in advance and look for the perfect bedding set online.

Rather than having a rambunctious boy jumping on the bed — and potentially injuring himself — modern couples can opt to invite their nieces or nephews to simply enjoy some sweets on the bed after the wedding ceremony, causing much less of a ruckus.

And if fluency in Mandarin isn’t exactly part of your family’s wheelhouse, you can simply the well-wishes to a simple: “早生贵子”. Then you’re all set.

Gifting the Engagement Package (Guo Da Li 过大礼)

What it is: A hamper of goodies delivered by the groom to the bride’s family on an auspicious date 15 to 20 days prior to the wedding. Traditionally, the gifting is a two-day process that involves the groom bringing part of the package to gather approval from the bride’s parents, followed by the delivery of the remaining items on a separate day.

Significance: The traditional hamper is made up of more than a dozen items, all in pairs, ranging from whole coconuts to bales of red cloth — each with an auspicious meaning.

Simplify!: Just as it is acceptable to condense the gifting process into a single day, it is also perfectly fine to condense the list of items to be included in the package — just as long as the items are are kept to even numbers.

The most practical and significant items include the red packet, mandarin oranges that symbolise good luck, traditional wedding confectionary (which can also be replaced by a single cake) that stand for sweetness, and Si Dian Jin — four pieces of gold jewellery that symbolise a prosperous life for the bride after marriage.

Translated to mean “four touches of gold”, Si Dian Jin represents the four corners of a roof — the groom’s family’s assurance to the bride that she will always have a roof over her head, and will be taken care of throughout her marriage. This betrothal gift from the groom’s mother to the bride usually consists of a necklace, a ring, a bangle and a pair of earrings.

While the gold jewellery traditionally comes as a set, often featuring the dragon-and-phoenix motif, the modern bride has much more versatile options these days. Yes, the jewellery pieces are customarily picked by the groom’s mother, but the modern bride is often given the opportunity to share her preferred designs. With the options available today, it isn’t difficult to keep the tradition of Si Dian Jin alive without compromising personal style.

Goldheart’s MODE Gold Dew collection, for example, incorporates the delicate beauty of water droplets. Stylishly versatile, the matching necklace and earrings with gold tassel detail are perfect for the modern woman on her big day and all the days after.

These modern European designs from Goldheart’s MODE Gold 916 collection are presented in a charming hue of champagne — a departure from the more traditional tone of 999 yellow gold — making them elegant accessories that will complement any outfit.

“The most important thing is that the bride likes it,” said Mrs Pearlyn Law about the process of picking the right Si Dian Jin for her daughter-in-law two years ago. “There’s no point buying something you like yourself but will just end up sitting in a safe deposit box forever.”

Mrs Law asked her son to give her an idea of his bride’s taste in jewellery — something she wishes her own mother-in-law had done in 1973. “She was a very nice woman, and she meant well, but I only wore them once because how do you wear gold jewellery so big on a normal day? People will think you are showing off, right? So pai seh. Lucky girls today have more options.”
Returning Home (San Zhao Hui Men 三朝回门)
Photo credit:
What it is: The couple returns to the bride’s family home on the third day after the wedding with gifts — such as a suckling pig symbolising the bride’s purity — for the parents.

Significance: This custom can be traced to ancient China, when travel was arduous. This return home was a means for the bride to bid a final farewell to her family, for it could be a long time before she would set foot in her old home again.

Simplify!: When you live in a country where travelling from one end of the island to the other takes just two hours, tops, visiting mum really isn’t difficult. Most couples make a symbolic return to the bride’s home after the morning ceremonies, before the wedding dinner; and the elaborate gifts can be replaced with a simple red packet. This not only saves trouble for the couple, it also means you can jet away to an exotic location for your honeymoon immediately — rather than wait for another three days.

Pay tribute to your heritage in a way that will be meaningful not just to your family, but also to you. Goldheart’s range of wearable Si Dian Jin in 916 gold is jewellery you can wear even after your special day, no matter the occasion. Get your groom to send mum-in-law in the right direction towards Goldheart when she next checks in.
starring Rebecca Lim, tells a story of differences, compromise and love between the two most important women in a man’s life.
Mode Gold Oasis Mode Gold Oasis
Mode Gold Dew Mode Gold Dew
Other Related Articles
8 Modern Wedding Venues Your Parents Will Approve Of
6 easy tips
for an Insta-perfect wedding
How to plan a modern wedding with a traditional twist
What To Call Your In-Laws:
A Cheat Sheet