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Chinese Wedding Customs and Tea

Tea and the Wedding Ceremony
Back in the Sung Dynasty, it was customary for the groom from a wealthy family to come armed with precious ornaments made from rare stones, jade and gold, rolls of satin and silk as well as tea cakes to the bride's home.

In the Ming Dynasty, a bride to be had to drink tea when she accepted the offer of marriage. It was a common belief that once the seeds of a tea tree was planted, it could not be moved. Moving the tree would mean death for the plant. Thus the drinking of the tea symbolized staying true to one person throughout one's life.

It was common in ancient China for the evergreen tea tree to be seen as the tree of love. Tea was always part of the dowry and carried with it all the blessings of family members. Even today, in many provinces of China, tea is still seen as an integral part of the engagement and wedding ceremony. Tea is served at the announcement of the engagement, the acceptance of the dowry, the bidding of farewell to the bride's parents and the actual wedding ceremony. In the indigenous tribes of the north, tea is even more frequently seen as an accompaniment to auspicious occasions.

Tea Rules for Unmarried Girls
In the province of Fujian, unmarried girls were forbidden to drink tea served outside her home. If she drinks tea in another household, it means she has consented to become the daughter-in-law to the household in question. This tradition stems from the immovable nature of the tea tree. Tea is regarded as a token of trust.

Three Tea Customs
In some provinces three different kind of teas, each with distinct symbolic meaning, are served during the marriage ritual. When the matchmaker arrives at the home of the potential bride, she has to drink a sugared tea that symbolizes her words will be sweet and appealing. When a prospective groom visits the home of his betrothed, he is served a clear, light tea. After he finishes his tea, he places a valuable ornament or money inside the teacup. If the lady in question accepts the teacup, it signifies she has accepted the proposal for marriage. On the wedding night, red dates, peanuts and longan are added to the tea that is served to the couple. The three items are seen as symbols of fertility.

Tea as Betrothal Gift
Tea is always part of the betrothal gift collection. The tea had to be high grade and placed inside two porcelain jars. The pairing of porcelain jars signified the bride and the groom. The bride-to-be will then give the tea away to her close friends and family to stress the immovability/solidity of the union. It is a public form of announcement that they intend to stay together till death do them part.

Tea in Treating Guests in Wedding Ceremony
When guests arrive for the wedding party, they are immediately served tea alongside "tea snacks" such as candy, peanuts and watermelon seeds.

Serving Tea for the Family
On the first day or third day after the wedding, the bride has to prepare a meal for the entire family. During this time, she will serve tea and snacks from her hometown as a show of respect for her new family.

Suzhou Spring Tea Dance
In Suzhou, China it is customary for a tea dance to be performed when the groom arrives at the brides home with his entourage. This tea dance requires a certain degree of finesseas the wooden tray with four filled teacups on it cannot spill during the dance. Whenever the tea dance performance takes place, the room is generally crowded with onlookers who will cheer the dancer on - all this adds to the festive atmosphere of the wedding celebrations.

Boiling Tea by Bride
In some ethnic tribes of China, the bride is called on to light the kitchen hearth the day after the wedding. This is called the ritual of "lighting a new fire" for her new home. The bride will use the fire to brew fresh tea and serve the tea to all the members of the groom's family. The groom will take this opportunity to formally introduce his wife to the family. If there is an infant in the family, the bride will feed yak butter tea to the infant.

Gift Money for Serving Tea
In some mountainous regions surrounding Hubei, Hunan, Szechuan and Kweichou, the newlyweds have to serve tea the day after the wedding to guests who attended the wedding party. At this time, the guests will provide gift-money to the newlyweds and offer their best wishes.

Tea for New Marriage
In Yunan province, the bride and groom have drink tea out of the same cup on their wedding day. This ritual signifies their union and the tea of choice is usually Pu-erh. The reddish color of the Pu-erh tea symbolizes fortune and celebration. After drinking the tea, the couple is expected to love and honor each other all through their lives.

Tea Plant as Dowry
In certain Yunnan tribes, the bridal dowry consists of a few tea tree saplings that must be planted in the groom's home. The tea tree saplings must have been nurtured by the bride herself beforehand. The tea tree symbolizes eternal love. If the couple gets divorced, the tea trees will be uprooted and returned to the bride's family.

Oil-Tea with Brown Sugar
In certain Yunnan tribes, a beverage is served to the wedding guests known as oil-tea (a concoction made of tea leaves, peanut powder and seasame) with brown sugar. Before the guests enjoy this sweet drink, they have to first sip a strong cup of bitter tea. This ritual symbolizes the determination of the newlyweds to weather all obstacles they come across through the course of life. The tea drinking is emblematic of their life together: they will first experience the bitter (hardships) and then the sweet (fruits of their labor).