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My Big Fat Hong Kong Wedding: 7 Traditional Rituals You Need to Know

By Jenny Leung 11 October 2018
Planning a wedding can be stressful. From finding the perfect dress or tux, to making sure your drunk uncle isn’t seated next to the bridesmaids, there’s a lot to get done before you and your most beloved can officially say “I do”. While no two weddings are ever the same, there are many complicated traditions and quirky rituals that play a big part in most Hong Kong weddings – if you’ve ever been to one, you’ll know what we’re talking about. Not sure what we're talking about? Then you better read on.

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1. Picking a Date (Jaak Yat 擇日)

Deciding on a perfect day to get hitched isn’t as simple as a game of “eeny, meeny, miny, moe”. In fact, it is very common for the bride and groom to go seek a fortune teller, who after gathering the couple’s date and time of birth, will consult you on everything from what dates to pick (and which ones to avoid), to the exact time when the groom should go and pick up the bride. These important time and dates are strictly followed to ensure the marriage is off to a good start.
[caption id="attachment_128922" align="aligncenter" width="660"] Photo credit: @為記輝記過大禮[/caption]

2. The Betrothal Ceremony (Gwoh Dai Lai 過大禮)

Just like any gentlemen would ask their soon-to-be in-laws for their blessing, the Betrothal Ceremony acts as a formal proposal to a bride’s family, and usually takes place two months ahead of the big day. The Betrothal Ceremony, (Gwoh Dai Lai in Cantonese), directly translates to “passing of gift”, which is exactly what the groom has to do. With hampers full of gifts such as bridal cakes, premium dried seafood, wine, fruits, and much more, the groom has to present these gifts to the bride’s parents as a symbol of sincerity and promise to take care of their daughter. On top of it all, a hefty “payment” of cash has to be handed to the bride’s parents in a red envelope, with the amount usually indicated beforehand by the bride. Upon accepting the gifts and proposal, the bride’s parents will have to return another set of gift hampers to the groom’s family.

3. Hair Combining Ceremony (Sheung Tau 上頭)

On the night before the wedding day, the bride has to return home where a hair-combing ceremony will be carried out. This tradition symbolises the bride’s step into adulthood, and is preferably performed by a woman of good fortune (A member of the family who has given birth to both a son and a daughter). Before the ceremony, the bride must be seated facing the window, one where you can see the moon, and has to bathe in pomelo leaf before putting on fresh new pyjamas and slippers. Once the bride is ready, the person performing the ceremony will begin to comb the bride’s hair, chanting a traditional poem with every brush stroke.

4. Picking Up the Bride (Jip San Leung 接新娘)

The big day has arrived, and it’s time for the groom to go pick up the bride – but not before playing a series of hauntingly embarrassing games first! As the groom arrives at the bride’s home (or the place she is staying before the wedding), he and his fellow groomsmen will be greeted by the bride’s trusty gang of bridesmaids, who will demand a “gate-crashing” fee before they are allowed to enter. After paying up, the groom and his men will have to endure numerous embarrassing games, hilarious pranks, and maybe even physically challenging games. After completing all they are tasked with, the groom will have to read aloud a lighthearted love poem to the bride before she finally comes out to greet her husband-to-be.

5. The Tea Ceremony (Ging Chaa 敬茶)

Among all the traditions and rituals of a Hong Kong wedding, the tea ceremony is by far the most important. As a way of paying respects to the couple’s parents and elderly relatives, the happy couple kneel down (comfortably on cushions), and serve tea to the bride’s parents and other elderly relatives, before doing the same to the groom’s parents and other elderly relatives. Inside each teacup, there must be lotus seeds and jujubes (red dates) inside, as they represent prosperity and a blessing for many babies to come.
[caption id="attachment_128927" align="aligncenter" width="660"] Photo credit: @heidisiu2002[/caption]

6. Leaving the House (Chut Moon 出門)

After the tea ceremony is finished, it’s time for the bride to leave. As the bride exits, typically the maid of honour will hold out a red umbrella for the bride, while sprinkling a mixture of rice, red beans, and green beans on the floor to “feed the chicken”. Legend has it that chickens were once used by a jealous man to ruin a bride’s precious wedding. In order to stop the chickens from pecking the bride, rice was thrown onto the floor to distract them. As time passed, this tradition still remains as a symbol to ward off evil spirits.

7. The Wedding Ceremony (Fun Lai 婚禮)

The actual wedding ceremony itself is pretty much the same as your normal western wedding. There’s food and drinks, heartwarming speeches, music, funny videos, and lots of picture taking with the happy couple. It is mandatory however, for the bride and groom to start the “drinking train”, a boozy procedure where the bride and groom, along with their team of groomsmen and bridesmaids, have to go around the venue and toast the guests at each table. It’s a sure-fire way to get the party started. Oh, and a true Hong Kong wedding wouldn't be without a few Mahjong tables laying around, too.
Read more! Check out these Hong Kong Slang You Need to Know, or explore the rest of our Culture section.

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Jenny Leung

Senior editor

Born in Hong Kong and raised in the UK, Jenny grew up with the best of both worlds. She loves just about anything to do with music and doesn’t shy away from belting out a tune or two when it comes to karaoke. If she’s not out and about exploring the city and practising her photography skills, she’s probably tucked up in bed with a book or glued to her laptop doing her online shopping.