Have you ever wondered how different cultures celebrate their big day? I personally did not think there would be much differences from one to the other until I moved to Singapore. I mean, in the past, I got to organize Jewish, Catholics, Orthodox and Atheist weddings in Spain and Switzerland but in the end, there were more similarities than differences. However, when I was working as a Wedding Planner (I am probably the first ever “Ang Moh”* organizing locals’ weddings on this Island by the way!) at the most luxurious Hotel in Singapore, where only guests with high incomes, coming from good families or high society can afford a night, I learned 10 things on Chinese Weddings Traditions, which I will never forget.
*Ang Moh = “Red Head”, term used by Singaporeans to talk about Western People, also called Caucasians.
So here are the 10 things I learned on Chinese Weddings Traditions:
1) Auspicious Dates
In Western countries, couples tend to pick a specific date if they like a particular number. Otherwise, they just pick whichever date is available at the church or the town hall, obviously trying to avoid Friday 13 for the few superstitious ones. In Asia, however, especially in Singapore, Singaporeans are known for being very superstitious and do therefore only pick dates called “Auspicious Dates”. These latter form part of the Chinese Year Calendar and in most Singaporeans’ believes, you cannot have a prosperous, lucky and happy wedding if you do not get married on one of these specific dates. I let you imagine the struggle I had to help my couples get the date they wanted as many Auspicious Dates were already booked far in advance by other couples.
When organizing Chinese Traditional Weddings, it is imperative to know that couples are afraid of the number 4 (it is like 13 to Western people) and are attached to the number 8 (like number 7 to Western people). Another important thing is that Singaporeans avoid getting married or even getting in touch with their Wedding Planner in April (The 4th month of the year) and August (Ghost Month). They however love to get married in July, October (8th month on the Chinese calendar), November and December. Because of this tricky Auspicious Dates issue, I unfortunately had to turn down a few lovely couples because the date they wanted was already taken.
2) Money is everything
We all know how powerful money is in this world we live in. However, one of the 10 things I learned on Chinese Weddings Traditions, is that Chinese and Singaporeans’ lives truly are about prosperity. Now, my Singaporeans friends reading this post will probably laugh a bit and say that this has been written and seen through the eyes of an “Ang Moh”, which by the way yes is totally true.
So, from what I have been told when I started my Wedding Planner job in Singapore, Chinese Traditional Weddings are always paid by the father of the groom. Before the wedding, this latter welcomes the father of the bride at his house. The father of the bride brings a basket full of oranges (an orange in Chinese culture means prosperity) as well as a few gold (money) to the father of the groom. Then the whole “wedding negotiation” starts… and it is mainly a question of how many tables of 10 will the father of the groom “nicely” offer to the bride’s family. This to me was really interesting as it felt really different from the Swiss and Spanish weddings where, in most cases, it is the couples who pay for everything and not their parents.
Additionally, in the hotel I worked for, weddings receptions started around S$ 23,000++ and couples could sometimes spend up to S$ 100,000++ and more… so I let you imagine how tricky the whole wedding negotiations are between the two families.
3) Family before Friends
Here again, in Western countries, couples do invite their close relatives to their wedding, however they are only a minority, as much more young crowds (friends) are invited to a Western couple’s big day. In Chinese Traditional Weddings however, couples mainly get married for their parents, who invite their own friends. Thus, the young crowd is minor in Chinese Traditional Weddings.
Now the funny part is that when I first started, one of my question to my co-workers was: “How do you manage wedding guests if they are a bit tipsy and don’t want to leave the hotel when they are supposed to?” The answer was simple: “This never happens at Chinese Traditional Weddings, as people usually don’t drink much as the guests have a certain age and they usually tend to leave right after the last course is served.” Now, I must admit, this answer left me a bit speechless as I was used to organize weddings in the South of Spain, where people dance the night away.
4) 120 to 300 Guests
Singaporean couples not only have big families and many people their parents want to invite but they also believe that the more there is, the better it is. Thus, although I feel like the wedding trend is now to have smaller and more intimate weddings, there are still many couples who easily expect between 120 to 300 guests if not more. I cannot say that this is different from other cultures’ weddings though, as the number of guests at a wedding varies more on the couple than on anything else.
5) Tea Ceremony
Remember? Family before friends. When I heard about this ritual the first time, I felt like the Tea Ceremony was a really sweet and meaningful part of Chinese Weddings Traditions. This ceremony is when both newlyweds serve Lotus seeds and red dates tea to the opposite family party, in order to form one family from that moment on. The tea ceremony usually takes place in the morning before the solemnization but this varies from couples and their family’s own traditions.
6) Chinese Cuisine and Serving Style
If one day you have the opportunity to attend a Chinese Traditional Wedding, you will not only discover that most of the guests tend to arrive quite late at the wedding reception but also that Chinese Set Menu have between 6 to 8 courses and sometimes even more! Also, there are two different serving styles. One is called the “Family Style”, which is when the Chef shows a plate to a table of 10 and then individually apportion to each of the 10 guests. This serving style is often the first choice of Singaporeans as it represent their culture well. Then the second serving style is the individually plated which is like the Western Cuisine; each guest receives their own plate, nicely presented. In terms of Chinese delicacy, I had the chance to taste an entire wedding menu of 8 courses and I was really surprised. Some plates were absolutely delicious and can be easily eaten by “Ang Moh”. However, when my beloved Mentor brought me Sea Cucumber, I felt like I was going to faint! This thing is literally a slug from the sea with spikes on it! Seriously, just writing about it now gives me terrible goosebumps… 🙂
7) The Dummy Cake
What would a wedding be without a wedding cake? Have you ever wondered how people can possibly eat a 5-tier wedding cake? Well let me tell you something… This part is one of the thing that surprised me the most! The cakes in Singapore and in most of the tropical countries are either partially real or sometimes totally dummy (made of polystyrene)! Basically, in Singapore, the cake is just there to take some pictures with and that’s it. So for cake lovers, this is not acceptable and they choose to opt for a smaller cake but entirely eatable. However, the reason why cakes in Singapore are almost all dummies is because the sugar cannot stand the high and ultra humid temperature and if you choose a real cake, another risk is that it will not taste fresh for your guests on your wedding day. Now if you are an “Ang Moh” like me and are a bit surprised by this latter revelation, there is something else that is really different in terms of cake between Western and Chinese Weddings Traditions. Westerners hide their wedding cake until dessert time and the tradition is to organize a major cake entrance, to get your guests say “WOW”, whereas Chinese start their wedding reception by “cutting” the cake first. This latter is already on the stage, so no surprise effect.
8) Champagne Fountain
Every Chinese weddings I organized had a champagne fountain which was placed on the stage, next to the cake and the couple’s champagne toast usually takes place after their second march in.
9) No Party Time
As previously mentioned, Chinese Weddings Traditions are all about the newlyweds’ parents and their own friends, thus the crowd is older than the one from other cultures’ weddings. Hence, every time I was asking my couples if they would require a dance floor, they were laughing at me and telling me; “hell no”! Which each single time surprised me… because once again, in my beliefs, a wedding is a happy and fun celebration.
10) Token Box for “Ang Bao”
Last but really not least… Singaporean wedding guests do not offer any gifts to the newlyweds. Instead, they bring a “Ang Bao” (red packet with money inside) and they place these envelops in a “Token Box”. To be honest, I think this is a far better idea than to give presents that the couple might not appreciate. Additionally, this personally did not shock me much as in Spain, each wedding guest often directly pays for their own menu.
By sharing this experience with you here, I realize once again that I have been really lucky to be able to work and live in such a different environment. I will never forget when I was pretending to understand mandarin when taking notes on each course during all the food tastings I have conducted as the Chef only spoke mandarin and so did the couples with their families. And me… the little Swiss girl, in the middle of all this interesting people, I was smiling and thinking to myself; What a truly unique experience I am living right now.
Do you have any other anecdotes on Chinese Weddings Traditions? I would love to read all about it in the comment section below!