Why I Chose to Have a Chinese Tea Ceremony at My Wedding

Something as simple as a cup of tea can bring two families together.

October 03, 2022

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Photo by: Alicia King Photography

Alicia King Photography

Surprisingly, when I was younger, I attended a tremendous amount of weddings. A lot of my friends are just now experiencing being invited to one, but not me! I think that growing up in a big family gave me an advantage plus I was the perfect age at the time to be a flower girl in FIVE different weddings! With all that practice under my belt (and being so little at the time), I was able to really sit back and quietly watch the behind-the-scenes workings of what goes into a wedding. When it came to a family wedding though, there was always an additional, special part incorporated on the wedding day: a traditional Chinese tea ceremony.

Photo by: Lauren Tom Cerone

Lauren Tom Cerone

A Chinese tea ceremony is a cultural wedding tradition where the bride and groom serve tea to their respective families. It can date back all the way to the Tang dynasty in China! This can include both sets of parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and other older family members. Serving your elders in order of age is an important part of the ceremony to show respect and gratitude. The ceremony usually takes place on the day of the wedding and it symbolizes the union of the two families.

Photo by: Alicia King Photography

Alicia King Photography

The bride and groom can wear traditional clothes during the tea ceremony like a cheongsam for the bride, which is a dress usually covered with gold dragons, flowers or phoenix symbols. You also can serve any type of tea you like. Once the tea is brewed, the wedding party or non participating family members can help with the ceremony by pouring the tea out of the kettle into the tea cups and handing them off for the couple to present and serve. These helpers can also help make the tea and wash the teaware after use.

Photo by: Alicia King Photography

Alicia King Photography

When serving the tea, the couple must kneel before their elders either on a cushion or pillow. This is very important because it’s part of the etiquette process in the ceremony to the older relatives. When handing the tea to each recipient, you must hold the teacup with both hands — and it’s customary for the groom to serve the father of the groom and the bride to serve the mother of the groom, then switch. You follow this same order until you go down the list of family members. In exchange for the tea, the couple can accept gifts from each relative, which not only celebrate the marriage but show the acceptance of it as well. These presents range from red envelopes filled with cash (symbolizing good luck and good fortune) or jewelry like gold bracelets and jade pendants (usually passed down from the parents). When gifted with jewelry, the couple must put them on right away to show respect and thanks.

Photo by: Alicia King Photography

Alicia King Photography

While this may be an old tradition, the meaning behind the tea ceremony is an amazing symbol of both respective families welcoming the bride and groom into each one. Serving and drinking the tea symbolizes the parents recognizing and accepting the new person into the family.

Photo by: Alicia King Photography

Alicia King Photography

For years, I remember watching family members from both sides lining up to the soon-to-be couple before their wedding ceremony. A room filled with excited chatter, clinking teacups and the occasional loud slurps of tea. Through albums of old photos, I got to see my grandmother, aunts, cousins and mother on their individual tea ceremony day — dressed in traditional outfits, holding antique tea sets and wearing heirloom jewelry, all in an effort to bridge the two families together. Experiencing tea ceremonies first-hand and knowing that my relatives before me had participated in them made me realize the importance and meaningful purpose of having my own tea ceremony when it was my time to get married.

And that day finally came!

Photo by: Alicia King Photography

Alicia King Photography

Dressed in a traditional red dress, my husband and I knelt down on borrowed silk cushions in front of our elder family members, who welcomed us with open arms. We served green tea to each one of them from my mom’s passed-down tea set, the one she and my dad got married with. I can remember my grandpa grinning from ear to ear, my in-laws curiously watching everything unfold, my grandma quietly whispering to me what each piece of jewelry meant and my dad jokingly complaining about how much tea he was served. In return we received our red envelopes and layers of jewelry.

And just like tradition, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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