11 Chinese Wedding Customs In Singapore & The Significance Behind Them Explained

Chinese wedding customs in Singapore

As a little kid, I always found myself intrigued as I flipped through wedding photo albums of my family members. Brimming with pictures of relatives holding large baskets filled with gifts, kneeling while serving tea to the elders, and strikingly red wedding dresses, I wondered why a wedding had so many mafan steps to it.

From crazy challenges set by bridesmaids and the Guo Da Li ceremony, here are Chinese wedding customs commonly seen in Singapore and their significance explained.  

1. Auspicious dates are based on the couple’s birth timings

Image credit: Daper via Kickstarter

When it comes to our favourite romcoms, large romantic gestures like spontaneous runaway weddings are commonplace. Well, spur-of-the-moment ceremonies are out of the question for Chinese weddings. A specific auspicious date and time have to be picked for the wedding, as these are believed to kickstart a blissful marriage. 

The personalised wedding date looks at the pair’s unique 8 Characters (八字), which includes their specific birth date and time. It’s usually calculated by a feng shui master but generally, an even-numbered date and month is preferred.

Couples are also advised to steer clear of the 7th lunar month, which is when the Hungry Ghost Festival happens. Nobody wants to get married with surprise guests, especially if they’re spirits.

2. The groom’s family gives food like dates & cakes during Guo Da Li

If you think that picking an engagement ring is the biggest part of pre-wedding preparations, wait till you see the overflowing betrothal gift baskets at Guo Da Li (过大礼). The betrothal ceremony symbolises the groom’s promise to marry and support the groom’s family 2-4 weeks before the wedding.

Image credit: @sophiahrx via Instagram

As good things come in pairs, commonly sighted items include 8 oranges, with 8 being an auspicious number that means wealth in Chinese culture. Red dates are also given to symbolise fertility, as well as traditional wedding cakes and goodies that differ depending on dialect. Teochew brides usually receive canned pig’s trotters, but Cantonese brides will often get an entire roast pig.

Just like how a marriage is a 2-way street, Guo Da Li is only complete when the bride’s family accepts the gifts and groom into the family as their son-in-law. They will then bestow a dowry in return to the groom’s family and bless the couple with happiness. This often includes Chinese steam cakes that symbolise prosperity and a tea set that’ll be used in the upcoming tea ceremony.

3. The groom’s family is expected to gift the bride Si Dian Jin

Aside from all the food, Si Dian Jin (四点金) is a must-include in the Guo Da Li. Literally translated as “4 pieces of gold”, it’s usually presented in the form of gold necklaces or bangles. These are given with the rest of the betrothal gifts during Guo Da Li.

A more modern style of Si Dian Jin.
Image credit: @madlygems via Instagram

Although Si Dian Jin may look like jewellery, the bride isn’t expected to wear them at all. For one, the gold symbolises providence by the groom for the bride that she’ll be well taken care of once she marries into his family. Secondly, the Si Dian Jin are often stowed away in safe deposit boxes and only taken out to be passed down to the next generation as a dowry.

4. Kids jump on the couple’s bed to bless them with many offspring

Image credit: @brenzwen via Instagram

We’ve all been scolded countless times by our parents for jumping on the bed as kids. But jumping and rolling on the couple’s new bed comes with no consequences for little kiddos – only on the wedding day. This symbolises blessings to the newlywed for many future kids of their own.

Traditionally held up to a week before the wedding, the bed-setting ceremony known as An Chuang (安床) is done by a woman with many children and grandchildren. While it’s usually the couple’s relative like an aunt, an alternative is to outsource this service and pay for it if the couple doesn’t have any young nieces or nephews.

Image credit: @joyyceeebb via Instagram

The new matrimonial bed will be covered in a red bedspread with new pillow cases, before an extensive list of items including red packets, oranges, lotus seeds, pomegranate leaves, peanuts, dried longans, and red dates are scattered and left till the wedding night. These items all come together to symbolise an overflowing bed of blessings.

5. The couple’s hair is combed in 4 strokes

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Unlike the hurried hair-brushing in the morning when we’re running late, the hair combing ceremony known as Shang Tou (上头) is done precisely with 4 meaningful strokes. Conducted on the night before the wedding separately for the bride and groom, this is not only believed to bring blessings for the couple, but also symbolises their transition into adulthood.

Image credit: @kikidaydreaming via Instagram

Before the ceremony, it’s key to bathe in water infused with pomelo leaves before putting on new pajamas and bedroom slippers. The bride or groom will then sit in front of a pair of dragon phoenix candles in their own homes – this is believed to ward off evil spirits. Fun fact: They can only go to bed after the candles burn out, which might explain any sightings of panda eyes during the wedding.

Parents usually then recite 4 phrases that are said with each stroke:

  • 一梳梳到尾 (Yi Shu Shu Dao Wei) : A marriage that lasts a lifetime
  • 二梳百年好合 (Er Shu Bai Nian Hao He) : A happy and harmonious marriage for years to come
  • 三梳子孙满堂 (San Shu Zi Sun Man Tang): A household filled with children and grandchildren
  • 四梳白发齐眉 (Si Shu Bai Fa Qi Mei): Longevity

6. Tang yuan is eaten after the hair combing ceremony

Image credit: @kalee_curry via Instagram

The last tradition as single persons is the consumption of tang yuan by the couple in their own homes. The Chinese characters for the glutinous rice dessert sound like togetherness so eating this symbolises a complete and sweet marriage. 

Tang yuan may also be consumed after the groom reunites with the bride at her family’s home after the gatecrashing ceremony.

7. The bride wears a traditional red qun kua on wedding day

Westernised wedding ceremonies will see the bride dressed up in white, but in Chinese custom, red is the colour for luck, joy, and happiness. This is why you’ll often see Chinese brides donning the qun kua, a 2-piece set that includes a red skirt and red jacket. The qun kua can come in other colours too, like pink and peach, but these are reserved for second wives.

Image credit: @jefferey.koh via Instagram

Today’s qun kua are usually embellished and embroidered quite elaborately but all should reflect 2 must-have motifs for a blessed marriage. There’s always a dragon for the groom and a phoenix for the bride in the front. Other motifs you might find include peony flowers for a prosperous marriage and mandarin ducks that symbolise fidelity. 

Grooms can wear kua too with similar motifs, but these days, many opt for a modern suit instead.

8. The groom “gatecrashes” the bride’s home before meeting the bride

As the saying goes: Nothing worth having comes easy. As the bride is seen as a precious gem to her family, it’s a given that gaining her hand in marriage won’t be an easy feat. Accompanied by his bros to rally and support him, the groom must first complete a series of challenges set by enthusiastic bridesmaids during the gatecrashing in order to fetch his bride from her family home.

Image credit: @eventureshawaii via Instagram

The first barrier of entry would be the games set by the bridesmaids before the groom is even allowed through the bride’s door. Games involved usually include the flavours of sour, sweet, bitter, and spicy or Suan Tian Ku La (酸甜苦辣) in Chinese. It’s not unusual to see the groom’s party having to down a weird concoction of the 4 for this. 

Then there’s the haggling of ang pao by the bridesmaids and groomsmen. If the bridesmaids deem the amount worthy of a bribe, then the groom is allowed past the gate and into the bride’s home. One of the last few tasks is often the reciting of a contract or vows from the groom to the bride before he gets to see the bride.

Fun fact: Unlike many traditional Chinese wedding customs that started in ancient China, gatecrashing originated from Hong Kong drama serials, with brides feeling heartened to know that their men are willing to go the extra mile for them.

9. The bride is sheltered with a red umbrella to the bridal car

Image credit: via Instagram

Following a successful gatecrashing, the bride must be sheltered with a red umbrella as she makes her way from her home to the wedding car. Beyond shielding her from the sun so she can stay glam on her special day, this is believed to ward off any negative elements or evil spirits.

Before setting off in the bridal car, the bride also has to throw out a red foldable fan through the car window as a means of leaving any negativity in the past as she begins a brand new chapter with her groom. 

10. The tea ceremony is performed at both homes

With the bride picked up, the couple will then drive to the groom’s home first for the tea ceremony. The tea is usually brewed with ingredients such as lotus seeds and red dates to bless the couple with many kids quickly. Another common ingredient used is longan, which has the Chinese word for dragon in its name to symbolise bearing sons.

Image credit: @purpleashphoto via Instagram

The couple is expected to pour and serve the tea to family members while addressing them by their formal titles such as “maternal grandmother” and “uncle 2”. This is done while kneeling or bowing to show respect. The same ceremony is repeated at the bride’s home as well. Older and married relatives will then give ang pao to the couple as a form of well wishes.

The couple will then have their turn to be served tea by younger and single relatives. In return the pair will also have to give them ang pao.

11. Guests are expected to bring ang pao to the wedding banquet

Image credit: @mikechenphotography via Instagram

Ang pao are given to the couple by the guests at the wedding banquet – not just as a form of blessing to the newlyweds, but also to cover the cost of their banquet seat.

A source of headache for most guests, the unwritten rule is to pay for your seat at the wedding table, usually 10% of the table’s cost. This amount can differ largely based on how atas the restaurant is and what the day banquet is being held on.

These days there are websites where you can check ang pao rates for most wedding venues in Singapore. Of course, these amounts are arbitrary and you can bless the couple with larger amounts if you wish to.

Singapore’s Chinese wedding traditions

Traditions can often be seen as outdated in a modern city like Singapore, especially if you know nothing about their significance. But now that you do, you might be able to appreciate the Chinese wedding customs that have been carried out for generations.

Check out our other wedding-related articles here:

Cover image adapted from: SK Jewellery, @brenzwen via Instagram
Originally published on 25th September 2019. Last updated by Raewyn Koh on 18th July 2023.

Victoria Quek

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