Marital customs

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Traditional Marriage

A traditional marriage ceremony taking place in Beijing bears little resemblance to western-style clothes and wedding gowns. Ceremonies often differ in format, but are usually arranged by a matchmaker. Feudal society impenetrate the ideas that 'marriage depends on parents' command and matchmakers' word' and that 'the bride should be faithful to one marriage until death'. From the marriage engagement to the unification of the bride and groom, there are many unique and complicated etiquette requirements and procedures.

Proposing - the marriage introduction by the matchmaker. Through the matchmaker's introduction and after the parents' consent from both sides, the bride and groom respectively use red paper to write the name, age, native place and names of their three previous generations (great-grandparents, grandparents and parents). The red paper is then exchanged by the matchmaker to both families. The elders of both families then choose an auspicious day and suitable location to meet and to discuss the opposite family's asset condition including the family reputation, the girl's moral standing and appearance or the boy's life experience and so on, to see whether they are properly matched.

Birthday Matching - When there is a possibility of marriage the couple have a discussion regarding aspects involved in the meaning of marriage. Both sides write their birthday on red paper and then ask a 'fortune-teller' to see if the girl and boy are suitable to be united. If the astrologer sees that the two birthdays complement each other they can then get married. If the couple is matched for marriage but their birthdays do not complement one another the couple will have to relinquish the idea of marriage.

Marriage Interview - The bilateral parents together with the matchmaker meet to discuss the appearance, physical qualities, family situation, and economical condition of each family. If both sides are satisfied with each other, then the marriage certificate will be written, providing the time and date for getting on and off the sedan chair, doing obeisance, sending the trousseau and picking up the bride. These are important components leading up to the wedding ceremony.

Presenting betrothal gifts -This ceremony takes place once the marriage engagement has been finalized. Gifts are exchanged. The standard of gift varies from situation to situation. The groom's keepsake is indispensability. Generally the gifts include a finger ring, bangle, jade or some other precious items. When the keepsakes and the marital letter containing the bridegroom's birthday are delivered to the bride's family, the matchmaker will bring back the bride's marital letter to the other side, thus the betrothal gift presentation is complete.

Picking Wedding Date - A lot of care is taken in choosing an appropriate day for the wedding ceremony. According to local custom weddings are seldom held in the first lunar month and marriage engagements are seldom decided in the 12th lunar month. Several days ahead of choosing an appropriate day, the bridegroom's family will ask the matchmaker to go to the bride's family and inquire about the bride's menstrual period. It is said that if the wedding ceremony is held just at the time of the bridal menstrual period, both families will be unlucky.

Presenting Wedding Gifts - The groom's family will inform the bride's side of the date they choose to hold the wedding ceremony and deliver the clothes and jewelry which will be worn by the bride on the wedding date, as well as some presents prepared for the bride. Presents include goose, liquor, fresh fish, ham, gigot, cakes and pastries, fruit, clothes, jewelry and so on, all of which are full of favorable meanings. According to folk custom, goose is an essential gift as it signifies that the love between the two people will never change.

Trousseaus presenting - The delivery of the trousseau is a matter for the bride's family. It is usually held one or two days before the auspicious wedding date. The dowry that the bride's parents provide for their daughter is delivered to the groom's family. The trousseau generally contains a timepiece, mat bottle, mirror, tea canister, food box, tea set, toilet articles, clothes, bedding, and jewelry. Several families will also deliver some wooden furniture. There is also a 'longevity lamp' which is made of copper or tin. All dowries will be separately put into boxes and chests. The bride's family will hire some people to lift the gifts. The quantity of the trousseau generally depends on the wealth of the bride's family. The number of lifts it takes to move the trousseaus must be a lucky number. After the groom's family receives these trousseaus, the groom must go to the bride's family on the same day to express their thankfulness.

Wedding Ceremony - The families will execute the appropriate proceedings on the wedding date according to local customs. The format varies from locality to locality.

Meeting the bride - On the wedding date, the groom will personally lead the honor guard and go to the bride's family to meet the bride and escort her to his home for the wedding. The sedan chair used to meet the bride is covered with red satin and embroidered with flowers. Typically it is lifted by eight people. The cortege, in a carriage following the sedan chair, includes the matchmaker, the groomsman, the attendant for meeting the bride and the master of the ceremony ride. When the bridegroom arrives, the front door of the bride's family must be closed tightly. The meeting guests knock at the door outside to urge the bride to get on the sedan chair. There must be some people of the bride's family in the courtyard to ask for the 'red packages' which contain different amounts of money. After they get some wrapped money packages they will open the front door. The groom will then ask the trumpeter to play music.

When the bride gets on the sedan chair, she is supported by the hands of two people. Together they must slowly walk on the red carpet being careful not to step on raw ground. No matter how cold or hot, the bride in the sedan chair is not allowed to take off the headkerchief that covers her head. Before the sedan chair is lifted, the bride's parents must make a detailed inspection to guarantee its security. After the sedan chair is lifted, but before they leave for the groom's family, the bride's parents will send two brothers of the bride to accompany the sedan chair to see the bride off to the groom's family.

Making ceremonial obeisance - When the sedan chair and the honor guard return to the groom's family, the sedan chair will be lifted into the courtyard, firstly crossing the brazier. Those who see the bride off to the groom's family, including the bride's brothers, will enter the courtyard to have a rest and the groom's family will entertain the guests cordially with a banquet.

When it is the time for the bride to get off the sedan chair, the sedan must be lifted to the hall entrance. The bridegroom must make three bows, with hands folded in front, to the sedan gate. Thereupon the sedan gate is opened and the bride gets off the sedan, being supporting by the hands of the bridesmaids. This is the second time that the bride walks on red carpet and is not allowed to step on the raw ground. Now the bridegroom is standing in front of the shrine, with a bow in his hand. Shooting three arrows onto the bridal body is considered a positive behavior that has the capacity to drive out dishonor and demons. Then the bride crosses the saddle and brazier. After all these procedures, the grand wedding ceremony will be held in front of the shrine.

Entering Nuptial Chamber - After making obeisance, the bride must be brought to the nuptial chamber. Two people will make 'kang' (the preparation of the newlywed's bed). The bride will come into the nuptial chamber and sit cross-legged on the bed. Now the bride's headkerchief will be unveiled by the groom. This is called the 'first meet', and the groom then takes off the downy flower which is decorated on the bridal headpiece.

Eating - Chinese Dumplings and the 'longevity noodle' are popular food for newlywed couples as they symbolize good luck. The bride and groom drink wedlock wine in the nuptial chamber. After that a banquet, called the 'significant meal' or 'family reunion dinner', will be offered in a hall. The banquet begins with, the newlyweds gulping steamed bread, in order to have full luck in their lives.

Teasing the Bride - Well-meaning trouble is carried out in the bridal chamber by all the family. The more merrymaking the more enjoyment so the festivities can be quite extensive.

Affirming the Family Position - After get married, the bride is considered a member of the groom's family, so she must make obeisance to the ancestor. This is given a very high propriety. After the obeisance to the ancestor, the bride becomes accustomed to her position in the groom's family getting to know all the old and young of the groom's family.

Meeting Relatives - The day after the wedding date, etiquette dictates that the groom's family meets the bride's parents.

Bride's Return – This refers to the first visit of a bride to her parents accompanied by the groom. On the day they return, the newlyweds cannot stay at the bride's family for the whole night; they must hurry back to their own family on that day. For several days the bride's families should deliver food to the bride. One month after the marriage, the bride is allowed to return to the maternal home to live for one month. After one month's living in the maternal home, she will again return to her own home in the groom's family. Whenever on holidays, the bride goes back to her maternal home to reunite with family.

New-fashioned Marriage

Along with fast social development, Beijing has gradually implemented the civilized foreign-style wedding ceremony. After receiving the marriage certificate obtained once the legal procedures have been carried out, the couple can choose a good day to hold the wedding ceremony.

First preparations are made for transportation to the wedding, such as a flowered horse-drawn vehicle or decorated bridal automobile. The orchestra, hall furnishings, formal clothes for the bride and groom, as well as the corbeils, bouquets and buttonholes are also organized. The wedding ceremony can be held in the large-scale restaurant or at home.

When meeting the bride, the flowered horse-drawn vehicle or automobile, lead by the orchestra, will drive to the bride's family. The bride, supported by the bridesmaid holding a bouquet of flowers in her hands will walk on the red rug to board the car to go where the wedding ceremony will be held.

The wedding ceremony, mastered by an emcee, usually includes music playing, guests' seating, marriage certificate reading, newlywed's bowing to the guests, bowing mutually with the exchange of the wedding rings and the emcee delivering the congratulation speech…

Under the emcee's direction, all guests will stand up to pray for heavenly blessing for the bridegroom and the bride. After that, entertainment is provided to relatives and friends including a meal. At the beginning of the feast, the bridegroom and the bride will toast their fellow guests, and then the guests can enjoy the grand feast. After the banquet, they will take some pictures as a memento, and then later that day, the newlyweds can go back to their nuptial chamber to have a rest.

In brief, there are tremendous changes in the customs of the modern wedding ceremony. Old marital customs are rarely seen. Traveling overseas for weddings, collective marriages and other new forms for getting married are increasing in popularity.

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