Chinese Wedding: Food, Drinks and Red Envelopes

A few weeks ago, I went to a Chinese wedding. Different cultures usually deal with big life events differently. Weddings are a big life event. So, I was excited to not only see my coworker get married but also potentially use the wedding to gain some insight into Chinese culture.

The Fanciest Chinese Wedding

So, apparently the actual legal process of getting married typically happens at an official government office. Because of that, the Chinese wedding actually ended feeling a lot more like a western wedding reception.

It was in a big banquet hall, in a big fancy hotel. There was an MC who hosted the event. People got up and gave speeches. There were flowers on the table and lots and lots of food. The food, surprisingly, wasn’t as traditionally Chinese as I’d hoped. The main dish was some kind of cheesy lobster pasta thing that I didn’t eat because I’m lactose intolerant.

There was also a fair amount of booze going around. Waiters kept the beer and wine flowing, and also passed out bottles of baijiu (Chinese vodka) to those that wanted it. I stuck with beer, but some of my coworkers went to work on the baijiu and got a little annoyingly loud. There’s at least one at every wedding, I guess.

Everybody ate and drank and had a good time. My coworker’s grandmother, an adorable old woman with short hair and a smile the size of the dinner plates, walked around and greeted everyone. I learned how to say “百年好合” which translates to something like “a hundred years good match.”

After the dinner, the bride and groom walked around to every table and took shots of baijiu with all the guests. My coworker is about the size of a small broom, and there were like twenty tables. Thankfully, I was informed that the bride often switches to water after a few drinks.

Chinese Wedding Clothes

I was kind of hoping the wedding would be a bit more traditional. I was expecting the bride to wear a bright red qipao (traditional Chinese wedding dress) or something. Instead, she wore a series of fancy, flowery, white wedding dresses. They were nice, but to me they looked exactly the same as every other wedding dress I’ve ever seen.

We were stressing a little bit about what to wear ourselves. I heard conflicting reports from people. Our Chinese bosses said to just wear whatever, that Chinese weddings are super casual. Other people, however, made a big deal about dressing up and wearing nice clothes.

In the end, I went with jeans and a sort of nice button-up shirt and didn’t feel too out of place. One of my other coworkers (not the one getting married) wore a black Sesame Street T-shirt two sizes too large for her, and nobody batted an eye. I’d been told I might see old people wearing pajamas. I was kind of disappointed to not see a single set of PJs. I guess modern Shanghai weddings are a bit fancier than others.

The Hongbao and a Rice Cooker

Chinese people love gifts. Weddings are as much a gift-giving bonanza as they are back home. However, the gift-giving is easier here. No wandering around trying to find what stores the couple’s registered at. And it’s probably nice for the couple to not come back from their wedding with sixty-five new toasters.

For a Chinese wedding, you find yourself a hongbao (red envelope) and stuff some cash in it, and that’s it. The trick, is to fill it with the right amount of money. The Chinese are very particular with their lucky numbers. If you give the bride and groom, say, 400 RMB, you’re basically telling them you want them to die. We gave 888. 666 is also okay. Some coworkers gave 368.

It’s a little tough finding the exact change in an increasingly cashless society, but it was kind of cool to participate in an authentic Chinese Wedding tradition.

Now, there actually were some home appliances given, but they didn’t go to the bride and groom. They had a raffle at the wedding, where guests got to take something home. One of our coworkers got a Bluetooth speaker. Another got a rice cooker.

Even though I didn’t win anything, it was still a good time. I also don’t think I gained any particular deep insight into Chinese culture, however. I just drank, ate, and celebrated the happy couple. Which, is really, the point of weddings everywhere.

There’s an article with some other details about Chinese wedding traditions here: if you’d like to learn more.

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