February 2, 2009

Have A Cuppa Tea

Today’s question comes from a meeting I had yesterday. They are two of my favourite current clients … incredibly sweet couple.

Since the meeting was informal and the question wasn’t sent in, this is more of a recollection than anything else. It’s a query I’ve received many times though so I thought it would be a great topic.

Michelle and Jay are getting married later this summer. The wedding is looking to be a classic and elegant affair and they’re genuinely excited about it (as am I!). Yesterday their question stemmed from being a bit surprised that their families are asking to have a Chinese Tea Ceremony included in the day. As they’re both young and haven’t been through one before, they’re a bit nervous. Hopefully I put their minds at ease though because the tradition is not only beautiful to watch but very simple. For those who don’t know what it entails, here’s Wikipedia’s definition …

"To express thanks to your elders on one's wedding day: In the traditional Chinese marriage ceremony, both the bride and groom kneel in front of their parents and serve them tea. That is a way to express their gratitude. In front of their parents, it is a practice for the married couple to say, "Thanks for bringing us up. Now we are getting married. We owe it all to you." The parents will usually drink a small portion of the tea and then give them a red envelope, which symbolizes good luck. Another variance is for the to-be daughter-in-law to serve tea to her to-be parents-in-law, symbolizing that she is to become a part of the latter's family.”

And …

“To connect large families on wedding days: The tea ceremony during weddings also serves as a means for both parties in the wedding to meet with members of the other family. As Chinese families can be rather extended, one or two hundred people, it is entirely possible during a courtship to not have been introduced to someone. This was particularly true in older generations where the patriarch may have had more than one wife and not all family members were always on good terms. As such, during the tea ceremony, the couple would serve tea to all family members and call them by their official title. Drinking the tea symbolized acceptance into the family. Refusal to drink would symbolize opposition to the wedding and is quite unheard of since it would result in a loss of "face". Older relations so introduced would give a red envelope to the matrimonial couple while the couple would be expected to give a red envelope to younger, unmarried relations.”

These days the latter is celebrated a bit less. The average groups during tea ceremonies I’ve been a part of are around twenty people and honestly run like clockwork (no nerves needed!). The women in the bridal party will usually be asked to collect the cups, pour the tea and then hand it to the couple. The couple is generally kneeling in front of the elders in the family (although not always) and they pass the tea over to them. Elders drink the tea, red envelopes are exchanged, the teacups go back to the bridal party and then the cycle starts again. If it lasts more than a half hour, it’s a long ceremony ☺

Don’t let my simple rundown discourage you from taking part though. If you have any cultural traditions in your background whatsoever, please embrace them. Not only does a tea ceremony (and other traditions) make for beautiful pictures but the memories are priceless. It really is a stunning thing to watch.

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