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Chinese Tea Ceremony

In honor of John's Chinese heritage, we will be including a somewhat modern adaptation of the traditional Chinese Tea Ceremony during the cocktail hour of our reception. Please note that while all are welcome to watch the ceremony, it is certainly not required, and you are free to come and go. The bar will remain open during the ceremony.

If you are a family elder participating in the ceremony and have questions about how it works, we invite you to see the FAQ section at the bottom of this page. If you have a question and do not find the answer here, please contact us and we will do our best to find out for you. Please be aware that this is an ancient tradition. As such it has evolved over time and has several variations and understandings. While we have striven to follow cultural and familial traditions, our tea ceremony will not necessarily be representative of all Chinese Tea Ceremonies. 

About the Chinese Tea Ceremony

During the Chinese tea ceremony, the bride and groom serve tea to their elders as a sign of respect. (It was also a way to introduce the bride to her new family.) In return, married elders give the newlyweds money or jewelry in lucky red envelopes (Hongbao or Lai see). Traditionally, the tea ceremony was when a Chinese wedding contract was signed and witnessed. During the ceremony, Lindsay will wear a traditional red Chinese dress (Qipao or Cheongsam). Red is the color of luck and happiness in Chinese culture. Woven into the dress is a pattern of dragons and phoenixes, which are popular wedding decorations as they symbolize male and female harmony and a balanced relationship.

Traditionally, all the members of the groom's family are served first, followed by all the members of the bride's family. Chinese culture highly values respect for one's elders, and this respect also influences the ordering of the tea ceremony. Parents and grandparents are served first, followed by paternal aunts and uncles (served in order of age, eldest first), maternal aunts and uncles (served in order of age, eldest first) and older siblings (again, eldest first). The ceremony is an opportunity for the bride and groom to show respect for their family of origin as well as their new family, by bowing before family members and serving them tea.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the order? Who is served first?

In general, men are served before women and eldest family members are served first. So, all of John's family will be served first, and for each family, paternal aunts and uncles will be served before maternal aunts and uncles. Within each family group (i.e. maternal aunts and uncles), members are served in order of age, with the eldest being served first.

How many people are served tea at a time?

The short answer: one or two people will be served in each seating. The long answer: Married couples sit together and are served tea in the same seating (the husband will be given his cup first). Unmarried family elders and elders who are married but whose spouse is not present will be served individually. 

Does it matter where we sit?

There will be two chairs side by side (facing the bride and groom). When a couple is being served, the man sits across from the bride and the woman sits across from the groom. In general, female relatives should sit across from the groom, and male relatives should sit across from the bride.

Who will serve me tea?

The groom will serve each member of the bride's family and the bride will serve each member of the groom's family.

Do I have to bow?

No. The bride and groom bow to (or kneel before) each family member as a sign of respect. Family members are seated and do not bow in return.

Who is served first, my spouse or I?

When serving a couple, the bride or groom will serve a cup of tea to the husband first, and then another cup of tea to the wife.

I am married, but my spouse will not be able to attend. Do I drink for both of us?

Yes. Married family members whose spouses are not present will be served, and should drink from, two separate cups of tea - one for them and one for their spouse.

Do I have to say anything?

No. When serving you tea, the bride or groom will invite you to drink tea according to your relationship, i.e. “Father, please drink tea.” Or “Aunt, please drink tea.” (This will be said in English.)

What formalities should I observe?

In order to respect the formal nature of the Chinese tea ceremony, both hands are used when serving or drinking tea, and when giving and receiving the lucky red envelope. So, when serving you tea, the bride or groom will hand you the teacup with both hands and you should take it and drink from it, and hand it back to the bride or groom (or place it on a provided tray) with both hands.

How much tea do I drink?

It is only necessary to take a sip or two of the tea served. You do not need to finish all the tea in the cup.

Who traditionally gives gifts during the tea ceremony?

Only married elders give gifts. Unmarried elders are served tea, but do not give the bride and groom a lucky red envelope.

What kind of gift should I give?

It is not necessary to give a gift in order to participate in our tea ceremony, just a lucky red envelope (called Hongbao or Lai see). We will have red envelopes available for anyone who needs one.  

In Chinese tradition, the tea ceremony was also the gift exchange. Traditionally, family members gave the bride and groom money or jewelry. While some of our family members may wish to include this aspect of the tradition, others may not. Gifts are always placed in a lucky red envelope (called Hongbao or Lai see) and it is this envelope that family elders give to the bride and groom. We will not be opening any of the lucky red envelopes at the ceremony, except when specifically asked to do so by a family elder who has chosen to give jewelry and wishes for us to wear that jewelry during the ceremony.

I wish to give the couple a gift or money. Are there any numbers I should avoid?

Yes, the number four is avoided in Chinese culture as it is considered unlucky due to the fact that its pronunciation is similar to the pronunciation for the Chinese word for death. Therefore, if you wish to include any money in the red envelope, we ask that you please avoid amounts such as $4, $14, $24, $40, etc. Any number that does not include a four is fine. The number eight is considered lucky because its pronunciation is similar to the pronunciation of the Chinese word for wealth.

Similarly, if you choose to give a gift, please avoid "four" as well (i.e, two pairs of earrings which would be four earrings, or a pendent with four stones, etc.). 

When do I give the bride or groom the lucky red envelope?

After drinking tea and returning the teacup to the bride or groom, the family member hands the red envelope (using both hands) to the bride or groom (whomever served them), who receives it with both hands.

Why did the bride change her dress? What is she wearing?

Lindsay will be wearing the traditional red Chinese dress (called a Qipao or Cheongsam). Red is the color of luck and happiness in Chinese culture and is thus associated with weddings. Woven into the dress is a pattern of dragons and phoenixes, which are popular wedding decorations as they symbolize male and female harmony and a balanced relationship.