Tea Ceremonies

serendipity photography tea ceremony

Living in Melbourne we are so lucky to be surrounded by a variety of diverse cultural customs and practices. During a wedding ceremony, the sacred components of cultural and religious traditions come to the surface in unique ways. Serendipity Photography are honoured to bring our readers this page dedicated to  one such custom: the tea ceremony. In contemporary Australian culture, the Chinese and Vietnamese population are two cultures which most commonly practice this historic tradition. Serendipity have collated some interesting facts, history, as well as some of our favourite recent wedding day photographs to inspire you.

Chinese Tea Ceremony

At traditional Chinese weddings, the tea ceremony is as important as the exchange of vows at a western wedding ceremony. This ancient custom has carried through to the modern day, where it is still regarded as perhaps the most significant component of the wedding celebrations. As such, this official ritual is still widely practiced at modern Chinese weddings, either at bride or groom’s home, or at the reception venue. This time-honored exchange was created to show respect for the family. Historically, after they exchanged vows, the couple would serve tea to the groom’s family (the bride would have served tea privately to her own family that morning). Today, many couples choose to honor both the bride and groom’s families by hosting tea ceremonies for both sets of parents.

Traditionally the tea ceremony takes place at the house of the groom, as this custom is time when the bride is formally introduced to the groom’s family. However many Serendipity clients follow the practice of the tea ceremony first at the brides house after a fun, light hearted and sophisticated door ceremony.

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The groom arrives with his men bearing the flowers and gifts.. in manyAsian traditions, the bridesmaids barter and banter, offering challenges which the groom must perform to win through to his bride. Favourite challenges include saying “I love you” in many languages, making “I love you” in 3 slices of bread (think pictorially), the cookie test (why is it that the groom always seems to get the wasabi cookie?), various horrid or super sweet eating challenges, guessing the brides kiss from lipstick prints, or our favourite, composing a love song on the spot incorporating various random words!

The groom often asks his guys to help him. Some male parties attempt to storm the fortress or get in the  back way. Money is offered and hopefully eventually accepted. Finally the groom meets the bride, coming into the tea ceremony proper. Tea, gifts of jewelery, blessings, family photos then a journey to the grooms house.

serendipity photography tea ceremony

serendipity photography tea ceremony

Before the ceremony begins, the bride leaves her home with her groom, and together they travel to his house. This journey is loaded with symbolic importance: to assist the bride on her walk is an attendant (traditionally the “Good Luck Woman” ) A red umbrella is held over head to protect the bride, ward off evil spirits, and to “raise the bark and spread the leaves.” Traditionally the bride was carried for the duration of this passage on the Good Luck Woman’s back. In modern Melbourne ceremonies it is often the groom who carries his bride. By choosing an attendant who is blessed with a good marriage, healthy children and husband and living parents, this helps to ensure the good luck of the new bride on her as she begins her marriage. Once the bride has arrived for the ceremony other relatives will scatter rice, red bean and green bean before her for good luck.

Tea is used because it is China’s national drink and serving it is a sign of respect. Using tea is practical because not everyone can drink alcohol. Lotus seeds and two red dates are used in the tea for two reasons. First, the words “lotus” and “year,” “seed” and “child,” and “date” and “early,” are homophones, i.e. they have the same sound but different meanings in Chinese. Secondly, the ancient Chinese believed that putting these items in the tea would help the newlyweds produce children early in their marriage and every year, which would ensure many grandchildren for their parents. Also, the sweetness of the special tea is a wish for sweet relations between the bride and her new family.

As hosts, it is the the tradition for the newlyweds to serve tea to their families holding the teacups with both hands. The general rule is to have the woman on the left side and the man on the right side. The people being served will sit in chairs, while the bride and groom kneel.

The new couple serve tea in order, starting with the groom’s parents, then proceeding from the oldest family members to the youngest. Guests are invited to receive tea by respectfully being addressed by their formal title, for example: first uncle or first aunt.

In many Melbourne ceremonies the bride will be presented with gifts of jewelry by the parents of the groom. In return, the newlyweds receive lucky red envelopes (“lai see,” which means “lucky”) often filled with money or jewelry. These envelopes are placed on the platter which holds the teacups.

Vietnamese Tea Ceremony

The tea ceremony in Vietnamese culture signifies the sacredness and importance of family, that the wedding day connotes. Whilst not as formally intricate as the Chinese tea ceremony, the Vietnamese custom rich in unique history. The wedding day begins with a procession as the groom and his family journey to the brides house. In the procession, the groom, his family and friends bear elaborately decorated lacquer boxes, covered in red cloth. Inside these boxes are gifts representing the wealth that the groom’s family will bring to the bride’s family, gifts traditionally include: fruit, roast pig, fabric and jewelry for the bride. These gift boxes are always even in number, as many odd numbers such as 7 or 9 or thought to bring bad luck. Celebratory firecrackers announce the arrival of the groom’s procession and once the entire party has been received at the bride’s home, following the permission ceremony, the two families are formally introduced.

After asking for blessing from their ancestors, the formal tea ceremony may commence. The bride and groom serve white tea to their parents. The groom then pours tea for the couple, first into one large bowl then into one cup for bride. They drink the tea as they are watched closely by their family and friends. The offer and acceptance of tea is a very important ritual in Vietnamese culture. It denotes the commencement of important interactions and events.

Serendipity have had the immense honour of capturing many traditional tea ceremonies over our last 20 years. We continue to be inspired by the exquisite photographic opportunities that arise during this custom. A beautiful harmony is created by the intricate formalities, vibrant colour palate of red, striking white and sometimes gold, and the intimate setting of close family and the newly wed couple. This provides the perfect environment for relaxed portraits of the bride and groom, resulting in exceptional wedding day photography.






One Response to “Tea Ceremonies”
  1. Yipin Wang 16 February 2012 at 8:19 pm #

    For traditional Chinese people, tea ceremony is a very important part of their weddings.  The newlyweds serve tea to the parents and elder family members to show them their respect and appreciation for their fostering over the past years.  This is also when the newlyweds are formally introduced to the extended families.

    The tea ceremony for the groom’s side is usually taken place on the wedding day at the bridal home after the bride got picked up by the groom, whereas for bride’s side, it is usually held when the couple complete the bride’s home visit after the wedding.

    As my husband and I have already started living under the same roof before we officially got married, we have decided to skip the door ceremony. But we didn’t want to skip the tea ceremony because of its importance to our parents. However, for simplicity, we decided to serve tea to families of both sides together at the bridal home right after our wedding ceremony.

    Fine china tea sets with some lucky patterns are commonly used in the tea ceremony.  Popular designs include double happiness, dragon and phoenix, and some lucky flower motifs. As we didn’t have ample preparation time before our wedding, we used some simple but colorful cups instead.

    A pair of red dates and a pair of lotus seeds are usually put in the tea as a symbolism of the warm and sweet life ahead for the new couple.  Also the Chinese pronunciation of red dates and lotus seeds symbolizes the parents’ wish that the couple will bear children quickly and continuously in their new marriage.
    Usually a good luck woman will be invited to help pouring the tea and assist in the process of the tea ceremony.  The chosen good luck woman is supposed to be blessed with a happy marriage, healthy children and husband, and living parents as parents’ wish that she will bring good luck to the new couple. Our good luck woman was the mother of our best man. She is a very outgoing and happy woman. We felt very honored to have her at our tea ceremony.

    The general rule is to have the bride stand to the right of the groom.  The people being served will sit in chairs, while the couple either kneel or bow.  The couple serve tea in order, starting from parents from both sides, then proceeding from the oldest family members to the youngest.

    At the tea ceremony, the good luck woman pours the tea and hands the cups to the new couple, at the same time says something auspicious to the people being served to bless as well as to amuse the family. Our good luck woman did an excellent job at our wedding which made this occasion filled with fun and joy.

    The couple hold the tea cups using both hands, kneel or bow, serve tea to the parents and elder family members and address them by their new formal titles.  In return, the people being served will show their acceptance by congratulating the newlyweds, wishing them a happy and prosperous future together and present them with their gifts.  The gifts are usually in the form of red packets stuffed with money or jewellery.  Some relatives even prefer to put on the jewellery gifts for the bride and groom themselves.

    My favorite aspect of the tea ceremony is that when we actually served the tea to our parents and being blessed by them. When I served tea to my mother in law and called her mum, I could see the appreciation from her eyes. I think this is very important part of our wedding for both my husband and I and it will be remembered for the rest of our lives. Of course, by the end of tea ceremony, we have received loads of red packets and fancy jewelry.
    Last but not least, don’t forget to thank the good luck woman a red packet as an appreciation for her help.

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