Recently, I was sitting in my office and a co-worker from our digital team came by with a small, beautifully wrapped gift. As she handed it to me, she explained it was wedding candy from her wedding reception held over the weekend. I’m sure she wanted to just drop it off and move on but I of course had a few questions.
First, I thanked her for sharing, pulled out my notebook and then dove into my interview mode.
Sunny explained that it is tradition to offer the candy to the guests who attend the wedding and to your co-workers. The small note on the top of the box read “Thank you for your blessing.”
I learned from Sunny that she had first met James online, when they began to follow each other on Sina Weibo (think Facebook meets Twitter) in 2011. James reached out to meet Sunny in person a couple times but she was too busy working on a NIKE campaign for the London Olympics.
James tried once again asking Sunny out for drinks and because the Olympics were over, she agreed. Sunny learned that James worked for Nissan as a supply chain production manager. Interesting to note, James asked about the NIKE employee discount on their first date.
They dated for about nine months, moved in together and James asked Sunny to marry him during the annual housecleaning leading up to Chinese New Year. Much like spring cleaning, the housecleaning before Chinese New Year, is both real and a metaphor for clearing out the old and making way for the new year and good fortune. Sunny wasn’t thrilled with the timing and James’s lack of romance. How could he ask her to marry him while she’s dusting and sweeping floors, sweating and dirty and not feeling her best? She let him know it but eventually agreed to marry him.
I learned from Sunny that the actual marriage is a legal transaction. The 2 sets of parents agree on the dates where a celebration is to be held in each of their home towns. The first celebration was to held in James’s hometown. James’s family is more traditional and held a very traditional wedding celebration.
The day starts with Sunny getting her hair and make-up done and dressed in a traditional wedding dress. James meets her at the salon, gets down on one knee and gives her a ring. He escorts her to the door and out to a decorated car waiting to take them to his parent’s house.
They arrive at the family home where James holds a red umbrella over Sunny as they approach the parents, key family members and a few friends who are lined up outside to greet them. James’s mother greets Sunny and hands her an red envelop of cash.
Hold it right there. The mother-in-law gives cash to the new bride? Interesting. Go on I say.
Sunny tells me they have a small gathering at the house, take pictures and head to a hotel for the reception.
The wedding celebration, a luncheon, includes 250 of the family’s relatives and friends. Each guest brings a red envelop with cash to give to the newly married couple. This gift is known as hongbao. The color red symbolizes good luck and wards off evil spirits.
I learned that the mother-in-law has someone “keep the books” as the envelops are presented. She keeps a ledger to mark down who gave what amount. I am liking this mom. When I asked why, Sunny explained the mother will want to know so that a fair amount is given when they are invited to a future wedding of the guest who gifted them. Right. That’s why I would want to know.
At the reception, Sunny and James work the room. They go to each table greeting their guests and partaking in a toast. Each table hosts 10 guests. In the center of each table are snacks, alcohol and cigarettes. When the couple gets to each table, a toast or ganbei is made to each guest. The tradition requires that each guest empty their glass with each toast. 10 toasts, starting with the most important member of the table, working your way around until all 10 have been toasted, or as I can imagine, all 10 are toasted. The bride and groom, do not have to finish their drink as they have 25 tables to visit.
During the toasting, the food is served and the guests enjoy time together. After the event the couple head back to the house for a rest.
That evening, the same group of key family members are at the house and they set off fireworks in honor of the couple. The mother-in-law has completely redone James’s childhood bedroom. It is draped in red and the bed is made up with red, silk sheets. She has placed Chinese characters on the wall that spell out “Happiness.” Sunny and James spend the night in the room of good fortune and good luck.
The event is repeated in Sunny’s hometown but much more dialed back. Sunny’s parents are both artists and did not want all the fuss and wedding traditions. They did host a luncheon for close family and friends but asked that no hongbao, red envelopes be presented.
I loved hearing about the traditions of the Chinese wedding from Sunny. It was so nice of her to share the information and pictures from her big day.
This all comes at a perfect time as our son Matt has just recently purposed to his girlfriend, Leanne.
As we begin to make plans for the upcoming wedding, I’ll be sure to compare the “Square Melons” of the two cultures all while redecorating Matt’s childhood room and looking for a supply of red envelopes and a ledger.