What is a Tea Ceremony?

We have photographed many modern Chinese and Vietnamese weddings that have incorporated traditional tea ceremonies and love them. Experiencing tea ceremonies allows us to help couples who are a little lost regarding the details of this tradition. We decided to do a little write-up to help couples who need a crash course in customs, rituals, and the meaning behind tea ceremonies.

A tea ceremony is a tradition or ritual that is common in Chinese and Vietnamese weddings. Historically, these tea ceremonies are where couples exchange rings, vows, and pay respect to their parents, families, and ancestors. It’s also a time to formally introduce family members from the bride’s side and the groom’s side to each other. The tea ceremony is significant to Chinese and Vietnamese weddings because couples could show respect and appreciation to their parents and family members for all of their love and sacrifice, all of which has helped shape the bride and groom into the individuals they have become. This traditional ceremony is still practiced in modern Chinese and Vietnamese weddings, which makes the older generation very proud and happy that their children are carrying on their culture and tradition.

There are different variations to the customs and rituals for tea ceremonies, and it is usually determined by how traditional the couple’s families are. Some will have their tea ceremony the day before the wedding, the day after, right before the wedding ceremony, or even during the wedding reception. If the families are traditional, the tea ceremony happens the same day of the wedding and festivities start very early in the morning.

The groom and his family will typically arrive in front of the bride’s parents house between 9:00am-9:15am and will line up for a procession. Someone from the bride’s side of the family will be waiting for the groom by the driveway, will open his door, and offer him tea. If the family is very traditional, the bride’s side of the family will consider the Chinese Zodiac sign of the groom when deciding who shall be the one to open the door for the groom. This is meant to maximize good fortune.

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For the procession, everyone will be lined up in a specific order with someone to represent the groom’s side of the family who will introduce the rest of the family that will lead the way, followed by the groom’s parents, immediate family members, a few close friends and the groomsmen. The procession also includes gifts that are decorated in red cloths that contain gifts for the bride and her family. A whole-roasted suckling pig usually brings up the tail-end of the procession, which is a symbol of the bride’s purity.

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The fun part comes next with the door games. These bargaining games put bridesmaids in charge to test the groom to make sure he’s worthy of their girl friend. Games can include things like eating weird and spicy foods to show that he will eat anything his bride cooks for him, push-ups to show that he is strong enough, and sing her favorite song to demonstrate his love for her. The groom and his family just need to make it through the front door of the bride’s house before 9:30am. The last step to get inside the house is usually done by bargaining with red envelopes filled with money.

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Once everyone is inside the house, those gifts with red cloths are given to the bride’s family and the guests eagerly await for the bride to emerge. The groom is either allowed to get his bride from her room or the bride is brought out to her new husband by her parents. Family introductions follow and then they will ask ancestors for permission and their blessings with incense sticks.

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We’ve reached the moment when tea is served to the family members. During this part of the tea ceremony, the bride and groom serve tea to their parents first, and then in a certain order to respect their seniority in the family. Grandparents, grand uncles and aunts, uncles and aunts, and then older siblings get served tea by the bride and groom. After being served tea, the couple is usually presented with red envelopes filled with money to help start their lives together, jewelry passed down from relatives, and of course, marriage advice for a long and happy marriage.

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After tea is served, everyone, including us photographers and videographers, is invited to have some dim sum and light snacks that is served before the groom takes his new bride to introduce to his side of the family. Before the couple departs from the bride’s house, a “Good luck woman”, someone that has been blessed with a happy marriage and a healthy family, will hold a red umbrella over the bride to protect her from evil spirits as she walks from the door to the car.

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The portion of the tea ceremony at the groom’s side is much more intimate. Traditionally, the bride and groom need to arrive at the groom’s parents’ house before noon. Once the couple arrives at the groom’s parents’ house, a representative from the groom’s family opens the car door and offers tea to the couple to welcome them to the house. There are no door games or bargaining so everyone walks right in. A few family members come with the bride to represent her side of the family. Incense is lit to ask the groom’s ancestors for their blessings and then tea is served in the same order starting with the parents, and then grandparents, grand uncles and aunts, uncles and aunts, and older siblings. After tea is served, we shoot family photos and then we have another break for dim sum and other snacks.

That summarizes what a traditional tea ceremony morning is like. Nowadays, we see a lot of variations to it, like combined tea ceremonies that are held in one location like a hotel ballroom where the wedding is at or tea ceremonies held the day before so the big wedding day has fewer activities for a simpler ceremony. In the end, it’s about paying respect and showing appreciation for the love and sacrifice of their parents, relatives, and ancestors, and for blessings and well-wishes for the marriage.

Have anymore questions regarding traditional tea ceremonies? Feel free to contact us and we’d be happy to help!

Let us know if this was helpful for your big day!

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