Customs
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Tea Ceremonies in Chinese Wedding Tradition

The informant is a 67-year-old Mexican-American woman who is a reverend. She is known for tailoring wedding receptions to couples from different cultural backgrounds, and in her words “taking old traditions and giving them new meaning.” Many consider her to be the “guru of new wedding traditions.”

While out to breakfast while the informant was visiting me in Los Angeles, I asked her if there were any particular rituals or traditions drawn from Asian cultures that she has incorporated into weddings in the past. She responded by describing tea ceremonies, which she has commonly incorporated in the weddings of individual’s having a Chinese cultural background.

“In a tea ceremony, the parents of the bride and groom are called up to the altar. Together, the bride and groom prepare a cup of tea for each parent. The mothers and fathers then each take three sips of the tea, after which they sit back down. I’m not entirely sure why it is important that they take only three sips, but traditionally that is how it’s done.”

My first question after hearing of this tradition was, “How do they boil water at the altar?” To which the informant responded, “Typically a kettle has been heated somewhere behind the scenes, and it is brought out for the bride and groom. Really all they have to do is pour the tea into a cup and serve it to their parents.” This ceremony seems to represent the newlyweds demonstrating their gratitude to their parents for all that they have done, as a wedding marks the transition at which an individual’s spouse now has more responsibility for taking care of that person than do his or her parents. It is also a way for the bride and groom to let the parents know that they will take care of them in the future as old age approaches. While the informant was unsure of the reason that the parents take only three sips of the tea, examining this tradition with a comparative lens that takes into account a broad range of folklore shows that many folk traditions come in repetitions of threes. This often dates back to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity defined by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It also removes the awkwardness that would arise if one of the parents took a great deal of time to finish drinking the entire cup of tea while the entire audience had to sit and wait for them to be done, as three sips can be taken much more quickly and at the same speed by all parents.

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