Friday, December 24, 2010

Taiwanese Engagement Ceremony: Part 3

The First Proposal
Preparation 1
For the groom’s family, there are three main categories of gift they most prepare. Each gift has functional or symbolic role. If certain traditional gifts are not practical, it can be replaced with a red pocket, cash placed within an auspicious red envelope, of the same value. The name of the replaced item need to be clearly written on the envelope. For the sake of good organization and communication, the family also need to make a list of all the gifts and red pockets. The list is also written on lucky red pepper to be handed over to the bride’s family as well.

However, there are also a huge list of things that are insulting or inauspicious. Nothing should be presented in 4 or things synonymous with inauspicious words. Nothing should be wrapped in black, blue, green, or white. Black, white, and blue are colors for funeral, while green represent infidelity. Sharp things such as knife, fans, and scissors should be avoided, as it represents severing a relationship. Clocks, picture frames, books, straw sandal, and handkerchiefs all have ominous meaning. While red may be a luck color, pen with red ink can be offensive and names should never be written with red inks.

(From left) Heirloom necklace from the groom's
mother, engagement ring, big and small dowries,
a set of pure gold ceremonial jewellery all prepared
by the groom's family.
Set 1: The numbers of gifts and how the gifts are presented matters. Traditionally, the gifts are placed into 6 or 12 cuensheng or specialty red wooden crate.

  1. Small and Big “Doweries”:  Dowry is actually the wrong translation, but it is widely use. The proper translation would be bride price. The combined amount of the two dowries should represent the nominal amount of the bride’s worth to the groom’s family. This amount is divided into two separate amount. Each should contain consecutive number such as $8800 or $6600 while avoiding “4” or numbers that adds up to 4. For a middle class family, the big dowery is usually $120,000 CND and the small one is $36,000 CND before value adjustment. The smaller dowery should only contain a fraction compared to the large one. Nowadays, family do not “sell” their daughter, and bride price is always politely refused. Thus, the presentation of large dowry has become symbolic. However, this would not sit well with the groom’s family (face saving), so therefore a smaller amount (a.k.a small dowry)  is given as a gesture to thank the bride’s parents for raising their daughter so well and their generosity to allowing their son to marry her. The bride's family will graciously accept the small dowry.  The go-between must help the two sides come to a pre-arranged agreement, so the bride's parents do not intentionally or unintentionally pocket the big dowry, causing family drama for the few decades.
  2. Engagement Ring: gold ring or diamond ring prepared by the mother of the groom.  Nowadays, the groom himself will prepare this ring.  This is the same ring as the Western engagement ring.
  3. Gold Jewellery: 2 gold necklaces, 2 bracelets or jade bracelets, a pair of earrings, adding up to 6 or 12 items. None of these items has to be purchase new. Family heirlooms are often used. These will be worn by the bride for the whole day to show respect for the groom’s family.  Please take care to use valuable or at least sentimental jewellery.  My mother, after 30 years, still bitterly complains about the cheap (rusting) bronze jewellery she received from her in-law.  In Taiwan, fashionable bridal sets are commonly sold in jewellery shops by weight of the gold (no tax). The shop also rent out fashionable jewellery box for the ceremony.
  4. Clothing and accessories for 
    Clothing: These are personal items for the bride. There most be 6 or 12 of these items as well. If the item have pockets, such as pants or purse, a red pocket with small amount of cash must be placed inside as well.  These items can be purse, wallets, shoes, belts, jackets, watch, bracelets, earrings, hat, cosmetics, sawing kit, scarf, socks, etc
  5. Boutonniere:  One for each ‘elderly’ person (same generation as the parents or higher) at the event.
  6. Ancestral Offerings: Two sets of prayer incense, candles, firecrackers, and paper money (celestial money for burning). At my cousin's engagement, the groom also brought enough ceremonial food offering that cover the entire offering table. These are for the bride’s ancestors to inform them of this potential union and to show reverence.
  7. Sweeten Seedless Chinese Jujube Red Date - 2x 6 Oz - Eat Out of Box! (No Artificial Sweeten, No Color) - 2010/05 New ProductThe Four Sweets: Two sets of winter melon candy, rock sugar, oval kumquat jam, and sweet mandarin cake. Each item is chosen because they synonymously symbolize sweetness, union, and auspiciousness. Sweetness symbolizes the young couple and their future together.
  8. Gifts of Fertility: Red dates, peanuts (optional), longan, lotus seed. These symbolizes fertility.
  9. Rice and Sugar: 12 pounds of glutinous rice and 2 bags of brown (red) sugar. This is for the bride’s family to make rice balls for the engagement event. It symbolizes harmony and union.
  10. Longans: Fresh longan symbolizes prosperity, happiness, union, fertility. It also symbolizes the eyes of the groom. The mother of the bride would discretely remove two longan from the box for the brides to eat. This to ensure the groom will never set eyes on other women.
  11. Alcohol Set 1: Rice whiskey, rice wines, and pots for the wine. This tradition is slowly becoming obsolete. Now this is replaced with red pocket.
  12. Vermicelli:  (Uncooked) This represents destiny, longevity and well wishes
  13. Alcohol Set 2: A dozen of two dozen bottles of something expensive and flashy.  Nowadays, brandy, specifically Hennessy, is used.  This is to wish the bride’s family well all year round.
  14. Cakes and cookies: 1 Large (in surface area) and thin specialty cookie or cake with net weight of 1 pound. Western gourmet petite desserts, enough for all the guests. 6 or 12 traditional rice crackers. These synonymously represent great and good groom.
  15. Modern bridal gifts in red boxes
    Bridal Cakes Speciality Pastry: Actually, this is not given at the ceremony.  Within a week after the ceremony, the go-between will ask the bride's parents how many bridal cakes they would like to receive from the groom's family.  The go-between euphoniously asking how many guests bride's family would like to invite to the wedding, which the groom's family is paying for. Bridal cakes are the traditional form of announcement of marriage and invitation to the wedding feast. The number of cakes given to each guest is established according to a rigid etiquette, on the basis of seniority and degree of intimacy. If cost of the wedding is a concern, the groom's family will then bargain through the go-between the number of cakes, hoping to keep down the number of guests and thus the cost.  Eventually, a number will be agreed upon and cakes would be sent.  For my cousin, no actual cakes were exchanged (even though the conversation bargaining about the cake still occurred), but through that bargaining, the parents agreed at an amount groom's family is comfortable spending and the bride's family will cover the rest.
More preparation in the next post

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