Saturday, December 25, 2010

Taiwanese Engagement Ceremony: Part 4

The First Proposal
Preparation 1

Preparation 2
In addition to other gift, there are two extra set of gifts to represent the thoughtfulness of the groom’s family. However, these items are terribly impractical nowadays and are considered optional or replaced with cash.

Set 1: (6 or 12 cans of each) Abalone, scallops, shark fins, matsutake, escargot; and two pounds of black mushroom. Wealthy family would use fresh or dried products instead.

Set 2: Half of a pig (raw): symbolizes harvest and earnestness of the groom’s family. This can be replaced with western ham or a red pocket.  For my cousin's ceremony, my grandmother cut off a slice of the pig and sear the surface of the meat.  My cousin is then instructed to lick the blood of the half-raw pork for good luck.
  • Six live castrated male chicken: represent energy, prosperity (castrated chicken has vibrant and beautiful feathers) without the aggressive virility.
  • Six fresh fish: synonymously represent prosperity, plentifulness.
Red Pockets: Giving cash in red envelopes is the norm for gift giving practices in Taiwan. In this case, it is uses similar to tipping, but with more symbolism. The cash amount must be an even number and the number of bills (which also must be new bills) must also be even numbers. These numbers should not be four or add up to four.

Both families must prepare couple dozen red pockets for the ceremony. The giving and receiving of the red pockets must be done with both hands and a small bow and words of thanks or well wishes. For the larger amount, the receiver may politely refuse and the giver must then politely insist. This will go on three before the receiver politely accepts with a bow and words of thanks.
Proper giving and receiving pose

The items listed as "Gift" would require a larger sum of cash.  For example, the gift for the go-between is well in the hundreds (CND).  Items listed as "Tip" are usually within hundreds, depending on the seniority of the receiver.  However, wealthier givers are expected to give more in accordance of their wealth.

Door Opening: (Tip) Groom gives a red pocket to the person who opens the car. This person is usually a young adult or teen of the bride’s family.
Candle Lighting: (Tip) Given to the bride’s aunt, after she light the ancestral candle brought over by the groom’s family.
Go-Between: (Gift) Given to the go-between anytime.
Bride’s Gift: Given to the bride to compensate for the make-up cost.
Tea Ceremony Tip: After each guest has drunk the tea served by the bride, the guests must place a red pocket inside their cups. Groom’s parents must place more money inside the cup than other people.
Banquet Cost: Additional money to compensate for the banquet. Isn’t engagement hosted and paid for by the bride’s family? Yes, but since groom’s family is here to seek the hands of their daughter in marriage. The feeling of indebtedness is considered inappropriate and others may deem the groom’s family as stingy. Additional money shows the family’s generosity and thoughtfulness.  This is sort of like an Alpha dominance show off in the most polite and discrete way.
Gifts for the sibling: Given to the siblings of the bride.
Helpers’ Tips: Tip to thank everyone who helped putting the event together. This includes chef, servers, hostess, and even the person who offer washcloth or wash basin before the meal.
Mothers’ Gift: Given by the groom’s mother to the bride as a show of kindness and inclusiveness. Same is done by bride’s mother to the groom. This is optional, but prior coordination is necessary, because if one mother gives, the other mother must do the same and match the cash amount.
Big and Small “Dowries”: This is explained in the last post.

There is no rule regarding how much money exactly each red pocket should contain. This is determined by the family’s economic ability and comfort level, and also the seniority of the receivers. Young children, on average, receives $10-15 dollars, young adults around $60, and such. (Money giving is not really about the money, but they represents, for everyone to see, a sense of recognition-interaction and the idea of giving-receiving between people forming the basis of relationships amongst each member of the family. From my experience, “tips” are usually $15 or more. While the exact amount does not matter, it is considered very important for the groom’s family to show that they are generous and earnest.

Additional red pockets should be prepared and given to the go-between, to give to the bride’s parents in case of any hiccup or deficiency in the gifts.

One of my red box was replaced with
antiques representing good lucks
and fertility 
Bride's family
The bride’s family will also prepare gifts mirroring each and every gifts and red pockets they receive.

  1. The groom's gifts all come in red boxes or cuensheng.  The bride's family needs to prepare enough gifts to fill all those red boxes. Cleverly, the gifts are often domestic appliances and items the couples can use after their marriage, such as rice cooker, blenders, pillows, bathrobes, rice, etc.  During the banquet, the bride's family will remove the gifts from the red boxes and replace them with their gifts.  These will either return with the groom after the ceremony or go with the bride on the day of the wedding.
  2. Engagement ring and necklace for the groom, prepared by the mother of the bride.  Nowadays, engagement ring for the groom is chosen by the bride herself.
  3. A set of clothing and accessories for the grooms from head to toe.  With prior co-ordination through the go-between, there should be a gift responding each gift the groom's family brought ot the bride.  This can also be replaced with cash in red pocket envelope.
  4. Red pockets for groom's siblings and the go-between. My mother gave red pockets to every single guests at the ceremony.  The cash amount was determined by seniority and role at the ceremony.
Next post, we will go into the actual ceremony.

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