Sunday, December 26, 2010

Taiwanese Engagement Ceremony: Part 5

The First Proposal
Preparation 1
Preparation 2

The Engagement Day
For example sake, let's say this couple's auspicious time is on a Saturday at noon

Groom's side
The engagement party consists of the parents, grandparents, and other male relatives or friends for a total of 6, 8, or 12 people including the groom and excluding the go-between. The number of cars used to get to the bride’s house must be a even number, excluding 4, so 2, 6, or 8 cars are appropriate. Each car must not contain 4 people. Female relatives who are born in the year of the tiger cannot attend the ceremony, but they may join afterwards for the banquet. Tiger is consider too aggressive and very inauspicious for the bride.

Bride's side
The bride's family will be the host of the event and often the house would be packed with relatives and close friends.  However, women born in the year of the tiger are not involved with the ceremony and only join afterwards for the banquet. While most guest's participation s are options, the bride's parents, grandparents, and siblings must be present.

The total number of guests at the ceremony is also important.  The final number cannot contain the number 4 and has to be an even number.  Multiples of dozens are the most encouraged.  For some reason, 24 is an okay number.

For the groom and groom's father: Business-Informal, suit, tie, suit pants, with formal shoes. Other men, business casual, would be the minimum; no jeans, runners, or hats. The trouser and jacket can be black, grey, dark blue, and stripes.  For shirts and ties, avoid black, green, and light blue. Black shoes are fine. In comparison, less restrictions apply to women's attire, but full black attire should be avoided.  Black shoes are fine.

The bride’s attire is important. Traditionally, a red and gold qipao would be worn. Modern brides have opted for extravagant Western gowns. From head to toe, the bride should be decorated in red and gold jewelry. A sense of balance and modesty must be achieved. For example, bride should not wear a short dress with long sleeves, which may make her look top heavy or, in another word, not grounded. Modesty is also important, but not in the conservative sense; her shoes must be close sole and close heels.

Departure: The groom’s family will first pray to their ancestor before leaving the house. The gifts are loaded into the car and ceremonial firecrackers are lit near their house to sound their departure. The party must arrive at the bride’s house at 11:00 am. 

Traditional Ceremonial Cannon to
welcome the groom's party
Arrival: When the groom’s cars are about 100 meters away from the bride’s house, the bride’s family light the firecracker to welcome the groom’s arrival. The go-between gets out of the car first, and then everyone else except for the groom. The young adult or teen from the bride’s side will open the door for the groom last. Groom gives him a red pocket.

Entrance: In the same order, the party enters the bride’s house. The go-between introduces everyone, groom’s family first and in the order of seniority.  Then, she will introduce the bride's family in order of seniority.  The bride is not present at this time.  She is hidden in her room with her friends, until the tea ceremony.

Gift Exchange: Grooms’ party, excluding the groom, parents, and grandparents, then carry the gifts into the house and present it to the bride’s parents one red box, excluding the jewelries, at a time. The go-between will introduce each item along with words of well wishes; afterwards, the items are placed respectfully in front of the ancestral table. The bride’s parents then give a red pocket to each person carrying the boxes. The go-between then presents the jewelries and then place them respectfully in front of the ancestral table.

The bride (me) flanked
by my aunt, mother, and
Seating: Then, all the guests are lead to the main living room.  The most senior member of the bride’s family then seats the groom’s party.  There are two arrangement for seating.  One seats the guests from right to left according to seniority; alternatively, if groom's parents are the most senior member of the party, the parents can be seated in the middle with others seating according to seniority on both sides.  The groom, in the later case, seats on the right side of the parents.  The bride's family and friends then seat facing the groom's party on the other side of the room, mirroring the seating arrangement of groom's party.

Tea Ceremony: A lucky woman prepares tea.  The lucky woman is usually a close relative of the bride and the woman is considered by the family as the bringer of luck, good fortune, and other great things.  Usually, this woman would be born in the year of the pig. The number of teacups must be the exact amount as the groom’s party. It cannot be any less or more. Teacups is brought to the bride in another room on serving trays. In the meantime, groom’s parents presents the family and the groom’s credential.

My mother acted as the lucky
woman for my ceremony
The bride then takes the stage. This is the first time the bride present herself, since the groom’s arrival. The bride offers the tea to groom’s party with both hands, starting with the most senior member of the groom's family. The lucky woman holds the ceremonial tray. The go-between must accompany the bride from person to person offering proverbs of well wishes and good fortune.  Only the groom's party is offered tea.

The bride then retreats again to her room with the lucky woman, while the guests enjoy the tea. The guests roll up a red pocket and place it inside the teacup after the tea is finished. After, the bride appears again with the lucky woman to collect the tea cup. Each guests offers a phrase of well-wish has they hand the cup, with both hands, to the bride.  The lucky woman will take the full tray back to the ancestral table or kitchen, while the bride remain in the room for the ring ceremony.

Conventionally, I
should be wearing
long qipao
Ring Ceremony: This is the key event for the engagement ceremony. This event should be performed at the exact time that was pre-determined by the astrological expert. For this example, it would be 12:00 PM. A couple minutes before the ring ceremony, the lucky woman lead the bride back to the main room. Bride will sit on a high chair with her foot on a small stool.  The stool must be sturdy with rounded edges or simply round.  Groom will remain standing for the entire duration of the ring ceremony.
First, the groom puts the ring on the middle finger of the left hand of the bride, first. Then the vice versa. When placing the ring, there should be no hesitation or backtracking. Traditionally, bride and grooms are instructed to curl their finger when the ring reaches the second knuckle to prevent the ring from going lower. The ring bearers then slide the ring on fully themselves. This is symbolizes the ring bearer’s sense of self and intention to not give themselves fully to their future spouse, or in another word, an announcement that their spouse does not own them. While this has become a part of the tradition, it is rather contradictory to the spirit of the event, so the go-between will often gives well wishes and compliments to the couple during the ring placement, as a distraction and a way to smooth things over.

Second, the mother of the groom place necklace on the bride and give her other gifts such as earring, hair pin, bracelet or such. Sometimes these can also be replaced with red pocket money of the equivalent amount. The mother of the brides then place necklace on the groom in similar fashion. This is an opportunity for the future mother-in-laws to show acceptance, love, and generosity for their future son and daughter.

Third, with the assistance of the go-between, the couple will individually address their respective future parents-in-laws and their older generations, if they are present, such as “mother” or “sister-in-law”. Societal role is part and parcel for the Chinese. Role calling, such as “boss” or “sister”, not only identify and solidifies ones role within the particular social structural or institution but it is also an important ritual of official acceptance and recognition. Since engagement is considered binding, the two families now become one.

Reverence for the ancestor: Incense and candle are lid for the ancestor. This ceremony is similar to the candle ceremony performed by mothers of the couple during a Western church wedding. This is a show of remembrance and reverence. The uncle of the bride will light the candle. The groom will give a red pocket to the bride to give to the wife of the uncle or an aunt. While these passing of cash inside a red envelope may seem tedious, the transaction is a form of interaction to signify that everyone is connected and everyone in the family has an unique and defined role. Four sets of incense must be lit, for the bride, groom, and their parents. With the go-between' assistance, they will announce the marriage and seek for the ancestor’s blessing and well-wishes. The placement of the incense on the alter also have a specific sequence and method. In short, it should be done according to seniority and there should be no hesitation when planting the incense in the ash pot. Hesitation indicates doubt, and according to superstition, the couple would be cursed with a failed marriage.

Sharing Food: Before heading to the reception, the guests enjoy small bowls of pink and white glutenous rice balls, similar size and consistency as tapioca balls in bubble tea, in sweet broth. This soup is prepared by an aunt of the bride, the go-between, or the lucky woman. Food sharing is a very important family activity. This soup represents sweetness, union, and fertility. On the side, 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.

Next post will be the engagement banquet

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