A wedding is often the most important, or one of the most important, days in the participants’ lives. But its significance goes beyond just those individuals. It can also be an important cultural expression, a ceremony often steeped in tradition with deep religious meaning. A wedding can be the closest thing ordinary people have to a coronation or great state dinner-something that transcends their normal life and connects them to their ancestors and their culture as a whole.
Asian cultures have many fascinating marriage traditions, from the extravagant to the simple and dignified, from the joyous to the solemn. Here are a few interesting wedding customs from different countries in Asia:
An Iranian wedding custom dating back to Persian times is for the groom to purchase ten feet of sheeting as his bride’s ceremonial wedding dress, and then ritualistically wrap it around her in preparation for the wedding ceremony.
For marital good fortune, during the ceremony a happily married woman holds a translucent shawl over the couple’s head. After the wedding vows are exchanged, crumbs from two decorated sugar cones are sprinkled onto the couple’s heads.
Indian brides wear red or pink saris for their wedding, elaborately decked in jewelry, with their hands and feet painted with henna in decorative patterns.
The Indian groom wears a turban with a veil of flowers to protect him from evil spirits. After vows are exchanged, the groom’s father showers the couple with flower petals, and then passes a coconut over their heads in a circle three times to ward off evil spirits.
Sweets symbolizing a sweet life, eggs symbolizing fertility, and money symbolizing prosperity are all incorporated in various respects in most Indian weddings.
An astrologically auspicious wedding date is chosen for weddings in China, and the ceremony is sometimes timed to end at the bottom of the hour, so that the couple’s new life starts with the upward movement of the clock hand.
Red, symbolizing joy, love, and prosperity, is the traditional color for weddings in China. Red is a common color for the bride’s wedding dress, and is used for the envelopes and gift wrapping for wedding presents, as well as for the wedding invitations. Wedding decorations are often in red.
Before the wedding, the Chinese bride is sheltered by her closest friends, while she symbolically mourns the loss of her family and friends and prepares for a new life. The groom seeks her out, but is blocked by the friends. He offers them money in red envelopes, and after mock negotiations, they agree to release the bride to him.
Before the ceremony, the bride and groom may kneel and serve tea to both sets of parents.
The reception may be a fairly simple affair where the only significant ritual is the cutting of the wedding cake, which is usually huge, even by wedding cake standards, with the many layers symbolizing the couple climbing a ladder to marital bliss. But receptions can also be much more elaborate affairs, with a 10 course meal, an orchestra, and the bride changing outfits three or more times.
Prior to the wedding, it is customary for the groom’s closest friends, costumed with blackened faces, to go to the home of the bride bearing gifts. The bride’s family offers money for the gifts and there are comic, pretend negotiations until the friends turn over the gifts and the couple is considered betrothed.
Korean wedding ceremonies often incorporate ducks or geese. Ducks and geese are believed to mate for life, and so represent faithfulness.
Traditional foods for a Korean wedding reception include a beef soup made with long noodles, and a sticky rice cake called a dok.
After a Korean couple gets married, there is a ceremony in the groom’s family’s home where the groom formally introduces the bride to his parents so that she will be accepted into the family. The father may toss red dates at her as a symbol of fertility.
Japanese weddings are most often held in the Spring or Fall, mostly bunched together on the calendar according to which days are considered lucky. Prior to the wedding, there is a ritualistic exchange of gifts between the families, with the main gift being a ceremonial sash given by the groom to the bride.
A traditional Japanese wedding takes place in a Shinto shrine. The bride’s body is painted white, and she wears a white kimono with a white hood to cover her face, and an elaborate jeweled headpiece. The groom wears a black kimono. The bride and groom drink nine cups of sake as a part of the wedding ceremony.
For the reception, the bride changes into a red kimono, and later into a gown. The reception is a more joyous and laugh-filled occasion, after the more solemn, Shinto-influenced wedding ceremony.
These of course are only a few examples of Asian wedding traditions, taken from only a handful of countries.
Modern weddings in these countries generally do not incorporate all of these elements. A couple decides which customs will be meaningful for them, and they pick and choose from among the many traditions of their culture.
“Asian Culture & Traditions.” Wedding Details.
“Asian Weddings: Korean Traditions.” The Knot.
“Wedding Traditions in Asia.” World Wedding Traditions.