Attending a wedding and/or reception in a foreign country is one of the best ways to experience the local culture. This is especially important if couples with different cultural backgrounds are getting married. Incorporating traditions and rituals from one’s home country is a wonderful way to pay homage to your heritage and provide guests with a unique and one-of-a-kind wedding they may not have experienced before.
Weddings in Taiwan are a great example of cultural differences and traditions in ceremonies and rituals. Here is an introduction to some of the unique rituals and traditions that you will find at a Taiwanese wedding.
While many couples partake in engagement photo sessions, it is not entirely common to have your entire wedding photos done prior to the ceremony. In Taiwan, couples usually have a lengthy photo session prior to their wedding date that may include numerous locations. The tradition started almost 30 years ago due to the stress of the wedding day itself and Taiwan’s rather unpredictable weather patterns. Rain is a definite problem and if you marry during typhoon season, your wedding day could be a disaster if you hope to do photos then.
There are several scenic locations on the North and East coasts that see a number of wedding couples on sunny days. The unique geological rock formations make these areas top picks for couples. Taiwan has become so recognized for wedding photos that many couples from other countries have come to Taiwan just to have wedding photos done.
Wedding Ceremony Held in Private
If you receive an invitation for a wedding in Taiwan, take note as it is probably for the reception only. Unless you are close family or a personally invited friend, the ceremony is typically held in private. Guests are invited to a reception to celebrate the marriage of the couple.
Ceremonies are typically held on auspicious dates and times as many Chinese and Taiwanese pay close attention to astrology and fortune telling rituals. There is also another traditional ritual that many couples still honor where the groom will come to the bride’s house, where she and her bridesmaids wait. The couple will bow to the bride’s parents as a show of respect and then they head to the groom’s home. At the groom’s home, they pay respect to his ancestors by burning incense as a symbol of a new family member.
Ever watched an episode of WETV’s Bridezillas where the bride demands to have three or more dresses? While many people in the United States think multiple dresses translates to spoiled brides, the brides in Taiwan wear multiple dresses out of tradition. One of these dresses may be white as Western trends have had some influence on Taiwanese culture, but do not be surprised to see bright dresses in shades of red, blue, and such. Some brides even go so far as to have their hair styled differently and change hair accessories, jewelry, and make-up! You might expect this process to take an hour each time, but they have it streamlined where it is not that noticeable at all. When the bride reemerges, there is an announcement and a signal in the music that lets people know when she is about to enter again.
Receptions may be held at big hotel restaurants or wedding houses. In Taipei, there are several locations that cater to wedding receptions only. On a lucky day, there may be numerous receptions going on in the varying banquet rooms, which means long lines to park and traffic jams so plan accordingly.
Traditional Taiwanese receptions typically include the 10 course banquet meal with what seems like an endless amount of food. Courses include fresh vegetables, shrimp, whole fish, soups, and such. Everything is served family style and passed around to all the guests at the table. Usually there is enough food with each course, but do not be shy otherwise you might find yourself with an empty plate. Food is an important part of the culture and you rarely see untouched food left behind. Alcohol may or may not be served, but you are not likely to see the big open bars that are popular in the United States.
During the reception, there will likely be a slideshow of the bride and groom that shows their progression of their lives from childhood to now. This is quite popular and guests are typically glued to the screen and sometimes embarrassing photos are shared with family and friends.
Many receptions may just be the dinner and offer no other entertainment like dancing. Some couples may choose to do karaoke or include a band, but it is not the norm as you see in Western weddings. Once the last course is served, people will begin lining up at the door to say goodbye to the couple, who may give you a small thank you gift on the way out — these are much like the favors used in Western weddings.
This may seem odd, but considering wedding receptions can take place any day of the week due to tradition, many people may need to get home to get a good night sleep before work in the morning.
In Western culture, it is considered bad form to ask for money in lieu of wedding gifts. In Taiwan, money is the expected gift. Wrapping is simple since the red envelopes, called hongbao, are traditionally used to give gifts of money in Chinese culture. The money you give is basically to pay for the 10 course meal you are enjoying. The amount given varies on your relationship with the couple, but $50 to $100 a person is often considered a good guide.
If you have the opportunity to attend a Western wedding infused with Taiwanese traditions, or luck out to get invited to a wedding in Taiwan — be sure to accept the invitation! It is a great cultural experience and a wonderful way to try some local Taiwanese cuisine!
Liu, A. Taiwan A to Z: The Essential Cultural Guide