Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend a Chinese wedding because Jean's cousin in Shanghai was getting married. (Unfortunately I pulled a bonehead move and forgot to bring my camera along, so, sorry, no pictures.)
Since Jean was her cousin's maid of honor (ban niang in Chinese), she was often busy helping her for much of the day, which gave me the opportunity to practice my Chinese with her aunt and uncle and her cousin's friends. I definitely struggled as this quickly became more than basic conversational Chinese, but I was actually surprised by the level to which I was able to hold my own. This is not to be confused with fluency, mind you, but just that I get a personal sense that my Chinese really has improved while I have been here.
A modern Chinese wedding is a bit of a mix of both Chinese and western traditions. For example, the bride wears a traditional western white wedding dress.
Before the wedding the bride's friends come over to her house help her prepare. Now, in a western wedding, it's bad luck for the groom to see the bride that morning, but in the Chinese tradition, the groom comes over to pick her up.
However, it's not just as easy as that for him. First, the bride's girlfriends will block the way and not let him to her, despite his cries of “I love you” to his waiting bride. Finally, he gives the girls many “hong bao” (红包, literally “red package”) which are red envelopes filled with money to “bribe” his way past them. Later they make him do some extra feats to prove his love for her, in this instance, by doing 20 pushups on the spot. These games and feats are all in good fun.
Next, they head off together to the dining hall for the wedding. Although an American wedding has two parts, the processional and the reception, the entirety of a Chinese wedding is basically the reception. There may be a very brief ceremony on stage for the exchanging of the rings (another western influence), but the rest is just a big dinner.
At an American wedding reception you might see decorations in light color themes like white, purple, light blue, or pink, but at a Chinese wedding the predominant color is red, red, red. This is because red is a lucky or prosperous color in traditional Chinese culture. Also, when the guests give money as a gift, they always give in denominations of “lucky” numbers, such as 888 or 600. The NEVER give anything with a 4 in it. 4 is considered unlucky because the Chinese word for “four” sounds similar to the Chinese word for “death.”
Finally, the bride and groom go around to each and every table at the reception to share private toast with everyone. Meanwhile all this time, food is being served to the guests. And the food is important. I have heard (though I can't remember from where at the moment) that Chinese will sometimes judge the quality of a wedding based on the deliciousness of the food!