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How to Perform the Hair Combing Ceremony

Like the tea ceremony and the banquet dinner, the hair combing ceremony is an essential part of traditional Chinese weddings. Originating in ancient times, it was initially performed on coming-of-age boys and girls to signal their entry into adulthood and subsequently, marriage. Eventually, the tradition evolved to become part of weddings. In Cantonese, the ceremony is known as seung tau, literally “up head”. The activity is one loaded with symbolism: it is believed to bring about the longevity of a couple’s marriage, and is associated with the common Cantonese expression bak tau dou lou, literally “white heads until old” — better represented in English as “growing old together”.

This intricate ceremony is layered with traditions designed to bring fortune to the couple

Rundown

The hair combing ceremony involves intricate steps, lots of items, and designated individuals who perform the act. The ceremony is conducted separately for the bride and the groom. Traditionally, the ceremony is done the evening before the wedding inside the home, though many couples choose to do this on the day of the wedding — at wherever they happen to be getting ready.

Choose an auspicious hour for the ceremony

The hair combing ceremony needs to be performed at an auspicious hour. You can consult Tung Sing, the Chinese almanac that indicates auspicious hours of the day — or ask a professional fortune teller. According to tradition, the groom needs to begin his hair ceremony around an hour before the bride.

Pick a location for the ceremony

Although the ceremony is typically performed at home, for brides and grooms who opt to get ready at hotels, it’s not uncommon for it to take place there. At the location, pick where you’re positioning the table — this is where the bride or groom will sit at to have their hair combed, and also where various offerings will be placed. Traditionally this table is placed by a window where the moon is visible, but you don’t have to do this if this isn’t an option — simply find any spot that faces a window.

Find a “person of good fortune” to conduct the ceremony

Known as hou meng gung or hou meng po — literally “good life man” and “good life woman” — the “person of good fortune” is the designated person who conducts the ceremony. If we’re following tradition to the T, a person of good fortune needs to be someone who is part of a whopping five generations of people who are in good health, has never remarried, has a loving relationship with their partner, and has never suffered the loss of children. Many designated people of good fortune these days have three generations of healthy relatives, however. This person is usually a family member of the bride or groom, and can either be male or female — hence the Cantonese names — though it is much more common for this individual to be a woman. Mothers and aunts are good picks.

Prepare the items and offerings needed

Here’s a checklist of the items and offerings you need for the hair combing ceremony.

Groom

  • 1 pair of dragon phoenix candles. The dragon and phoenix pairing represents soon-to-wed couples
  • Joss sticks
  • 1 comb
  • 1 mirror. Placed on the table for luck
  • 1 pair of scissors. Placed on the table for luck
  • 1 “offspring ruler” — a red ruler-like item that symbolises an abundance of children and grandchildren. Placed on the table for luck
  • 1 red string
  • 1 cypress leaf
  • 3 bowls of glutinous rice balls (6 to 9 per bowl)
  • 4 lai see (1 each for the groom, his parents, and the person of good fortune)
  • Fruit, roasted pork and chicken
  • 1 plate of lotus seeds
  • 1 set of pomelo leaves
  • Red dates

Bride

  • 1 pair of dragon phoenix candles
  • Joss sticks
  • 1 comb
  • 1 mirror. Placed on the table for luck
  • 1 pair of scissors. Placed on the table for luck
  • 1 “offspring ruler” — a red ruler-like item that symbolises an abundance of children and grandchildren. Placed on the table for luck
  • 1 red string
  • 1 cypress leaf
  • 3 bowls of glutinous rice balls (6 to 9 per bowl)
  • 4 lai see (1 each for the bride, his parents, and the person of good fortune)
  • Sewing kit
  • Fruit, roasted pork and chicken
  • 1 plate of lotus seeds
  • 1 set of pomelo leaves
  • Red dates

Prepare yourself before the ceremony

When we talk about the hair combing ceremony, many people envision the part where the person of good fortune combs the bride or groom’s hair — but as you may have gathered from the checklist above, it involves so much more than one simple act.

It kicks off with them each taking a bath with pomelo leaves, which are believed to ward off bad energy.

They will then change into brand new pyjamas, underwear and slippers, and then sit by the designated table. Their parents will stand next to them.

By now, the designated table should be set up with the offerings and the the candles and joss sticks will be lit. The fruit, meats, lotus seeds, red dates, the glutinous rice balls are offered to the gods.

The person of good fortune will then begin combing the bride or groom’s hair.

Carry out the ceremony

The person of good fortune will begin to comb through the bride or groom’s hair, while chanting a traditional poem. For every brush they take, they will utter a phrase from the poem — which are rhyming sentences containing good wishes for the couple’s lives together.

The most old school version of the poem calls for ten brushes to the hair, although a simplified version exists. The poems are loaded with dense Chinese symbolisms and and idiomatic expressions, but we will show you the meanings behind them in English.

The traditional poem, which involves 10 brushes of the hair:
一梳梳到髮尾 May your marriage last a lifetime

二梳白髮齊眉 May you be blessed with longevity

三梳兒孫滿地 May you be blessed with an abundance of children and grandchildren

四梳永諧連理 May you be blessed with a long life together

五梳和順翁娌 May you be blessed with harmonious relationships with your extended family

六梳福臨家地 May your home be blessed with luck

七梳吉逢禍避 May you welcome luck and avoid misfortune

八梳一本萬利 May you be blessed with riches

九梳樂膳百味 May you taste great flavours

十梳百無禁忌 May you be able to say what’s on your mind

Short poem, which calls for four brushes:
一梳梳到尾 May your marriage last a lifetime
二梳百年好合 May you be blessed with a happy and harmonious marriage until old age
三梳兒孫滿堂 May you be blessed with an abundance of children and grandchildren
四梳白髮齊眉 May you be blessed with longevity

After the hair combing part is over, the parents will pick one lai see off the table each and hand them to their child.

The person of fortune will pick another lai see off the table and hand them to the parents.

The bride or groom will stand up — part of the tradition — and then offer two bowls of glutinous rice balls to their parents for luck. They will eat the third bowl themselves, also for luck.

For people who choose to do the ceremony the night before the wedding, they must wait until the candles and joss sticks have finished burning before going to bed.

After the ceremony is over, the bride will wear her red string and cypress in her hair. The groom will place his in the left pocket of his pyjamas. They must keep these items on their person throughout the wedding day. After the wedding, they will place these in a lai see packet under their pillows for a month before they can discard them.

Dos

Follow the traditions that the ceremony calls for. It is believed to bring luck and happiness to your marriage, after all. Plus, there is no point doing this otherwise!

Spare enough time to shop for the items you need, including the new clothes you’ll be wearing.

Rely on the knowledge of older family members for advice.

Don’ts

See your other half after the ceremony, if you’re doing this the night before the wedding. It is believed to bring bad luck.

Sweat it. It is supposed to be a tradition that represents happiness and good wishes for the newlyweds.

Try and squeeze this in a packed wedding day. If you don’t think you’ll have enough time to do this day of, just arrange to do it the night before.