What should you do as a bridesmaid at your friend’s traditional Chinese wedding? Other than provide emotional support and generally assist in wedding duties, you may have no idea what to expect. Here’s a handy guide for all future bridesmaids.
Understand the pecking order
In Cantonese, bridesmaids are known as “sisters”, whereas the maid of honour is known as the sole “bridesmaid”.
As with the groom’s “brothers”, traditionally sisters are seen as people who add to the atmosphere, particularly during the wedding door games. Yet while the maid of honour is in charge of major responsibilities, the sisters should also distribute various tasks evenly.
Plan the bachelorette party
Give the bride the bachelorette party, or hen do, of her dreams. Spa day? Wild night out? Weekend trip to Macau? Find out what’s on the agenda and plan accordingly.
Accompany the bride to fittings
However exciting this is for the bride and people close to her, wedding dress fittings can be a long and arduous affair. Many dressmakers advise brides to start looking at least seven or eight months before the wedding day. If the bride so wishes, visit ateliers with her and fittings thereafter.
Ultimately, which dress is go with is the bride’s decision, though it’s always nice to have second opinion and moral support. There are small things you contribute to these fittings: remind her to bring a pair of shoes with a similar heel height to the ones she plans on wearing at the wedding, and to have on appropriate undergarments for fittings.
Arrange your bridesmaid dress in good time
It is always a good idea to sort out your bridesmaid dress with plenty of time to spare, taking into consideration the fact that shopping, delivery, and tailoring could take weeks.
If the bride has chosen a specific dress for the bridesmaids, make sure you get it ordered ASAP.
If you have the freedom to choose your own bridesmaid dress, clear it with the bride first before going ahead with your purchase. If she has preferences for styles and colours, don’t deviate from her wishes. It is, after all, her wedding day.
Help the bride get dressed
As a bridesmaid, you will likely be expected to be with the bride while she is getting ready. In many cases, this is also where bridesmaids will do the same – although given that all attention should be on the bride, you should keep any makeup or prep to an absolute minimum after your arrival. It is best to arrive pretty much ready to go – so you can help the bride with her prep, too.
Some brides choose to change into other gowns throughout the day. If brides are conducting their tea ceremony during the wedding day – for which they will change into a kwa – bridesmaids’ help will come in handy.
In many wedding banquet halls in Hong Kong, there will be a designated secure room for the bride. This is where the bridal party can leave valuables, but most important, this is where the bride will do any touch-ups and change into her other gowns.
It is common for mothers of the bride and groom to change into other evening gowns at a traditional Chinese wedding, so don’t be surprised to see these women make an appearance in this room.
Throughout the day, you should also ensure you have snacks and drinks on hand for the bride. Lots of wedded couples come away from their own weddings feeling hungry – because they’re so busy they haven’t had a chance to eat.
Plan and play door games
Bridesmaids are an integral part of door games at traditional Chinese weddings.
When the groom and his groomsmen arrive to pick up the bride – which will be wherever she chooses to get ready – the bridesmaids are responsible for negotiating how much lai see the groom should “bribe” them with. In most cases, the groom will have already prepared lai see containing an appropriate amount within.
You should prepare a list of around half a dozen door games for the groom and groomsmen. Nothing too outrageous – it’s all in good fun, and you’re not really going to block the groom from getting to his bride.
Welcome guests at the banquet and collect lai see
This is a task split between bridesmaids and groomsmen. Depending on whose parents are hosting the banquet, folks from that side of the family are expected to take up bigger responsibilities. So if the bride’s parents are hosting, you should be on your A-game when it comes to welcoming guests.
At the door, where there will be a table set up to welcome guests, be sure to divide up duties on greeting people, directing them to their table, as well as lai see collection.
There will be relatives whose birth names might not necessarily appear on the list of guests, owing to the fact that in the Chinese language, family members address their elders by kinship terms, which may be on the guestlist instead. If you are not a member of the bride’s family, or if there isn’t a member of the family within the bridal party, this can get confusing. It’s worth checking with the bride how best to handle this before the wedding day (such as arranging for a relative of theirs to help welcome guests).
Be prepared for lots of people who will show up with cash, but without a lai see packet to put them in. They will most likely ask you for a packet. Luckily, most Hong Kong hotels and restaurants that accommodate Chinese wedding banquets will have these on hand — and you should arrange these before the first guests arrive.
Be sure to remind guests to sign their names, or a message of some kind that indicates the giver, on the back on their lai see. This will help the bride and groom track who has given them what. Decide if you want to arrange for a collection box, or for the maid of honour or best man to hold on to them.
Prepare for a speech
Best men and maids of honour are often asked to give speeches at weddings, so if you know you’re going up on stage, make sure you are prepared.
Sometimes bridesmaids and groomsmen may be asked to take on an MC role at Chinese wedding banquets.
- Put the bride first. It’s a cliche to say so, but this is a day that your friend – the bride – has been thinking about for some time. Make sure that she has everything she needs.
- Be prepared for unforeseen circumstances, like a malfunctioning zip, loose beads, or hairdos coming out of place. Have travel-sized sewing kits, hair spray, and other products good for touch-ups ready for the bride.
- Bring spare shoes/clothing. You might be in heels all day. Bring some flat shoes, so you can give your feet a break when the time is right.
- Show up to all wedding-related events if need be. Some couples involve their bridal party at the tea ceremony, some don’t. There is no excuse for you to not be there.
- Wear inappropriate colours. As with western weddings, it goes without saying that you definitely shouldn’t wear white, the colour of most bridal gowns. At a Chinese wedding, if you’re not the bride, red is pretty much out of the question too. Check if it is okay to wear black: some couples are fine with it, though you might get a disapproving look here or there from elderly relatives, given that black is the colour for funerals.
- Complain about your bridesmaid dress. Under no circumstances should you have anything negative to say about your designated garment. This day is really not about you, so get over it.
- Get too drunk or overeat. You don’t want to become “that woman” the families talk about for months after the wedding. Most Chinese banquets have nine courses and up. On the flip side, remember that most Chinese banquets usually run late, with the first dish served well past 8pm, so try and grab a bite in the afternoon for sustenance.
- Leave before the bride. At Chinese banquets, the oranges served after dessert is a signal for the end of the evening, so you’ll see lots of people make a move towards the exit once the citrus hits the table. This doesn’t mean you should follow, however: stick around to make sure the bride has everything he needs, and ensure the lai see money is in safe hands, too.