Weddings and Funerals
The Chinese are a very family-oriented people. Weddings of a relative are cause for celebration while funerals are a time for deep mourning. Both weddings and funerals have distinct characteristics.
Traditionally, the wedding process is started with a proposal for marriage and a letter is sent from the groom to the bride’s family asking for permission to marry their daughter. In many cases a professional matchmaker is employed to act as a consultant for the families of both parties. The matchmaker can smooth over tensions and moderate a discussion regarding marriage compatibility. If these discussions are successful, the potential bride and groom’s birthdates are checked to make sure the couple is compatible according to traditional Chinese astrology.
After the bride’s family agrees, the groom’s family sends the bride’s family a bride price. This includes gifts like fruit, candles and cakes. The bride's family will also give the groom's family a dowry, which might include practical items, food, alcohol and even livestock.
The wedding ceremony itself begins with the bridal procession. The bride, accompanied by a band, a dowry and (sometimes) maids of honor, walks from her home to the groom’s. This symbolizes her leaving her parent’s family and entering her husbands. The bride is then welcomed at the groom’s family’s home. The bride and groom then say vows to heaven and earth and pay their respects to the groom’s parents and each other. After the ceremony a wedding feast is held; the entire community often takes part in this event.
Modern Chinese weddings can vary considerably. In large cities weddings closely resemble Western ones. In smaller places, however, some of the older traditions are still kept and the wedding process remains largely unchanged.
Funerals are given particular importance in traditional Chinese culture because it is believed that if the proper arrangements and rituals are not made for the deceased, they will either suffer in their next life, haunt their living relatives, or both.
The first step of a funeral is the wake. The coffin is placed in the home for at least one day. During this time, relatives are expected to weep for the deceased and a Buddhist monk may be called in to say prayers and conduct special rituals. The corpse is usually guarded by a group in the front of the house; these guardians are expected not to sleep during the night and often gamble to keep their spirits high. Wearing red (the color of happiness) is forbidden during this time.
The funeral ceremony itself can last for weeks. Special prayers are said at regular intervals, usually every seven days. The exact length of this period depends on the financial resources of the family. During this period, it is thought that the deceased soul is between death and rebirth, and the proper rituals during the funeral ceremony help to ensure a favorable rebirth.
A period of mourning is observed for 100 days (or more, in some cases). Pieces of colored cloth are worn around the arms of surviving relatives. Different colors are given to different people, depending on their relationship to the deceased.