When friends and loved ones get married, we want to choose a gift they can appreciate and cherish as they begin their life together. Careful selection of weddings gifts was of even greater importance at traditional Chinese weddings. For millennia, Chinese weddings were grand occasions of ceremony and ritual, and weddings gifts contained symbolic meanings. But today’s Chinese weddings have lost their character, and the symbolism of wedding gift selection is not well understood. By exploring the rich meaning of traditional Chinese wedding gifts, we can get a sense of why traditional Chinese weddings had so many layers, and start to understand the importance of Chinese tradition to a couple starting a life in marriage.
The comb has the sense of a couple binding together, symbolic of how hair was tied up and worn in a knot by ancient Chinese people. This gift references the Chinese saying: 白頭偕老 (bái tóu xié lǎo), which means: “To live together until the white hairs of old age.” There is also a hair combing ceremony the evening before the wedding.
The ruler symbolizes a couple’s measure of happiness. It wishes happiness through the measure of abundant children and marital bliss, and measures of success in their careers and professional lives.
3. Embroidered shoes
Both “shoes” and “together with” are pronounced “xié.” So giving shoes carries the meaning of staying together, enjoying life together with mutual love and affection.
The ruyi is a traditional ceremonial scepter and religious talisman. In weddings, grooms lifted the bride’s veil with a ruyi. The Ruyi holds the spiritual connotation of “may all your wishes be granted” or “as you wish.” Nowadays, even if not used to unveil a bride, a ruyi is still given by parents to wish their daughter’s marriage is everything she wants it to be.
The mirror represents perfection and completeness, and connotes the beauty of the bride. It symbolizes the wish that her marriage and her appearance will forever stay young and beautiful.
6. Grain bucket
Originally used for measuring grain, the grain bucket carries that idea into the wedding. It symbolizes the wealth and vitality of the groom, and that carefree days of being well fed and well clothed are ahead for the bride.
Scissors are important to traditional weddings, since they are symbolic of the necessity of tailoring clothes, especially the long robes people wore in ancient times. The meaning grows from tailoring silky-smooth robes into wishing the bride a silky-smooth married life.
Chinese traditionally used an abacus for calculating income and expenditure in daily life. At weddings, a 24-karat gold abacus is given to wish a new couple a prosperous life with substantial income and well-managed finances.