Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Love and the Tea Leaf: Chinese Wedding Tea Ceremony

for the next chapterette of our tea story project i want to highlight the Chinese wedding tea ceremony. it is such a beautiful custom and rich with symbolism. the preparation, presentation, artistry, symbolism, and communal nature of this custom signify many tenants of what i perceive strong partnerships and unions to be all about.

although the ceremony manifests in many ways throughout the global Chinese diaspora, certain pieces of it seem consistent. the tea ceremony is rooted in the cultural belief and regional norm that tea is as much a part of everyday life as breathing or eating. sharing tea is a way to show respect and create bonds.

Chinese emperor Shen Nong (2737 B.C.) was said to be a scholar and herbalist. he adhered to a strict regimen of drinking boiling water each day to promote health. it is said that once while resting under the shade of a camelia bush his servant was boiling his tea and in the process camelia leaves and flowers dropped into the water. the magic of tea was born. Emperor Sen Nong was so taken with the aroma and the taste that he kept experimenting with various tea configurations and ultimately decided that tea has strong medicinal properties. he promoted it throughout his royal court as well as throughout his empire. tea has progressively become more and more a part of the various subcultures existing within the vast country of China.

many types of tea can be used during the wedding, but a consistent element is what is served in the tea. tea is generally taken plain in many regions of China, but during a weddings lotus seeds and sweet dates are placed in the piping hot drink. the seeds and dates represent fertility and the bride and groom drink the cups of tea that contain these delicacies. inherent in this ritual is an understanding that growing a family is an important tenant of marriage. many families in more modern times re frame these symbols and use the seeds and dates to represent their ever growing love and growth as a couple.

the wedding tea ceremony is also about respect and gratitude. the bride and groom serve tea to their parents and other elders in the group after the wedding. the bride stands to the left generally and the groom to the right as they pour tea for their family. the act of carefully pouring out the tea and handing it over is meant to communicate, "we are beginning our own family, but recognize that you have given us your all and we are here because of you. this is a day about us, but it is also a day about you. we are simultaneously creating a new family and uniting two existing families."

in the era of bridezilla and the mega-wedding it is refreshing to think about a nuptial ritual that is humble. although i am not married and thus can only posit speculations about what it means to join your life with someone else, i would like to think that ideally a wedding is about bringing two friends who love each other deeply together, but it is also about bringing their communities together. marriages need support; love contains high emotion and receiving affection is certainly a part of any healthy relationship, but it is also about servanthood in its best manifestation.

when people come together to intentionally become a community they often break bread together. in the case of the Chinese wedding ceremony they take tea together.

family, friends, vows, food, music,and a dollop of gratitude through the symbol of tea...what a lovely way to start a marriage.

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