I’m excited to finally share the details of our Modern Chinese Wedding with you. Over the last few years, I’ve shared the story about why we had 2 weddings, and what took me so long to finally share these details with you. I spilled my guts about how the day of our engagement shoot was the happiest and saddest day of my life.
I dedicate this post to my fellow Chinese bride who wants to celebrate Chinese culture on your big day. I hope that this post inspires you with some stylish ways to incorporate Chinese traditions into your modern day wedding! 😊
This Ultimate Guide for a Modern Chinese Wedding is something that I’ve been thinking about for a long time. I dreamed about having a resource like this when I was planning my wedding! Hopefully some of my personal experience and the wisdom of my friends and family will be useful to you as you plan your wedding.
Modern Chinese Wedding Details & Vendors
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Me: A wedding planner. Or so I thought 😉. I even did my senior project in high school about what it’s like to be a wedding planner.
Who doesn’t love a beautifully designed wedding? There’s something about the extravagance of it all that gives me so much joy.Needless to say, I never ended up being a wedding planner, so this blog post is the closest I will get to planning another wedding ever again.
This section is dedicated to the little ideas that started in my head and blossomed into reality. One day I might forget about all the little details, so I wanted to document it here.
The Oakland Rotunda was not J or my idea. It was actually J’s dad’s.
A funny thing that I have in common with my father-in-law is that we went to ALL the same schools, from elementary school all the way to college! So, he’s an Oaklander through and through.
When J and I were looking at venues, J’s dad asked, why don’t we look at the Oakland Rotunda? Up until that moment, I would have never considered the historic venue. The Oakland Rotunda is a seven-story building built around a beautiful skylit rotunda. It was built in 1912 as Kahn’s, a department store in Oakland. Personally, I know it as the building that I often volunteered at for the annual Oakland Holiday Parade during my high school years.
In the grand scheme of wedding venues, the Oakland Rotunda is reasonably priced for the size. I suspect it’s due to its location in the East Bay (read: not SF or Napa). PLUS, the best part? They allowed for outside catering which meant we were able to cater in delicious Chinese wedding banquet food (see section below on caterer).
I can go on and on about why we chose Augie Chang to be our wedding photographer – you can read my super long yelp review here. In short, after doing a lot of research, I found that Augie’s pictures are always beautifully framed and vibrant, the exposure was never over-exposed or blurry (which surprisingly is a huge issue that I see as I looked through pictures!)
But for this wedding, I was pleasantly surprised with Augie and his Cantonese roots. His ability to speak Chinese was the cherry on top. It was SO helpful in helping wrangle all my family into taking pictures and generally helping with the flow of the day. We had relatives come from Macau and they felt at ease with him. Through the years, we’ve bonded through the time we’ve spent together — Augie also came with us to San Sebastian for our destination wedding. Honestly can’t recommend Augie enough for all your wedding photography needs!
After browsing through what felt like millions of Bay Area florists, I finally landed on Asiel Design. I was drawn to their portfolio and their ability to use color in their floral designs without it looking too cheesy. They add just the right amount of drama, and it ended up beautiful.
We got so many compliments on our flowers, and best of all, guests got to take these arrangements home! I looked for a lot of inspo, but rarely see this bright and bold red color palette being used in flowers for weddings. So, in case this is helpful, this is the brief we put together for our arrangements:
Design: We will create a lovely bouquet with a classic round shape (clean with a touch of texture & whimsy). Soft fluffy
flowers in the full color scheme. Style Me Pretty Flowers, using few roses, spray roses, stock, carnations (tucked in low), add in dahlias if available.
Flowers: peonies, dahlias, spray roses, ranunculus, etc.
Stem Handle: The fresh cut stem handle will be finished with a gold metallic ribbon wrap and pearl pins.
Ceremony Full Floral Arrangements
Design: colors and flowers of the wedding– Magenta, hot pink, coral, red, peachy/ coral. We will play with lots of color & texture & balancing the fluffy blooms like dahlias & spray roses. Lots of delicate greenery for movement.
If you follow this blog, then you KNOW how important food is to me. When it came time to choose our caterer, we were a bit worried. How do I say this? Wedding food is notoriously … average? 😂 Not trying to throw any shade, but it’s just a fact of life that we’ve learned to live with. So, when I heard from my foodie friends that they had good CHINESE wedding food at an acquaintance’s wedding? I took that recommendation and ran with it.
We had our tasting at Ginger Cafe in Sunnyvale and the rest is history. Our guests couldn’t stop raving about how amazing the food was at our wedding, some of our relatives even said that it’s the best lobster and sea bass they’ve had in America (that’s saying a lot, our relatives are also huge foodies). They keep asking us who catered our food because now they want to eat the food again.
If you’re looking for BOMB family style Chinese wedding catering, Ginger Cafe is highly recommended. They even brought their own wok and deep fryers to ensure everything came out fresh and hot on site! Talk about wok hay, amirite?
Wedding Cake, Dessert Bar & Popcorn
I love food. J loves dessert.
The most unique thing about J’s extended family is that they celebrate Christmas Eve at a Chinese restaurant and EVERY family is responsible for bringing dessert. At the end of the night, after a huge Chinese banquet style dinner, everyone comes together to the dessert table to chow down on their second meal. To me, this is NUTS. I’ve never seen Chinese aunts, uncles, grandmas, grandpas chow down on 3 slices of cake after dinner.
But that’s J’s family. 😂 So, I decided we needed to satisfy their sweet tooth by having even MORE dessert available beyond just wedding cake.
🎂 Cake: When it came to our wedding cake, I ended finding Maria’s Dream Cake (my full review). We were so happy with the results. We ended up picking Oreo, Red Velvet and a Raspberry with Chocolate ganache. All our guests were raving about the cake being the moistest wedding cake they have ever tasted! (Once again, are people being dramatic here? LOL, but it was delish.) We have a Chinese family who’s not into super sweet cakes – Maria’s cakes were just the right bite of sweet.
🧁 Dessert Bar: When I look back on this, this FEELS a little bit extra. But I’m telling you that our guests were eyeing this dessert table like a hawk the WHOLE night. They wanted to start eating here before dinner, but we had to tell them they had to wait. By the time we announced the dessert bar was open, dessert was gone within 15 mins. 😂
Here’s what we got:
- Mini Cupcakes from Angel Cakes Cupcakes
- Macarons from Macarons by Natalie
- Mochi from Benkyodo Co (It closed in 2021, read more about their 115 year legacy here)
🍿 Popcorn: Listen – my guests NEVER come to a party I host and leave hungry. So when I was thinking about cocktail hour and how often times I’m hunting down the caterer just for a bite, I just knew I had to have some self-serve snacks available. 😅 Super last minute, I decided to get some popcorn from Peter’s Kettle Corn in Oakland to serve during cocktail hour. They were definitely a hit because by the end of the night, it was gone! 😉 My fave was the Matcha Green Tea Chocolate Drizzle.
His & Hers Cocktails
I love having little special details in a wedding that represents who the bride and groom are, so we made up some specialty cocktails that have a small story behind each of them. Here’s what we ended up with:
🍹His: The Luau
The running joke is that J always ends up ordering the tropical + sweet cocktail that waiters mistakenly hands to me because they think I ordered it.
- 1.5 oz light rum
- 0.75 oz dark rum
- 0.5 oz lime juice
- 1 oz coconut cream
- 0.5 oz orange liqueur
- 0.5 oz cinnamon simple syrup
- Crushed ice
- Grated nutmeg
Make or buy the cinnamon simple syrup in advance (1:1 sugar to water, add a couple cinnamon sticks and cook over medium heat 20 minutes). Mix together all the ingredients in a shaker with ice. Strain and pour into a glass with fresh crushed ice. Garnish with a lime wheel and grated nutmeg. These ingredients can easily be batched ahead of time.
🍸 Hers: Macau Mule
I’m from Macau and growing up, people always confused it with “Moscow”. So, a Macau Mule here is just perfect. We made it a little Asian by adding lychee to the drink.
- 2 oz lychee liqueur
- 1 oz Bombay Sapphire
- 0.5 oz lime juice
- 2 lychee
- Ginger beer
Muddle the lychee in the bottom of a rocks glass with the spirits and lime juice. Fill glass with ice and top with ginger beer. Garnish with a sprig of mint. Since this drink uses the lychee liqueur, the fruit isn’t necessary for flavor if used for batch prep.
🥃 Ours: Love in Manhattan
J and I met in Manhattan. 😊 I really wanted to add some more asian flavors to our cocktail, so I brewed simple syrup with MANY bags of earl grey. This was a labor of love, but well worth it in the end. It just makes this version of a whiskey sour a little bit more special
- 2 oz Johnny Walker Black
- 3/4 oz Earl Grey Simple Syrup
- 3/4 oz Lemon Juice
- Dash of Angostura bitters
Add all ingredients in a shaker, strain and serve over ice.
Sometime during the wedding planning process, as I was worried about how we were going to keep our guests fed, J’s dad was busy thinking about how to keep our guests entertained. He really got excited about the idea of having lion dancers at the wedding.
He watched a LOT of local lion dance groups on YouTube and decided that Rising Phoenix had the best movements. His words: “They are able to make the lion appear alive instead of just a prop with people jumping up and down.” Our guests were surprised and entertained by the performance — especially the kids! We asked for a 12 minutes long performance, which I believe was just the right amount of time.
One of our guests enjoyed the performance so much that she ended up hiring them for her wedding too!
Month of Coordinator
I’m getting tired just writing out this blog post and going through all these tiny little details. So, to close this out, I have to say that NONE of this would have been possible without our month of coordinator and our venue coordinator.
What’s the difference between the two?
Well, a venue coordinator is typically someone who will help arrange everything that has to deal with the vendors who end up on site. They might open the door, let them in, point them to where they might need to go.
A wedding coordinator’s a little bit different. This group of people are responsible for understanding all the little details of your wedding. For example, who’s going to deal with your guest list and potentially an uninvited guest showing up? Ahem, yes, that happened even though we were VERY clear about how many people were invited on the invite. Our wedding coordinator, Amazae Events dealt with all those questions and more.
I did not pay for their wedding planning service. This would be additional if you want someone to help you figure out vendors, reach out and set up contracts, etc. I did most of that on my own. But Amazae was invaluable in helping me push through the last month when I was quickly losing steam.
It’s really for that peace of mind. No one had to call me to ask me anything on our wedding day. Things definitely went wrong, but I didn’t know about it and that’s the way I like it. It’s completely worth the splurge if you can afford it!
Modern Chinese Wedding Decor & Aesthetics
If you’re anything like me, you are probably spending all your time searching for inspiration for a Chinese wedding on Google and Pinterest. I was HUNGRY for more information, but I couldn’t find much. The below lists out some questions I kept asking myself and others. Hope it helps!
How do I incorporate red and gold into a Modern Chinese Wedding?
My dad told me that he did not want me to have white flowers at the wedding. Ugh, goodbye aesthetic white bouquet 😢. In Chinese culture, white is associated with death and is used predominantly in funerals. Meanwhile red symbolizes good fortune and joy. So, red it’s often found in moments of celebration including Chinese New Years and weddings.
Red is far from my favorite color, but I found ways to make it work. First, use red as an accent color, not the main. I found that Jewel tones work really well with red and gold accents, so I really leaned into deep purples, teals and magenta.
For our florals, I asked our florist to not use red in the arrangements, but instead bringing in a lot of magenta, hot pink, coral, peachy tones, gold. This helped ensure we had elements of red, without looking like a cheesy Valentine’s Day special. For more about our florist, see this section below.
How do I make Chinese Wedding invitations look more modern?
The first disagreement that I had with my parents and my future in-laws was about our wedding invitations. Something that came as a huge surprise to me is that J’s parents actually really wanted us to have invitations from Chinatown. They wanted it to be gold, have the double happiness symbol and the dragon & phoenix duo.
FYI: In Chinese culture, the dragon-and-phoenix design is symbolic of blissful relations between husband and wife, representing perfect harmony. You’ll see this motif around a lot.
After I realized how much both our parents wanted this type of wedding invitation, I just gave up on fighting it. Here’s how I made it my own:
- Added an insert that I designed myself that included the fish scale motif (a pattern that I carry into other designs throughout the wedding including our photobooth)
- DIY calligraphy on a nice quality envelope: See my blog post on Learning Calligraphy for Your Wedding
- Envelope is from Cards and Pockets
I’m going to China/HK, what should I buy ahead of time?
I went to China a year before our wedding. During that time I was struggled to figure out what I should try to get in China to bring back to the States. Sure, you can probably get stuff via the internet, but why do that when you can go straight to the source?
Hint: It’s cheaper/easier to buy these things in China via Taobao 😉
- Custom Qipao – I tried on SOOOO many qipaos – in HK, in Canton, in Macau, but I didn’t find any that I liked. At the end, I just shopped for it online. I found a style that I liked on Pinterest, my sister-in-law image searched for it on TaoBao and found the exact match. I provided measurements and got the dress within the same week. Here I was doing it old school by going store to store. Silly me. 🤷🏻♀️ This custom made dress was CHEAP – like $30-40 USD cheap. The material was average, but it looked bomb in pictures. You’re welcome.
- Chinese Tea Ceremony Set – Ever since I saw Jean from Extra Petite’s beautiful tea set for her ceremony, I knew I had to buy a set. However, it’s not easy to find. I ended up finding my set at the Golden Plaza in Hong Kong <- This is a good mall to get all your Chinese wedding stuff. Little did I know, J’s grandma had a set of identical tea cups that matched this set perfectly. ❤️
- Disposable Tea Ceremony Cups – While you’re at it, pick up some disposable red tea ceremony cups too. You won’t have time to wash the ceramic cups. So you can use the fancy cups for your parents and use disposable cups for everyone else.
- Double Happiness Red Envelopes – I picked up a bunch and shared them with relatives who came to the tea ceremony. They were happy to receive them so it was one less thing they had to do to prepare for the wedding. I was happy because they all matched and looked aesthetic. 😉
- Souvenir Boxes – It’s customary to have something sweet for your guests as a souvenir. We bought these boxes directly from TaoBao for 1/10th of the price.
- Chinese Tea Ceremony Kneeling Pillows – they’re available online as well, so really depends on how much suitcase space you have at this point.
- Double Happiness Signs – I’ve seen these at Chinatown, but there’s definitely cuter varieties in Asia, so that’s where I got mine. These are relatively light, so won’t weigh down your suitcase.
Where did you buy your huge double happiness sign?
I didn’t buy it, I made it with my dad and uncles! The instructions are here. If you ever end up making one of these, you MUST tell me. I would love to see the results!
Chinese Tea Ceremony Logistics
What is a Chinese Tea Ceremony?
In traditional Chinese society, members of the younger generation offer a cup of tea to their elders as a sign of respect. In this ceremony, the bride and groom kneel in front of their parents and serve them tea as a way to thank them for all the years of love, care and support.
The tea itself is very meaningful in the wedding ceremony. Tea is the symbol of purity, stability and fertility. The purity of tea represents the love that is pure and noble; the stability of tea stands for faithful love; the fertility of tea represents the family will have many children.
You can read more about this tradition here .
When should I have my tea ceremony? On our wedding day or another day?
I’ve seen this done both ways, so here are some things you might want to consider…
Hosting your tea ceremony on a different day
- If you have a large family on both sides who really care about this ceremony and you’ll have to serve tea to everyone, you might want to do your tea ceremony on a different day. While the tea ceremony itself is short, there are logistics that might take longer to coordinate on your wedding day that might be too stressful.
- I’ve known several couples who have had two weddings (myself included). If you’re planning to do a Chinese banquet separate from your wedding ceremony, then it also makes sense to do the tea ceremony on the same day as your Chinese banquet. That’s what we decided to do. We informed guests that the tea ceremony is optional, and they showed up for happy hour and dinner.
Hosting your tea ceremony on the same day
- More convenient to have it on the same day since everyone is already gathered in one location.
- Everyone’s hair and makeup will be done, so there’s less concern about having to dress up for the location.
Who should I serve tea to, and in what order?
The order of serving tea is very important. It’s a demonstration of respect and seniority:
- Husband’s parents
- Bride’s Parents
- Husband’s Grandparents
- Bride’s Grandparents
- Husband’s Uncles/Aunts
- Bride’s Uncles/Aunts
- Husband’s elder siblings
- Bride’s elder siblings
It was so nice to pay respects to our family in this way. At one point, our auntie came up and gave us a hug and it was just so 🥲🥰.
How much time will the tea ceremony take?
I originally budgeted around 3 minutes per couple who I had to serve tea to. However, towards the end of the ceremony when the tea serving went to the uncles and aunties, the flow was a LOT faster. I found that only our parents and grandparents wanted to share words of wisdom to us. They also had more elaborate gifts to give. After that, I would say even 1.5 minutes per couple is enough.
Who should I recruit to help me, and what do they need to do?
For our tea ceremony, we recruited 3 people to help us:
- The main “MC” of the ceremony. This person is responsible for getting things started and to help announce the order of who comes next. This person will also be responsible for helping bring the fresh cups of tea to the bride and groom so they can serve their elders.
- Someone to help the MC. This person will help collect any dirty comes that come back from the main MC, and help prepare the next cups of tea.
- Someone to help collect the gifts. As a part of the tradition, the elders present the bride and groom with either gifts or red envelopes after they serve them tea. This person should help collect the gifts from the bride and groom as they receive them, and possibly write the name of the person who gave them the red envelope if that’s not included.
If you have more questions about the tea ceremony, I found these two resources very helpful: Teasenz and East Meets Dress.
Need more help beyond that? If you have any questions, feel free to comment below. Happy to help where I can!