Fetching the Bride: A Grand Chinese Wedding Tradition in Shijiazhuang

The day that we have all been anticipating is upon us, and what a grand day it promises to be, complete with a fusion of Chinese and western wedding traditions! It’s the day that Charles and Tara will exchange vows and promise themselves one to the other, making the commitment to love and cherish one another in a way that is sure to bring romanticism into the sphere of the human spirit. But not so quick, I tell you! According to Chinese tradition the exchange of vows can’t happen until the groom “fetches” the bride.

I find myself pondering for a moment. How is it that the human experience is so much the same here in China, on the other side of the world from our homes in America? How is it that romantic love exists and flourishes here in this faraway land where the culture is so vastly different from ours? We are so different, yet so much the same! It must be that true love transcends all cultures and races and ethnicities! Two people from vastly different cultures have found one another, and have fallen in love despite the many differences – or perhaps it is the differences that draw them closer?

The excitement is nearly palpable, almost like delicate silken fabric rustling through your fingers. If excitement were a perfume, you would definitely catch a strong scent of it here in Shijiazhuang as we prepare for Tara’s wedding day. We have to be up super early this morning, all packed and ready to move on.¬†We need to join the others at the Hilton by 8 am, where the work has already begun when we arrive. Hairstylists are busy curling golden locks, perhaps something which they have not had the chance to do very often.

Tara’s wedding consultant/stylist is creating a most stunning hair style in Chinese tradition for the first event of the day.

And her gown…..a gorgeous traditional Chinese gown makes for a stunningly beautiful Chinese bride.

I don’t know what you would call this, but it is a part of Chinese wedding tradition. I have heard it called “fetching the bride”, which seems fitting enough. So normally on the day of the wedding a Chinese bride would wait for the groom in her own home from where he would come to “fetch” her. But when he arrives at the home of his bride, he first has to get through the blocked door to get the bride. The bridesmaids attempt to stop the groom from taking the bride, and the groomsmen would work equally hard on the other side of the door to help the groom get in. The purpose of blocking the door is to show how reluctant the bridesmaids are to give away their friend, because they love her so much. They test the groom’s sincerity and love for her with various quizzes and games. The bridesmaids ask the groom and groomsmen to answer some questions or perform tasks to be able to get into the room. ¬†Sometimes the groom will attempt to bribe his way into the room by passing red envelopes containing money under the door to the bridesmaids.

Since Tara’s home is not in China she has taken the liberty to tweak the ceremony a bit. She is holding this part of the traditional Chinese wedding in the hotel suite here at the Hilton. I think I told you before that Tara is pretty easy going and accommodating. She has decided that anyone who wants to be a part of the ceremony is welcome to participate. Normally it would involve immediate family members and the bridesmaids and groomsmen. Tara’s only stipulation is that you decide ahead of time which side of the door you want to be on, and you can’t switch in the middle of things.

The hotel room is a one bedroom suite, so the bridesmaids and company wait inside the bedroom with the bride. Tara kneels on the bed while she waits for the groom to arrive. The groomsmen are away with the groom, and they have not arrived yet. I can hear the bridesmaids giggling as they plan the questions that they will ask of Charles when he arrives. One of the bridesmaids has a pen and paper in hand and is writing the ideas down.

While we wait for the groom to arrive I take some photos of the bride and her family. First with her mother, my friend Andrea. I love Andrea’s dress, too. She made a fantastic choice on her beautiful gown.

And with her father, Erkki. He also has a matching gold tie on.

And with mom and dad both.

And with her parents and two of her sisters.

And with the bridesmaids.

Tara made the beautiful flower arrangement herself.

Tara is becoming increasingly worried about the passage of time as we await for Charles and his groomsmen to arrive. Just as she expresses her concern, we hear a faint knock on the door. The bridesmaid squeal in unison, expressing their alarm that the groom has arrived. “Charles is here! Charles is here!”

The bridesmaids have been spending this time rehearsing their questions, and they pass furtive glances one at the other to ensure that each person knows their parts. Each one nods to indicate that indeed they are ready. The bride’s mother goes to the door to find out who is knocking upon the door. It is her duty to see who is there. When she leaves the bedroom, the door is firmly shut behind her by the bridesmaids. All three bridesmaids lean heavily against the door to make sure that Charles and the groomsmen can’t enter the room where Tara is waiting.

“Who is there?” Andrea demands to know! “What do you want? Why are you here?”

Well now, if it isn’t Charles knocking upon the door! He must try to convince Andrea to let him into the suite. Andrea hasn’t rehearsed her questions or responses quite as much as the bridesmaids, but she proves to be an effective interrogator. I can’t make out everything that she is saying since I am locked in the bedroom, but Tara asks someone to tell her mother that it’s really just a game. I think that maybe Charles was really sweating it on the other side of the door, wondering if he would indeed be granted access to pick up his bride.

After some convincing he finally makes it in. I think the deal is struck when Charles agrees to allow Tara to go home to Finland frequently, even daily if need be. Now the trick is to get through the door into the bedroom where Tara is waiting.This time Charles must pass the bridesmaids, who make it much tougher for him to enter than the bride’s mother did. They demand money, which Charles passes in red envelopes under the door.

They make him answer many questions and make many promises. He has to tell them what Tara’s master’s degree major was, and even needs to know the title of her master’s thesis. Now only a person who truly loves his bride would know such details! He has to identify her favorite song. They ask Charles what her favorite hobby as a child was, which he is unable to answer. Gymnastics was her favorite hobby, of course! Every little girl’s dream…..

Now Charles is in deep trouble. The bridesmaids ask him for his passport for identification. We have noticed here in China that it is a good idea to carry your passport with you all the time. Charles does not have his passport with him, so the girls ask for another form of picture ID. A card is passed under the door, but for goodness sake…..it is the bride’s father’s driver’s license! That will not do!!!!!

I think that Charles is starting to get worried that he might not be able to fetch his bride after all. Just when it seems about hopeless that he can get through, the bridesmaids seem satisfied and allow passage. A loud cheer erupts as the handsome groom enters the room, with a huge smile lighting his face. Maybe there is a barely perceptible bead of perspiration on his brow.

But it doesn’t end there. The groomsmen have to help Charles win over the bride as well. One of them has to do push ups with a bridesmaid sitting on his back.

And then the groomsmen have to pick up Charles and rock him to and fro as he sings the Chinese national anthem. Now, you should believe me that Charles is a really good singer. You might also want to know that Charles isn’t the lightest guy in town, and rocking him isn’t the easiest task in the world.

Everyone is having fun with this Chinese wedding tradition.

The bridesmaids are becoming more and more convinced that Charles does indeed love Tara. When all the demands have finally been satisfied, Charles kneels at the foot of the bed and proclaims his love for Tara. It’s a tender moment. I feel a lump forming in the back of my throat, and my eyes moisten slightly. There is no question in my heart that this couple loves one another, and that they will be happy in their union.

But it is not over until it is over. Charles has to find Tara’s shoes, one of which has been cleverly hidden in the hotel safe. Once he figures out it is there he has to try to guess the code, which is an important number that he should know.

We have so much fun with this bride fetching tradition that we fail to realize how time has gotten away from us. It is high time for the groom to whisk the bride away, and for the rest of us to grab our belongings and rush to the wedding venue. We are off to the Guoyu Hot Spring Holiday Hotel. The high rollers who have been staying at the Hilton the last few nights regret leaving so soon. It is truly a beautiful place, which unfortunately they did not have enough time to enjoy due to our busy schedules. Next time…..there will be a next time, I am sure.

We pack up everything quickly and head off for the waiting vehicles. We are on our way to a fairytale wedding celebration….