London is one of the most multicultural cities and the most linguistically diverse city in the world, boasting a microcosm of more than 270 nationalities. Cited as the world’s city, London also has the largest non-white population of any European city (24%), the largest group of which are Asian – notably from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Chinese.
As one of the capital’s leading and most prestigious wedding venues, we at Gibson Hall have enjoyed hosting many Asian weddings over the years.
It’s a Chinese custom for couples to have their wedding photos taken before the ceremony, often at London’s renowned landmarks (particularly those couples that have studied here), so that they can be shown on screens at the ceremony and printed on guest keepsakes. Many wealthy couples will even fly to London just to have the pre-wedding photographs, just to impress their family and friends at the ceremony back home! The bride would hire a white wedding dress for these photographs, rather than wear her red wedding dress, which represents joy and luck. For traditional British weddings, the formal photographs are taken after the wedding ceremony.
For Chinese and Asian weddings, tradition is at centre stage of everything showcasing a couple’s heritage. Chinese wedding dates will often be determined following guidance from a trusted fortune teller on the most fortuitous lunar days to wed, which may fall on weekdays rather than a traditional British Saturday. For a British wedding, the intention to marry (banns) is announced in the church, and other churches close by, three times, on three separate Sundays, many weeks before the ceremony. This is a legal requirement so that if either is already married, someone has the opportunity to say so.
During the pre-wedding celebrations, a Chinese couple would have a tea ceremony, or a sake ceremony if Japanese. Indian weddings traditionally have a henna ceremony for the bride and groom with intricate patterns painted on their feet. Pre-wedding, the Asian bride and groom would have their feet purified with water and milk, then hold rice, grain and leaves as symbols of health, wealth and happiness. British couples have separate stag and hen parties as a last hurrah of single life, traditionally the night before the ceremony, now considered a risky idea!
It is traditional for an Asian ceremony to take place in a church, like British weddings, then the banquet to take place in an exclusively booked Chinese restaurant for Chinese couples, or a statement venue for Indian weddings. However it would not be uncommon for a more modern Chinese couple to book an opulent venue like Gibson Hall for the dinner reception, except that rather than the traditional British three-course meal and wedding cake, they would enjoy a lavish ten courses under the chandeliers, then the cake! All the dishes are uniquely meaningful in a Chinese wedding banquet, like long-life noodles and fish for plenty. The wedding couple eats first. Guests are expected to take at least a bite from each, rather than empty the plate, to get through all the courses.
Large venues like Gibson Hall also suit Chinese and Asian weddings because of the number of guests. In both cultures it is imperative that all family members are there, plus the parents often invite business contacts and their friends, which often means that guest numbers can swell to 500, three times as many as for the average British wedding! They would all be there from the start, rather than have the British close family and friends for the wedding breakfast and extra guests for the evening reception.
In Asian culture, an Indian wedding celebration often lasts days, rather than the British “best day of our lives.” The most important part of a British wedding is the ceremony itself of exchanging vows of love. For Asian couples, the most important part is the lavish wedding reception where well-wishers offer tokens of health, wealth and happiness.
British weddings usually have the toasts at the end of the meal during the speeches. Chinese weddings have the couple toasting each other throughout the whole dinner, with announcements by the host, particularly as each dish has a special meaning and to entertain the guests.
For the Chinese, cash is king. Wedding gifts for Chinese are therefore often red envelopes of cash, as opposed to a British couple’s traditional wedding list at a department store. The amount is normally more than what the meal cost per head is but also includes the wealth numbers of eight and nine and avoids unlucky numbers like four. The Chinese couple would pay all wedding expenses. A Chinese best man, unlike his British counterpart, would not have to pay for his suit or expenses, nor would the bridesmaids have to pay for their dresses, hair and makeup. Indian subcontinent brides and grooms, like their British counterparts, traditionally have their weddings paid for by the bride’s family.
For a British couple, they would leave before the end of the party, long after the cake was cut and following their first dance, in a decorated car to their honeymoon. However a Chinese wedding would have the couple leave soon after the tenth course, under a guard of honour by their guests.