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11 Beautiful Singaporean Cultural Wedding Traditions and What They Signify
Singapore weddings are filled with colourful traditions from our multicultural heritage. We look at some beautiful cultural wedding traditions and what they signify.
With our cultural heritage of Chinese, Malay, Indian, and other ethnicities, weddings in Singapore are especially rich in culture and traditions. Each ethnicity hands down ancient wedding traditions and rituals meant to bless newlyweds and their marriages with happiness and fertility. Some of these cultural wedding rites are still important to modern couples and their families, especially those that signify auspicious beginnings and fruitful unions. Joyous and colourful, full of blessings for the newlyweds, our cultural wedding traditions bind us together and form the Singaporean heritage.
Recently, we collaborated with Blue Nile and other wedding experts on an article about meaningful wedding traditions from around the world, and that inspired us to put together a list from our very own Real Wedding couples. We look at some of the cultural wedding ceremonies that are popular with couples in Singapore today, and the beautiful significance behind them.
Chinese Wedding Traditions in Singapore
1. Tang YuanBrenda and Matthew’s Romantic Wedding at Sinfonia Ristorante by Andri Tei Photography
Chinese couples traditionally feed each other a bowl of sweet tang yuan on their wedding day, after the groom has brought the bride home. The glutinous rice balls symbolise family harmony and togetherness, as well as sweet beginnings. It’s a meaningful first meal for the couple to share.
2. Si Dian JinAngie and Kelvin’s Neon-Lit InterContinental Singapore Wedding by Antelope Studios
Many Chinese brides receive a bridal jewellery set known as si dian jin from the groom’s mother as a betrothal gift during the Guo Da Li ceremony. Literally translated as four touches of gold, a si dian jin set comprises a necklace, ring, bangle, and pair of earrings. The custom of gifting si dian jin originated from the Chaosan region of the Guangdong province in China. As the Chinese character jin (金) resembles the sloping rooftops of the houses in the Chaosan region, si dian jin symbolised the groom’s promise to always shelter and provide for the bride. Today, it represents the groom’s family’s welcome and acceptance of the bride into the family. Si Dian Jin can be new bridal jewellery sets, or heirlooms passed down from the groom’s mother.
3. Chinese Tea CeremonyYan Rong and Jonathan’s Garden Wedding at The Ritz-Carlton Millenia, Singapore by Highest Kite Weddings
One of the most important wedding traditions in Chinese culture is the tea ceremony. Held after the the groom has brought the bride back to his family home, the tea ceremony represents the formal introduction of the newlyweds to both sides of the family. During the introductions, the newlyweds show their respect for their elders by addressing them by their kinship titles and offering them tea, and in return, they are welcomed into the family and receive blessings for their union, usually in the form of red packets or gifts of gold.
The groom’s family is usually served tea first, and tea is served to each elder in order of seniority. Although any type of tea can be used during the tea ceremony, sweet tea is usually preferred because it symbolises happiness in the newlywed’s union and good relations between them and their in-laws. The tea can also be brewed with lotus seeds, red dates, and longan to symbolise the blessing of the newlywed’s union with fertility and offspring.
Indian Wedding Traditions in Singapore
4. Mehndi CeremonySharifah and Kader’s Colourful and Cheery Pre-Wedding Shoot in Singapore by Fleur and Craft
A natural dye made from the henna plant, mehndi, also known as henna, has been used for centuries as a form of body art. In the Mehndi ceremony, Hindi and Sikh brides are adorned with Mehndi to bless and beautify them before the wedding. Held a day before the actual wedding, the Mehndi ceremony is a fun-filled party for the bride, and in modern times, for the groom too. The ceremonies are held separately at the bride and groom’s residences, where they have intricate henna patterns applied to their palms, back of their hands, and feet. Tradition says the deeper the colour of the stain, the happier the bride and groom’s marriage will be.
5. Mangal Fera RitualJesreen and Karan’s Cultural Wedding in India by Ramit Batra
One of the most poignant moments of a Hindu wedding ceremony is the Mangal Fera ritual. In Hinduism, fire is regarded as a purifier and sustainer of life, and as a sacred witness to the marriage. During the Mangal Fera ritual, the bride and groom walk around a small fire as they pray and exchange vows. As Real Wedding couple Jessica and Chand shared: “We found the agni Mangal Phera ritual, where we walked seven rounds around a small enclosed fire, extremely significant. The seven rounds represented the promises we made to each other in our union: to be faithful, affectionate, respectful to one another and our families, supportive, fulfilling our responsibilities, standing by each other in difficult times and seeking God’s blessings for an everlasting marriage.”
6. Jaimala CeremonyJayne and Anand’s Fairytale, Multicultural Wedding at Shangri-La Rasa Sentosa, Singapore by Dapper Pictures/
The jaimala is a wedding garland made of strung flowers. “The flowers symbolise happiness, excitement, aspiration, beauty while the thread that brings this flowers together is likened to a medium that secures all these emotions,” explains Chand. During the jaimala ceremony, the bride and groom exchange wedding floral garlands to symbolise their acceptance of each other as husband and wife.
Malay Wedding Customs
7. HantaranDiana and Sufiyan’s Gorgeous Engagement Session and Blush and Green Wedding by Colossal Weddings
The hantaran is a gift exchange between the bride and groom during the Nikah solemnisation ceremony. Gifts are usually presented on beautifully decorated dulang or wedding gift trays. During the hantaran, the groom gifts the bride her dowry, which is in accordance to Islamic law, along with other gifts, such as jewellery, clothes, food, makeup, or any other item. “Traditionally, the bride has to return more dulang than what she received from the groom,” shares a Malay wedding planner. “Dulang used to be given in odd numbers. For example, when a groom gave three wedding gift trays, the bride had to return five. Nowadays, only a few people still observe this.” Modern couples give each other an equal number of wedding gift trays, and the trays can be filled with items like luxury bags or watches.
8. KompangShafizah and Ceesvin’s Beautiful White and Lavender Wedding in a Park by Colossal Weddings
The highlight of a Malay Muslim wedding is the Majlis Persandingan, where the bride and groom sit in state in traditional Malay wedding finery upon the paladin or dais, to receive blessings and congratulations from their guests. The Majlis Persandingan, also known as the wedding reception, takes place after the Nikah to celebrate the couple’s union.
The arrival of the groom at the Majlis Persandingan is announced with great fanfare by a kompang or hadrah (Malay drum) band. The groom is escorted by the kompang, who then perform for the couple by dancing and singing verses from the Quran to seek blessings for the newlyweds.
9. Adat MenghadangShafizah and Ceesvin’s Beautiful White and Lavender Wedding in a Park by Colossal Weddings
During the Majlis Persandingan, the bride awaits the groom upon the pelamin, or dais. She is seated with the mak andam–the makeup artist–who will cover her face with a hand fan. The bride’s relatives and friends have a fun time trying to prevent the groom from reaching her, and he will have to gain passage with gifts of money. Finally, he will pay the mak andam to remove the fan in order to meet his bride.
Peranakan Wedding Traditions in Singapore
10. KebayaLynette and Kelvin’s Intimate and Colourful Wedding at Candlenut by Darren and Jade Photography
Peranakan weddings were traditionally twelve-day affairs of great pomp and ceremony, involving elaborate wedding outfits and headgear, processions down the street, and flamboyant displays of wealth. Modern Peranakan weddings are much simpler, and one of the most popular ways Peranakan couples pay homage to their culture is through the wearing of the the traditional Nyonya kebaya with sarong batik. Ladies wear elaborately embroidered kebaya in vibrant colours for festive occasions such as weddings, and may complete their outfits with the traditional beaded bags and clogs synonymous with Peranakan culture.
11. T’ng TokRachell and Sean’s Peranakan-Themed Pre-Wedding Shoot with OneThreeOneFour
The wedding banquet is known as t’ng tok, literally translated as long tables, where the feast is served. The banquet usually features iconic Nyona dishes which require many hours of preparation, and which end with sweet and colourful kueh. The t’ng tok often showcases the beauty of Peranakan culture with treasured antiques or decorative Peranakan items such as hand fans, batik tablecloths and hangings, and porcelain wares. “Try covering the tables with batik sarong and use Peranakan porcelain wares to serve the dishes. Your guests will instantly feel they are in a Peranakan wedding as batik and Peranakan porcelain wares are synonymous with the culture,” says Baba Michael Cheah, vice-president of the State Chinese (Penang) Association.
When you perform a wedding tradition, there is a beautiful significance in knowing that you’re doing something just the way your parents use to, and their parents before them, which ties your new family to all the ones that have gone before you. Incorporating elements of your culture is also a meaningful way to establish bonds between the two families. Of course, you may choose to modernise traditions or simplify them so they are relevant to your wedding, or even blend traditions if you’re from a multicultural family or joining hands with another culture. After all, there isn’t one right way to celebrate a wedding, because your wedding is about you.
Credits: Feature image from Calista and Christopher’s Beautiful Wedding at Tirtha Uluwatu Bali by Illuminen
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