When I started exploring Peranakan culture, I did not expect that there would be so many complicated layers to uncover. From its complex origin story to the slowly disappearing language, food and customs, there is so much to explore. Previously, I touched on the topic of a traditional Peranakan wedding. While having a 12-day wedding might seem extravagant, it was actually very common back in the day. Peranakan families would prepare their own wedding feast and the bridal attire had to be custom made. After all, there were no big restaurants and off-the-shelf gowns and suits in the 19ᵗʰ and 20ᵗʰ century. The 12-day extravaganza included days used for wedding preparations. With all the intricacies of a traditional Peranakan wedding, it was impossible to introduce every aspect of a Peranakan wedding into a single article. Thus, I will be continuing the exploration of customs in Peranakan weddings in this entry.
The 12 Days Of Peranakan Weddings
Peranakan families do not take their wedding celebrations lightly. They really know how to have a good time by throwing lavish parties, especially those from wealthy backgrounds. Furthermore, these families will spare no expense because they need to ensure that their guests are well taken care of. After all, they have a reputation to upkeep.
In those days, arranged marriages were very common and parents would proudly marry off their children into other well-established Peranakan families. Felix Chia, in his book “The Babas” stated that marriages of the past were ordained by heaven. As a result, parents would engage scholars and monks to compare their children’s horoscopes to find a suitable life partner. However, these days, modern Peranakans couples will just have elements of the culture incorporated into their special day. Not many would want to hold a 12-day celebration let alone bear the cost of such an extravagant event!
The Presentation Day
There are two significant pre-nuptial ceremonies that will take place on the Presentation Day. The first being “berandam“, which is a fringe-cutting ceremony that is almost identical to the Indonesian and Malay custom. The “Mak Andam” a female ceremonial barber, will cut the prospective brides fringe with two tiny tufts at either end tied with small pieces of fine, white ribbon. The “andam” (fringe) would symbolise the virginity of the Nyonya (woman) growing up. According to folklore, the “Mak Andam” was able to tell whether the bride-to-be was a virgin. Personally, I don’t quite know how to feel about that!
Following this, we have the “ann cherng” ceremony. This was the blessing and decorating process of the bridal chamber in the bride’s home. Originating from Chinese culture, Peranakans also use the colour red to symbolise good luck and the celebration of auspicious occasions. In the evening, a special ritual will then be performed. This ceremony must to be carried out before the Opening of Marriage Day.
The youngest male family member, normally a young boy, will be given an important task. He will first dress up in a silk gown, socks, cloth shoes, skull cap and an embroidered jacket. Then, he will roll over from one side of the bridal bed to the other repeatedly for about 43 times. After which, he will receive his hard-earned “ang pao” (red packet filled with money). The ritual is performed with the hope that the couple will be blessed with a firstborn son. Now, the bridal bed must be left untouched until the wedding night.
The Opening Of Marriage Day
Somewhere in the front hall, the family will place a makeshift altar of the “sam kai” (God of Heaven, Earth and Man). The Opening of Marriage Day will start off with the “Chi-nya Lang Khek” luncheon. The home of the Peranakan family will be buzzing with music, and scented with the delicious aromas from the kitchen. The Nyonyas will come in the day to celebrate before the Babas attended their session at dinnertime.
While the celebration continues, the bride and groom will have to go through their own coming of age ceremony in their respective homes, known as the “cheo thau“. This is one of the most important ceremonies in a Peranakan wedding. It marks the first occasion when the bride and bridegroom will wear their authentic wedding robes. An astrologer will advise the families on the exact time to carry out the “cheo thau“. It cannot start earlier than 11 o’clock in the evening nor later than five the next morning. The actual wedding ceremony will only take place before noon that day, after the “cheo thau” ceremony.
The Marriage Day
Finally, the wedding day has arrived! At the appointed hour, the page boy will leave for the groom’s home to invite him to his own wedding. The bride’s home is the focal point of the celebrations. Together with the “pak chin dek” (ceremonial father), two “puah kiah” (best men), two gong beaters, and the page boy, the groom will make his way to the bride’s home in a fantastical procession. It was probably an exciting time for him as he has never met his future wife. This decision, after all, was up to his parents and the gods. The “pak chin dek“, usually an energetic man in his 50s, will direct the groom to flawlessly perform the wedding rituals.
Upon arriving at the bride’s house, the groom will be greeted by a “sang khek um” (ceremonial mother). She will be in charge of the bride’s posture, gait and performance during the wedding ceremonies. She will perform a formal greeting, presenting the groom with two oranges when he steps into the bride’s house for the first time. After this, we have the “chinpang” (unveiling) ceremony. The bride will be sitting at the main hall, with a black veil over her face, which will be lifted by the groom. It was customary to use a black veil as it symbolised the sorrow of the bride who will now belong to someone else.
The couple will then head to the bridal chamber now filled with the scent of incense. A delicious lunch spread will be prepared and the couple will be able to enjoy their first meal together. After this, the bride and groom will present themselves to family and friends outside the bridal chamber. With a bow, they are now officially pronounced man and wife! The festivities are now in full swing!
From The Third To Eleventh Day
Not all the 12 days of Peranakan weddings are filled with merriment. Only four out of 12 days are used for active celebrations. The remaining eight are rest days in between the ceremonial days. The day after the wedding will be a day of rest. Following this, we have the Third-Day ceremony, known as “Sohjar Tiga Hari“. On this day, the bride and groom will pay their respects and serve tea to their parents and older relatives. During this ceremony, the bride and groom will also be endowed with large dowries by their parents. Among affluent families, these dowries can include cash (in the form of an “ang pao“), property, valuable pieces of jewellery and other family heirlooms.
From the seventh to the 11ᵗʰ day, there will be no major celebrations. However, the groom will travel between the bridal chamber and his home during this time.
Twelfth Night: The Finale Of Peranakan Weddings
The Twelfth Night is the most significant ceremony in Peranakan weddings. In the early morning of the Twelfth Night, the groom will leave the bridal chamber for the last time to prepare a place in his house for himself and his new bride. His mother, with utmost enthusiasm and pomp, will busily prepare for and await the arrival of her daughter-in-law. The feast prepared by the grooms family will consist of “nasi lemak” and a variety of other dishes.
On this day, the mother of the groom will receive the “sular cheo thau“. This piece of white cloth is said to represent the bride’s virginity. She will inspect the cloth and once satisfied, she will welcome her new daughter-in-law into the family. After the luncheon, the family of the bride will return home with a rooster and a hen to perform the final ceremony in the bridal chamber. Here, the rooster and hen will be tucked under the bed. All those present will excitedly wait to see if the rooster or the hen will emerge first as it will represent the prediction of the gender of the newlywed’s firstborn child. The couple and their families will be greatly comforted should the rooster comes out first!
Peranakan Weddings And Modern Times
While I can appreciate the intricacies of Peranakan weddings, I am glad that I will not have to experience such a long-winded affair in my lifetime. I simply cannot imagine saving up and planning for a 12-day celebration. It will be impossible with the current economic climate of the 21ˢᵗ century.
This series has been something I hold very close to my heart. And I really owe it to my grandparents who brought me up with a lot of Peranakan values. I hope that you enjoyed the first season of this series. Stay tuned for future articles coming soon on my website!