The Chinese Wedding Hair Combing Ceremony Explained


Within Chinese wedding traditions, the hair combing ceremony stands out as a poignant symbol of the transition from youth to adulthood. This ritual, though not as commonly practiced today, holds profound significance for the bride and groom, marking their readiness to embark on a new life together.

The Significance and Meaning of the Hair-Combing Ceremony

The Chinese hair combing ceremony, known as ‘Shang Tou’ (上头), is a traditional rite of passage that dates back centuries. It is performed to bless the couple with a happy and prosperous marriage and symbolises their official coming-of-age. This intimate ceremony is rich with symbolism and infused with the hopes and blessings of the family for the couple’s future.

When and Where is this Ceremony Performed?

In ancient times, the timing and setting of the hair combing ceremony are carefully chosen to align with auspicious dates and times according to the Chinese lunar calendar and the couple’s specific dialect group. Today, it is commonly scheduled to take place the night before the wedding. The ritual is carried out at the bride’s and groom’s respective homes with the groom’s ceremony taking place half an hour before the bride’s.

Who is Involved in the Ritual?

The ritual is typically performed by an ‘auspicious lady‘, often the eldest female relative on the maternal side, reflecting matriarchal influence and blessings. This person must come from a harmonious family with living parents and children, embodying the ideal of good fortune and stability. Alternatively, the parents of the bride and groom can perform this ceremony as well. Other family members can attend to witness and support this significant event, though modern practices may vary in attendance.

What are the Items to Prepare and Their Significance?

Credit: @kikidaydreaming

The ceremony requires specific items, each laden with meaning. Except for the cypress leaves, these items can easily be found at Chinese wedding shops around the country. A local florist may sell Cypress leaves, otherwise one should be able to spot a Cypress Tree or two during a stroll around their neighbourhood.

  • A pair of dragon and phoenix candles to symbolise harmony and a balanced union.
  • Special combs: a pointed one for the groom and a rounded one for the bride.
  • Mirrors to symbolise a complete marriage
  • Red string to signify the coming together of the bride and groom
  • Scissors to represent unity between the couple
  • Descendent ruler for blessings of offsprings
  • Thuja leaves (Cypress leaves), believed to drive away evil spirits.
  • An offering plate filled with Lian Zi, red dates, and dried longans, representing fertility and a sweet life.
  • Glutinous rice balls in sweet soup (Tong Yuen), symbolizing completeness and sweetness in the union.

How is the Ritual Performed?

Credit: @happy_wedding_mc_joanna
  1. Preparation: The bride and groom take a purifying bath with pomelo or pomegranate leaves to cleanse themselves of evil influences or bad luck.
  2. Dressing: They put on fresh, new nightwear in auspicious colours like red or pink. In the morning, the bride wears the same nightwear under her Qun Kua.
  3. Setting the Stage: Seated by an open window, the ritual items are displayed and the ceremony starts with the lighting of the dragon and phoenix candles and joss sticks.
  4. Prayers and Offerings: The couple offers prayers to the heavens and their ancestors, setting the spiritual tone for the ritual. (This step can be omitted if one does not practice the Buddhist faith)
  5. Combing the Hair: The ‘auspicious lady’ combs the bride’s and groom’s hair, starting from the roots to the end. She does this a total of four times, each stroke accompanied by speaking aloud these specific blessing.
    • May you be together all your lives from beginning till the end.
      (一梳, 梳到尾)
      May you have a harmonious intimate marriage.

      (二梳, 白发齐眉)
      May your home be filled with many children and grandchildren
      (三梳, 儿孙滿地)
      May you enjoy a long marriage till old age.

      (四梳, 四条银笋尽标齐)
  6. Securing Good Fortune: The groom places the Thuja leaves and red string in his pocket, while the bride attaches them to her hair.
  7. Symbolic Consumption: The couple eats the glutinous rice balls, affirming their union and shared future.
  8. Conclusion: The ceremony concludes as the candles burn down, symbolizing the completion of the rite.

Should I Include This Tradition As Part of My Wedding?

The Chinese hair combing ceremony is a beautiful, serene observance that enriches the wedding with depth and cultural heritage. As modern couples seek to honour their past while embracing their future, this tradition offers a meaningful way to connect with their roots on their most significant day. Furthermore, a wedding is a once-in-a-lifetime event and therefore your one opportunity in partaking in unique rituals like this one.

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