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What is Guo Da Li?
Guo Da Li （过大礼) — which translates into ‘the betrothal gifts’ — is a very old Chinese marriage tradition. Here in Singapore, our four main Chinese dialect groups — Cantonese, Hokkien, Teochew, and Hakka, still actively practice it.
What happens? Simply explained, the bride and groom’s families arrange to meet ceremoniously so that he can propose 'properly'. Usually, a matchmaker or a recommended elder (most of the time a lady ) relative accompanies the groom in his mission.
Their main task is to shower the bride’s family with specially intended gifts. This collection of gift items stand for fertility and prosperity - two desirable things in marriage, hence their selection. Also included among these is the ‘bride’s price’, or betrothal gift money.
Why is Guo Da Li important?
In the modern lifestyle, convenience and speed are generally a high priority. In contrast with this, Guo Da Li serves as a good reminder: there are no shortcuts for enjoying the rewards of marriage, or family. Marriage, and family by extension, are and have always been hard work. This labour is of course, for a worthy cause. Hence the ‘bride’s price’—which in a way, can be seen as the groom’s gratitude fee to his betrothed’s parents, to thank them for raising his bride.
Moreover, when the bride’s family accepts his gifts at the official ceremony, it also represents their acceptance of her groom. They have been convinced that his intentions to marry are sincere. They also trust that he will make a capable and dutiful husband.
Family approval does matter, and Guo Da Li is around to help ensure it. Even in modern times, there are conservative families who hold fast to custom. They might deny a marriage union unless traditional ceremonial rites are correctly honoured.
When Does Guo Da Li Happen
In the best case, Guo Da Li happens two to four weeks ahead of the actual wedding celebrations. The more careful prudent couples sometimes plan for the date up to 2 months before their wedding day.
Guo Da Li Procedure
Guo Da Li isn't something hard, but it can turn out to be tricky. Below, we have summarized it down to 6 simple steps on how to go about doing so!
1st: Select your date
If sticking to tradition matters a lot to you, consider hiring a Feng Shui （风水）master to read both of your Ba Zi （八字）compatibility. Based on the results, these geomancy experts will then recommend a favoured date and time.
Concurrently, they will warn against ill-advised dates. These days, many less conservative families tend to set a date based on their guests’ availability.
2nd: Ensure these people are present:
It goes without saying parents of both sides will need to be present.
Apart from this, a female matchmaker or a senior relative (female) who has good fortune will also need to be present to participate in the ceremony. Her main role is to chaperone the groom, as he presents the Guo Da Li to his future in-laws.
3rd: Auspicious Sayings Exchange
Auspicious sayings are a must in all Chinese joyous occasions. The ceremony starts with the groom's elderly or older female relative congratulating the bride's parents on tying the knot as soon as she arrives at the doorstep of the bride's home.
Well-wishes will then be bestowed upon by her, along with blessings of offsprings to the couple:
恭喜亲家老爷和亲家奶奶荣登外父外母榜, 祝福 <couple> 永结同心、恩爱到白头、连生贵子
Translation: Congratulations to the family of the bride. Wishing the couple eternal bliss, and to have offsprings soon.
4th Presenting of Gifts by Groom (过大礼 + 礼金盒)
The items of this exchange differ from the four main dialect groups: Hokkien, Cantonese, Teochew, and Hakka.
We have compiled a list of items based on different dialect groups below. Some of the items include big red packets (ang baos 红包) and more, which is part of the Chinese customs.
This represents the blessings given by the Groom's family to the Bride, by showing their acceptance of her into the family. As this is supposed to be presented to the Bride, the type of gifts will be based on the Bride's family's dialect group.
5th: Returning of Gifts from Bride (回礼 + 嫁妆)
Upon receiving the groom’s shower of gifts, the bride’s family will then move to reciprocate the act. They do so by returning half the initial items gifted—known as Hui Li（回礼). This represents the blessings and the well-wishes of the bride's parents to her, and the couple as a whole.
They will also present the dowry to the groom, which are for the groom's family to use on the bride — known as Jia Zhuang (嫁妆), which consists mostly of daily necessities. This symbolizes the virtues of a bride and her new role as a married woman.
6th The Closing
The couple and the groom's elder female relative or matchmaker will return to the groom's home, which the bride will show her in-laws her dowry. These items will then be kept aside for use after the wedding day.
What to Observe at Ceremonial Gift Exchange
Every one present during the groom’s presentation of gifts should bless and speak goodwill upon the marriage. Also, be sure to congratulate the bride’s parents for a ‘joyous matrimonial match.
The receiving and returning of gifts between both sides are of equal importance. This concept of exchange matters in signifying both side’s mutual respect and sincerity for each other.
And not least, it is important to note that all gift items usually come in pairs, which invite good fortune. When both come from different dialect groups, prepare food item gifts according to the bride’s group traditions. Further, prepare non-perishable gifts according to the groom’s group traditions.
Post Guo Da Li, what happens?
Once the ceremonial exchange is complete, the bride’s family can begin with other necessities. These include decorating for the wedding, as well as distributing wedding cakes and goodies to relations.
By custom, one should issue wedding invites only after Guo Da Li. This is no longer as strictly practiced with modern weddings now. The reality is, it can definitely take guests much longer than 2-4 weeks to RSVP their attendance.
So, get your red packet ready! Check our article on Wedding Ang Bao (Red Packet) rates for 2021!
Guo Da Li Items by Dialect Group
Author's Credit: This article is co-written by Enya Lim, who is also a singer at Musical Touch.