Everything You Need To Know About The Traditional Chinese Engagement Ceremony, According To Ting Hun Organizer Jerome Go
The powerful emotion that binds two people for life is honored in many different ways around the world, but for Chinese-Filipino families, one of their favorite love-centric celebrations is the ting hun.
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Originating from the East, the centuries-old practice was exported to the Philippines by Chinese immigrants and has maintained many of its original traditions up to this day, thriving despite the numerous cultural shifts the country has undergone throughout history. Similar to the Filipinos' pamamanhikan, a ting hun is a formal—and very joyous!—meeting of the families of the bride and groom that signals their full approval of the couple's union.
Here to give us the full lowdown of everything involved in a ting hun—from what gifts to give and what to wear, to what you'll be feasting on and what its symbolisms are—is Dr. Jerome Go, a psychiatrist by day and an events host and professional ting hun organizer by night.
His own brand, Happy Ting Hun, was created to cater to Chinese-Filipino couples and families who wish to live out the tradition and pay homage to their heritage. He explains, "I’ve been organizing ting huns for close to 10 years now. I launched Happy Ting Hun (@happytinghun) as a brand solely devoted to ting hun [celebrations], to address concerns, share knowledge, and clarify misconceptions about this ceremony."
His experience has made him a ting hun guru of sorts, and one whose insights we'd love to share.
Below is everything you need to know about a ting hun:
Where did the ting hun begin, and why is it such a big deal?
The ting hun is mostly Chinese in origin. The tradition's popularity peaked when seeking the help of matchmakers and organizing arranged marriages in China were common, and as Jerome puts it, "in the strictest Chinese traditions, it is an important gesture from the groom’s family to be seen as worthy to be married to the deserving bride."
Here in the Philippines, the betrothal ceremony has adopted a more "Tsinoy" identity, integrating many Filipino elements in its practice. The ting hun is often celebrated by couples who simply wish to honor their Chinese roots and give their families an opportunity to get to know each other, but is no longer a "must" that newlyweds-to-be must hold.
Here's another way to look at it: a ting hun is also one way the couple can enjoy a pre-nup shoot.
Jerome describes, "Every ting hun event will have both families dress up nicely and come in their best looks. They'll host a luncheon and hire a team to cover the event. This said, it has all the elements of a pre-nuptial event: a pictorial, hairstyling and a makeup artist, a gown maker, photographer, a good venue, and good food."
When it comes to the time and date of the party, those, too, are carefully selected based on the Chinese calendar, as well as the signs of the couple and their parents.
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What are the some of the age-old traditions that even modern ting hun parties have?
- The bride and groom's tea service
As family plays an important part in many Asian traditions, a ting hun is no different. In this case, the couple serves their families tea, a beverage that symbolizes respect to the Chinese. The respect here is expressed when the couple introduces their partner to their relatives, a step that must not be taken lightly considering that they are essentially marrying into each other's families.
- The bride walks backwards as she enters the room to meet her groom
She does this to shield herself from confronting any negative energy from the get-go, and is assisted by a female aid of choice as she makes her way across the room. Her aid isn't just a random person, though; she is specially chosen by the bride as she symbolizes everything the bride wants to be as a married woman. The chosen "Lady Luck" should ideally be married, with children, wealthy, and happy.
- The noodle and egg ceremony
Served to the couple are noodles (specifically misua) for longevity, and sweet egg for fertility! Traditionally, a Chinese marriage was equated to the raising of a large, healthy family and keeping the family name going, and this is an ode to that.
- The double happiness symbol
This is a recurring design in many ting hun parties for good reason! It's often representative of the happy union between husband and wife and their families as a whole, so it's a pretty common sight to see the symbol in many forms throughout a venue.
Who attends a ting hun?
In the past, many of a ting hun ceremony's guests were the bride's relatives. However, as time passed, more and more people have been invited to the special occasion as it is, after all, a party—and a party is nothing without guests! More relatives from both sides are now in attendance, while friends are most welcome, too. Everyone important to the couple is usually invited, considering that a ting hun is also where the wedding's principal sponsors and entourage are announced.
What do you wear to a ting hun?
Red, of course, is still the best color of choice, especially for the bride. But with beauty and fashion trends that have influenced even the oldest of traditions, modern Chinese brides have sometimes opted for gold, pink, beige, blue, and even yellow dresses—anything happy will do! Guests are likewise encouraged to don cheerful color palettes, with black, purple, and white usually discouraged.
Where are ting hun ceremonies held?
It's common to be invited to a ting hun staged in a hotel ballroom or fine restaurant these days, as both venues will likely have curated menus whose dishes are perfect for grand celebrations. It's simply more practical to do so compared to what it was like in the past: organizing and cooking up a feast in the bride's home.
Do ting hun guests have to gift the couple?
It's a yes, but not strictly. There are no hard guidelines to follow when it comes to ting hun presents for the couple, but those who do arrive with gifts should consider getting them in pairs, even numbers, and happy. Edible gifts must be sweet, too!
What makes ting hun ceremonies so special?
"It affirms [the couple's] respect for each other and their willingness to honor each other’s families and traditions. It expresses their readiness to live their lives together, assurance that they will and can support one another, not only emotionally, but also financially. I think this is a reality that may often not often be talked about but crucial to the success of any relationship," Jerome shares.
To date, three of Jerome's most memorable ting hun parties include that of Harvey Yu and Anne King (which posed an immensely successful first for Jerome, as he organized it in the bride's home), Kevin Wong and Shirly Vy (by far the most magnificent ting hun Jerome has witnessed, where a theme of modern Shanghai Glam was executed and guests were encouraged to wear stylish renditions of traditional Chinese formal wear), and Dj Vergel De Dios and Jerrika Tsai (a very memorable and cohesively designed ting hun, as Jerrika's debut was organized and hosted by Jerome!).
With almost a decade of ting hun experience under his belt, Jerome is glad to be one of the pioneers of the industry in the Philippines. Jerome revels in the fact that he has a sincere stake in how all of his events turn out and in the satisfaction of all his clients—it goes well beyond merely doing business, and cultivating lasting relationships is a priority.
With Happy Ting Hun, Jerome gladly takes charge of all preparations the couple needs help with from food and giveaways, to coordination and program flow, and even foot traffic and decor, so that all couples and their families can sit back and relax and enjoy the purpose of the day: to be surrounded with love!
"I often receive compliments from the guests who tell me they didn’t know why they had to prepare so much until I explained things to them. Many younger generation Tsinoys no longer understand the significance of the tradition but get a refresher from the ceremony. Many foreigners, non-Chinese, and Filipinos often express their amazement of how beautiful the Chinese traditions are," Jerome divulges. His industry partners agree with clients as Jerome is a perfectionist and never leaves a stone unturned when it comes to getting things done right.
"This has, in fact, created a new industry for everybody in the wedding business, as ting hun celebrations are now seen as a potential first event, and if successful, can lead to their eventual reservation for the wedding! These give me fulfillment and encourage me to do better, because I know I have made their celebration more significant, organized, and special in my own little way," he concludes.
Making Ting Hun Events Memorable ?? I enjoy celebrating this Chinese tradition w/ couples who wish to make this an event where they just relax and enjoy and allow me to be in charge. Through the years people have continued to hold this event not realizing why they do it, what the items they’re told to prepare are for. With @happytingHun, guests understand and my couples are able to enjoy each moment where I tell them to just “ChoCho” ?? #TingHunOrganizer #TingHunHost #TingHunEmcee
And with that, rest assured, Chinese-Filipino couples can joyfully celebrate their heritage and love in one beautiful tradition that can stand the test of time. With experts like Jerome who are more than willing to bring couples' dream wedding celebrations to life, a happy ting hun they'll have, for sure!
Photos courtesy of Jerome Go, with additional photos from @happytinghun