Learn these 10 Teochew customs
Find out the origins of wedding and Chinese New Year customs, as explained in the Teochew Traditions handbook from the Teochew Federation (Singapore)
Translation: Hong Xinyi Images: iStock
1 Why is pork part of the betrothal gift?
In the past, it symbolised gratitude to the bride’s family for bringing her up, and also the hope that her husband’s family would treasure her. In modern times, raw pork has been replaced by canned pig trotters.
2 Why do Teochew men fetch their brides at the break of dawn?
In the past, it was taboo for the wedding party to run into a funeral procession. But there’s no longer such thinking in Singapore today, as most funeral processions happen in the afternoon.
3 Why must a Teochew wedding ceremony be completed before 9am?
The hours of 9am to 11am are known as the si period in the 12 divisions of a day. In the old days, it was believed that marrying off a daughter during this period would rid the maternal family of all luck and fortune.
4 Why are dried longans placed in the bridal chamber?
A dish is filled with 12 dried longans, 12 red dates, 12 lotus seeds and a pair of tangerines. Each newlywed has to eat one each of the first three items per day, in the hope of conceiving soon.
5 Why do some mothers-in-law press lightly on the bride’s head as they sip the tea offered to them at the tea ceremony?
In the past, some mothers-in-law did this to assert their standing in the family. Mothers-in-law have changed with the times. This gesture, if still practised, is now seen as a form of blessing.
6 Why do married daughters visit their maternal home on the first day of Chinese New Year?
On this day, a married daughter does this with her husband and children to visit her parents as an act of filial piety. On New Year’s Eve, a married daughter has her reunion dinner with her husband’s family, not with her parents.
7 Why do Teochews bring tangerines when they visit others during Chinese New Year?
According to folklore, just before Chinese New Year, a village in Chaozhou had an outbreak of dry mouth syndrome. A young lady had a dream in which an immortal told her to eat tangerines. When she woke up, she and her mother tried the suggestion and were cured, so they told all the villagers to do the same. This was how Teochew tangerines became lucky charms. In another version of the practice’s origin, Guangdong and Fujian in southern China produced only tangerines due to geographical and climate reasons, so they were used for New Year visits.
8 What is the significance of the seven-ingredient soup?
The dish usually contains celery, scallion, garlic, mustard green, leaf mustard, coriander and chard. The names of these vegetables sound similar to diligence, intelligence, financial acumen, prosperity, wealth, luck and good fortune. Chive, which sounds like “everlasting” in Teochew, can also be included.
9 How did the custom of “seeing off the poor ghosts” originate?
In ancient times, a boy born in the imperial court bawled whenever new clothes were put on him and he would tear them off. Everyone called him Poor Kid. He later died on the 30th day of the first month of the lunar calendar, and at his funeral people said: “Today we send off the Poor Kid!” With time, this day was commemorated on the fifth day of the month, while in many parts of Guangdong, it was marked on the third day of the month.
10 Why are chopsticks not to be stuck upright in a bowl of rice?
There are some taboos with regard to the use of chopsticks — they should not be stuck upright in rice as this is similar to how incense is offered to the deceased.