Michelle & Philip's multi-cultural, 1930's, wedding and tea ceremony

June 3 |

cut ze cake please

The offbeat bride: Michelle – visual artist/graphic designer (and OBT Member)

Her offbeat partner: Philip – video game programer

Location & date of wedding: Door games and tea ceremony (own house); Official ceremony (Capri Theatre); Reception (Hotel Richmond) all in Adelaide, South Australia, Australia — March 27, 2010

What made our wedding offbeat: We had a multicultural wedding! We had Chinese Door games (where the aim is to make the groom and his men do challenges in order to prove himself worthy of the bride) and a Tea Ceremony. We got married in an art deco movie theatre that has a Wurlitzer organ. I had a bridesman. The bride and bridesmaids had henna.

The hand fasting ceremony

We wrote, directed, acted and filmed a black and white silent movie about how we met, to be played at the art deco movie theatre before the ceremony – we had an organist play along. We had a DIY 1930's theme. We made our own invites in the form of a movie poster, RSVP's were movie tickets. Centrepieces were combo of vintage champagne glasses found at thrift stores, ikea vases and candle holders on sale. We painted sticks black and added yarn pompoms to them. I handmade all the bridesmaids' fascinators and groomsmen boutinerres. We had a cake buffet instead of one wedding cake, which my cousin handmade bird cake toppers for. Most cake platters were DIY, vintage plates and upside down vases – all from thrift shops. We didn't have a first dance. We had an open mic and it went off!

Benjamin Liew - bridesman

Table names were twenties and thirties famous movie posters. We had home made caramel popcorn as favours and a vintage typewriter where people wrote what they thought about love. Also black and white movies played throughout the night. A jazz band played that we found busking on the street.

Tell us about your ceremony: We had a tea ceremony and an official ceremony. In the tea ceremony, it was much more intimate. We offered cups of teas to our parents firstly and thanked them for looking after us and bring us up. Then they gave us gifts of jewellery or money. The jewellery is for the couple to sell if ever the couple were ever in strife. The official ceremony featured a handfasting, it wasn't too pagan, but we spoke our vows while we handfasted. We took parts of the handfasting traditions we connected with and fused it with vows we liked. I'm spiritual, whereas my partner is highly agnostic, so we had to be careful in the wording we chose.

after the tea ceremony
The bride had an outfit change for the tea ceremony
Our biggest challenge: I'd say our biggest challenge was my mother. She had very old fashioned, traditional chinese ideas on what a wedding should be. We had problems with her and the guest list (we were accused of not inviting any of her friends.. all 'her friends' were apparently "our friends"). She fretted over 'face' if she didn't invite this or that guest. I have divorced parents who have not been in the same room since I was eleven. They had a bitter divorce and it was quite a nerve wrecking thought that they would be in the same place. Let alone be together the WHOLE day! Will there be fisticuffs? (I had quiet talks to them beforehand and they managed to behave themselves, to my surprise, very well!)

We wanted to have some but not all of the traditions of the tea ceremony and this upset my mum. She said we were butchering it and we can't just take the bits we like. The thing is I actually researched it as we don't like doing things we don't know the meaning of and doesn't relate to us. I think it was just time that let my mum get over these sort of things. In the end she was surprised how smoothly, well planned and creative the wedding was. In a way it felt good to be able to prove it could all turn out well. :)

Bridesmaids Henna!
My favorite moment: The tea ceremony with the family was very intimate. We had special moments with every family member that was there. Also, we were upstairs while the theatre was watching the movie we made. We were hidden away from our guests and I was really nervous, but the support of my bridal party was incredible.

Rising up with the organ and facing everyone with my soon to be hubby by my side was an amazing feeling. We are actually both slightly shy so it was really grounding to have him by my side, enjoying the moment. The handfasting was also very special as we made our own chords with charms weaved on to it.
northern lights 2
Towards the end of the night, the photographer took Phil and I out to see the light installations projected on to the city's historic architectural iconic building. Walking out in all our wedding gear with people congratulating us and being super nice was an amazing experience. It made me want to wear a wedding dress everyday! We sat on the grass and took some final pictures and finally we lied down on the grass and looked up at the stars… all the hard work was over and we had a fabulous time.

Im bringing sexy back2
Groomsmen playing 'door games' to win the bride!
My funniest moment: Definitely the Door Games. We played some nasty challenges on the boys! It was hilarious to watch them sing, dirty dance, do push ups on top of each other, eat disgusting foods, etc! Also we didn't really expect many people to talk when we opened the mic up, but after the usual speeches, one by one people just wanted to say something. It was amazing and funny to hear what these people had to say. Normally they would never have gotten the chance at a traditional wedding. Luckily, all kept it really short and sweet. It still went on for an extra thirty minutes I think!

My advice for offbeat brides: Listen with patience to your family who have differing points of view, if they go a bit crazy during the planning stage (too excited, too snappy, etc.) it's normal. Just try and talk through your vision with them, it helps to show photos and examples so they can understand.

Have fun, but don't take yourself too seriously. When you get frustrated, angry, or sad, just try and do something else that will take your mind off it.

Wedding invites in the form of a movie poster
Photographer – I can't stress how important a photographer with a great eye is. Our photographer stuck with us from 9 AM until 11 PM. (He was just excellent and patient. Worked quickly and most times you don't even know he was there!) Great photos were important to us so we splurged on that!

What was the most important lesson you learned from your wedding? Planning ahead helps a lot (it did for me). Also, keep believing in your vision even when everyone is questioning you about it. Compromising is hard, but it does save drama. Pick which battles to fight. Try and spend some non wedding related time with your FH and keep your feet firmly planted on the ground. Those websites, magazines, pictures of what a wedding could and should look like will drive you crazy. Especially closer towards your wedding date, stop looking at wedding porn! :) I felt a lot of love and support even though there were a lot of drama to be dealt with, and sometimes hard to see… but it was very evident on the wedding day.

Care to share a few vendor/shopping links?

Enough talk — show me the wedding porn!

  1. The groomsmen are so, so awesome. And shockingly sexy in all the lingerie. Congrats on making it all work so well with so many different sources of inspiration.

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  2. What a beautiful wedding, thanks for sharing. My FH is Chinese-Australian so we'll also be having a tea ceremony – but he wants to skip the door games!

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  3. Ah, I love so much about this! Particularly the silent movie about the two of you, how neat. Thanks for your honesty about how it was dealing with mom, and divorced parents as I am in the same siutation!

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  4. I love this! I am an American Buddhist. I wrote an article for OBM stating that I received a comment saying that the world was not my cultural buffet or something, and that I wasnt allowed to practice a religion that was not commonly practiced in the area that I was born… or something. So its awesome to see someone who is culturally diverse.

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  5. Woo hoo! Best wishes from a future Adelaide Offbeat Bride :)

    I saw your photos on Flickr and was admiring them. Glad I got the full story. Have a wonderful life together :)

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  6. Yay for South Aussies! I live just around the corner from the Capri, and this looks awesome. All happiness to you.

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  7. Thanks soo much for your comments guys, the door games were one of my favourite moments, it was a lot of fun, and we didn't ruin any of the groomsmens clothes, which was very important as it was held at the start of the day! :) Yep trying to hold the balance between cultures is difficult sometimes, but there is a joy from getting the best from both worlds :)

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    • The groomsmen look wonderful–what a lovely wedding! Did they rent their vest and slacks, or did they purchase them? I've been looking for something like them for the groomsmen in my wedding.

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      • All the groomsmen's clothes were rented. :)
        It's cheaper as well, when you don't rent the suit jacket ;P

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  8. Argh… are you the reason why Basketworks is out of red ribbon!?! Seriously, thanks for sharing your beautiful wedding and especially the Aussie vendors

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  9. Congratulations Michelle and Phil for sticking to your beliefs and having the wedding you dreamed of – It truly was without doubt, the wedding of the century!

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  10. Thanks mandi, im soo glad you made it to the ceremony. Sare, i MAY be the reason they are out of red ribbon hehe, hopefully they have restocked, I only bought one roll though :)

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  11. just wow. can I be inspired and jealous at the same time? Lol. I have the same issue with my mom being traditional Chinese and trying to have her understand what i want is different from what she wants, lol but it is all working out! She at least appreciates that they 1920's theater venue is red! Love your wedding!

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  12. I am having a keyboard-gasm over that Wurlitzer!!! what an incredible ceremony venue and process, with the film and all!! whoa!

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  13. You are an angel sent from above!!!!! I was wondering how I could incorporate a Tea Ceremony for my FH's side and a Hand Fasting for us. Thank you so much for the inspiration and reassurance that is can be done.

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  14. Hi…Congratulations..who created your movie poster? I adore it and my fiance loves old movies, that would be a great gift.

    Thanks, Shawna

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    • Hi Shawna,

      Thanks so much! :)
      We had a friend do a digital illustration of a photo we took of ourselves, then I did the graphic design on it.

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  15. Hi! My FH is Chinese, and we are planning to include a tea ceremony at some point during the wedding weekend next year, but all I know about it is that it is a show of respect and we give cups of tea to our elders, which is about all that FH knows about as well. Can you share some of your favorite resources about this ceremony? I am looking forward to it, but a lot of the websites out there are pretty basic. (BTW- his family is Catholic, not Buddhist).

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    • Hi Theo,
      With the tea ceremony, you usually start with the brides family first – tho some sources on the net differs (I think it originates from the times where the groom goes to the brides place to take the bride back to the grooms place, where she will end up living after the wedding)and then the grooms family comes after. We start with the brides parents, then eldest family members to the youngest. And same for the grooms side. The wedding couple usually kneels on cushions, in front of the parents, family etc, and offer tea to them, and calls them by their 'title' however if you are speaking english, like I was, I just say "Thanks so much for being here, (name) etc.), in turn people that are older than you (or married) give you jewellery or lucky red packets. We had two red candles burning during the ceremony and double happiness symbols stuck on the wall :)
      If you google 'chinese wedding tea ceremony" you should get a lot of information regarding it :)

      Good luck, Im sure it will be awesome! xx

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  16. I am a Chinese girl and married to a Canadian this spring in China.
    I totally understand the bride's feeling, the guest list, the creative ideas, my mom is the biggest challenage for us.
    But everything went well at that day, my mom is touched. But I was very nervous as main director.
    Congratulations to you.It's a beautiful and unique wedding, best day of your life.

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