The purpose of the hair combing ritual is to pass longevity and fertility to the bride. The ritual is conducted by having the eldest female member of the family comb the bride’s hair either the day before the wedding or right before the wedding. The timing of the ritual depends on where the bride’s family is from. For example, in Cháozhōu, this must take place before dawn. For my family (which is from Kaiping on my mother’s side), my hair had to be combed after 10 am – which was unrealistic given how early my hair and make up had to be done on the wedding day. As such, my hair was combed the day before the wedding (before the Pig Roast).The eldest female member of the family can be any relative so long as she has grandchildren, and she has never been divorced. For my mother, my grandmother combed her hair. For me, it was my mother’s second eldest sister (her eldest sister was on her way to Boston from Taiwan at the time).
My aunt recited the following as she combed my hair (oh did I mention that the comb also has to be red?):
一梳、梳到尾、[yàt sò sò dou méih] (First combing, blessed to be together to the end,)
二梳、百年好合、[yih sò baak nìhn hóu hahp] (Second combing, blessings for a hundred years of harmony in your marriage,)
三梳、子孫滿堂、[sàam sò jí syùn múhn tòhng] (Third combing, be blessed with a houseful of children and grandchildren)
四梳、白發齊眉、[sei sò baahk faat chàih mèih] (Fourth combing, be blessed with longevity)
The whole ritual takes about 40-60 seconds. Once my aunt was done, she clipped juniper (tied together with a red string) into my hair. Although it’s not clear on how long I must wear the lock of juniper, I kept it in my hair throughout the day.
Traditionally, the ritual is followed by a quick shower infused with pomegranate or pomelo leaves. However, my mother thought that was unnecessary as that part of the tradition is considered too old fashioned. So instead, my husband and I devoured dessert dumplings called tong-yuen (湯圓) — which is also part of the ritual.