Wedding Traditions and Customs

Wedding traditions and customs vary greatly between cultures, ethnic groups, religions, countries, and social classes and often reflect a particular view of marriage.

African-American Wedding Traditions and Customs

Jumping the broom developed out of a West African Asante custom. The broom in Asante and other Akan cultures also held spiritual value and symbolized sweeping away past wrongs or warding off evil spirits. Brooms were waved over the heads of marrying couples to ward off spirits. The couple would often but not always jump over the broom at the end of the ceremony.

The custom took on additional significance in the context of slavery in the United States. Slaves had no right to legal marriage; slaveholders considered slaves property and feared that legal marriage and family bonds had the potential to lead to organization and revolt. Marriage rituals, however, were important events to the Africans, who came in many cases come from richly-ceremonial African cultures.

Taking marriage vows in the presence of a witness and then leaping over the handle of a broom became the common practice to create a recognized union. Brooms are also symbols of the hearth, the center of the new family being created. Jumping the broom has become a practice in many modern weddings between Black Americans.

There are also traditions of broom jumping in Europe, in the Wicca and Celtic communities especially. They are probably unconnected with the African practice.

Arabic Wedding Traditions and Customs

Arabic Weddings vary depending on the country and religion of the bride and groom. Although Christian weddings in the Arab World bear clear similarities to Western Weddings, the Muslim weddings in the Arab countries are influenced by Muslim traditions. Muslim weddings (pre-arranged or not) start with a Shaikh and Al-Kitab (book) for the bride and groom. The groom, may or may not see his bride until the wedding day. Men and women in wedding ceremonies and receptions are segregated affairs, with areas for both men and women. The women at the ceremony symbolically mourn the loss of the bride by doing the “wedding wail”. The brides dress is a beautifully ornate Caftan, and the brides hands and feet are “bound” in intricate lace-like patterns painted using a henna dye.

Asian Wedding Traditions and Customs

Weddings in modern China combine both traditional elements and elements influenced by the West. The actual civil ceremony consists of registering the marriage with the local registrar is brief and done without much ceremony. The wedding reception, however, is elaborate and complex. The one prominent element of modern Chinese weddings is the Chinese wedding album.

Traditional customs include the so-called” three letters and six etiquette”. The “three letters” involve a series of three written letters (”request letter”, “gift letter” and “wedding letter”) being hand-delivered in sequence by the groom’s family to that of the bride through an elderly female envoy/liaison from the groom’s family. The “six etiquette” consists of six steps that are carried out prior to and during the wedding day. In the first step, the groom’s family’s envoy communicates the offer of marriage to the bride’s family and attempts to persuade the bride’s family to accept. If the offer is accepted by the bride’s family, the two families negotiate the terms of the marriage. In the second step, the groom’s family, via its envoy, requests the bride’s family to disclose the eight Chinese characters that mark the date and hour of the bride’s birth. A fortune teller is then hired to analyze the date and hour of the bride’s birth with the date and hour of the groom’s birth to see if the bride’s date and hour of birth are compatible with those of the groom. The third step consists of the groom’s family sending some initial gifts to the bride’s family. The fourth step is where the groom’s family will pick a “good day” to send their formal gifts to the bride’s family and to send gifts, cash, cakes and food for use in ancestral worship. The fifth step is the selection, by the hired fortune teller, of a “good day” for the actual wedding date.

The sixth and final step is the wedding day ceremony itself. The interior of both families’ homes are decorated in red, while the bride and groom are dressed in red with the bride’s face being veiled in a red cloth. A procession of servants and musicians from the groom’s family picks up the bride from her family’s home and delivers her, in a carriage, to the groom’s family’s home. The bride’s gifts to the groom would be delivered to the groom at this time only if the bride is a “long distance” bride who does not live in the same area as the groom. Otherwise, her gifts should have been sent a few days prior. With relatives and friends witnessing, the bride and groom then proceed to worship the heavens, the earth, and the groom’s dead ancestors before the couple serve tea to the elders of their families. After being served tea by the bride and groom, the family elders will give them red envelopes ( lai see ) containing money and offer their blessings. This so-called “tea ceremony” is the ritual climax of the wedding day. The aforesaid “wedding letter” is presented during the wedding day and confirms that the bride will become part of the groom’s family’s household. If financially possible, the groom’s family will then throw a huge feast for all relatives and friends with the groom’s family’s said liaison making repeated toasts to the newly wedded persons. When the married couple are finally alone in the bridal room where the wedding bed is located, the groom may lift the red veil that had hidden his bride’s face.

Three days after the wedding, the bride returns to her family’s home bringing a roasted pig and gifts. She may or may not, depending on which region in China, be required to be accompanied by her new husband, and she may or may not stay in her old home for a few days. The bride’s family, as a courtesy, would return some of the gifts that they had received from the groom’s family.

Although Chinese wedding customs vary from province to province, and from region to region, there are some basic and common themes in the traditional Chinese wedding.

Both the bride and groom are usually dressed in red, as red is the color of celebration and good fortune. The bride, with a red veil or large embroidered handkerchief over her head (much like the Western custom of a white wedding veil), and is lead by the groom to where the parents are seated.

Once there, the couple then kneels and kow-tows to their parents, and to their ancestors - taking note to bow and kow-tow to all four directions (north, south, east and west). They will also pour tea and serve it to their parents, which then the parents accept and gives the couple a red envelope (or hong-bao ) filled with cash. Usually, the mothers will take this opportunity to also give the bride many pieces of gold jewelry or heirlooms.

After this ceremony, it is considered that the couple is married, and the family and guests spend the evening feasting and drinking all night long. During this meal, the bride will change her outfit several times; generally a new outfit for each course. This shows her new family, and her guests her wealth and status. Oftentimes, many games will be played during this banquet. Guests give the bride and groom gifts of cash, stuffed in red packets or envelopes.

In more recent years, a new custom has emerged where the wedding guests will escort or sneak into the new couple’s room, to play games and pranks. As Chinese custom requires that hosts (in this case, the newlyweds) can not be rude to their guests, and can not ask them to leave - this celebration can last for several hours. Another more modern tradition occurs before the tea ceremony. The bride is hidden in a room and her attendants (called “sisters,” even if the women are not biologically the bride’s siblings) try to prevent the groom and his attendants (”brothers”) from coming in to pick up the bride. They try to get the groom to bid for the bride, asking for money in 8s or 9s. They also ask the men (especially the groom) trivial questions, such as “where did you meet the bride?” Sometimes, the women would ask the groom and his attendants to write a poem about the bride or do silly tricks. At the end, the women are given money by the men.

European and American Wedding Traditions and Customs

The Western custom of a bride wearing a white wedding dress, came to symbolize purity in the Victorian era (despite popular misconception and the hackneyed jokes of situation comedies the white dress did not actually indicate virginity, which was symbolized by a face veil). Within the ” white wedding” tradition, a white dress and veil would not have been considered appropriate in the second or third wedding of a widow or divorcee. The specific conventions of Western weddings, largely from a Protestant and Catholic viewpoint, are discussed at” White wedding.”

A wedding is often followed or accompanied by a wedding reception, at which an elaborate wedding cake is served. Western traditions include toasting the bride(s) and/or groom(s), the newlyweds having the First dance, and cutting the cake. If there is a bride, she throws her bouquet to the assembled group of all unmarried women in attendance, and the person who catches it is supposed to be the next to wed. A fairly recent equivalent has the groom throwing the bride’s garter to the assembled unmarried men; the man who catches it is supposedly the next to wed. Now, at some receptions, the man who caught the garter has to place it on the leg of the woman who caught the bouquet. This sometimes causes those two people to start dating, and causing them to, indeed, be the next to wed.

A long-standing modern tradition is for brides to wear or carry “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue” during the service. It is considered good luck to do so. Oftentimes the bride attempts to have one item that meets all of these qualifications, such as a borrowed blue hankerchief which is “new to her” but loaned by her grandmother (thus making it old.)

French Wedding Traditions and Customs

Many times in smaller French towns, the groom will meet his fiance at her home on the day of the wedding and escort her to the chapel where the ceremony is being held. As the couple proceeds to the chapel, children will stretch long white ribbons across the road which the bride will cut as she passes.

At the chapel, the bride and groom are seated on two red velvet chairs underneath a silk canopy they called a carre . Laurel leaves may be scattered across their paths when they exit the chapel. Sometimes small coins are also tossed for the children to gather.

At the reception, the couple customarily uses a toasting cup, called a Coupe de Marriage . The origin of giving toast actually began in France, when they literally dropped a small piece of toast into the couple’s wine (to ensure a healthy life). They lifted their glass to “a toast”, as is common in Western culture today.

Some couples choose to serve a croquembouche instead of a wedding cake. The dessert is a pyramid of cra¨me-filled pastry puffs, drizzled with a caramel glaze.

At a more boisterous wedding, tradition involves continuing the celebration until very late at night. After the reception, those invited to the wedding will gather outside the newlyweds’ window and bang pots and pans. They are then invited into the house for some more drinks in the couple’s honor, after which the couple is finally allowed to be alone for their first night together as husband and wife.

Another practice that is becoming more common at wedding celebrations is “beheading” a bottle of champagne with a sabre made for the occasion. It was started as a way for the Hussards (under Napoleon’s command) to celebrate victories and exhibit their horseback skills: they would “behead” the top off a bottle of champagne while on horseback. Legend has it that the skilled horsemen would ride at a full gallop while brave women held up bottles of champagne. The sabre must strike the neck of the bottle at exactly the right angle (champagne bottles have over 100 pounds of pressure per square inch).

This practice spread throughout France as a way to celebrate special occasions. Now decorative replicas of these special sabres can be purchased from artisans in Thiers, France (the French capital of cutlery).

Italian Wedding Traditions and Customs

At the start of a typical Italian wedding reception, the bridal party and the rest of the guests are separated for an hour and served cocktails. The food during cocktail hour is served in a buffet setup. During the cocktail time, the bride and the groom usually take their time to shoot photographs in a proper setting.

At the conclusion of cocktail hour, the guests will gather in the main dining room. The newlywed couple is introduced with much fanfare and they take their first dance, with the bridal party following soon after, who are then ultimately joined by the rest of the guests. Afterwards, everyone is seated, speeches are made by friends and family, and everyone champagne toasts the wedded couple.

Food is plentiful during most weddings, and Italian custom is no exception. Between courses, the MC will encourage dancing.

After the bulk of the courses have passed, it is time for the cake cutting, which ushers in the dessert course. In Sicilian customs, the dessert course is often presented as a VenetianTable, a dazzling array of pastries, fruits, coffees, cakes, (etc) are presented in great quantity with much celebration. This is often called Venetian Hour.

After dessert, more dancing commences, gifts are given, and the guests eventually begin to leave. In Southern Italy, as the guests leave, they hand envelopes of money to the bride and groom, who return the gift with a wedding favor, a small token of appreciation. In Northern Italy instead, the wedding favor is still given, but no tradition of envelopes with money exists.

Romanian Wedding Traditions and Customs

Lăutari are traditional musicians performing traditional Gypsy songs. The music of the lăutari establishes the structure of the elaborate Romanian peasant weddings, as well as providing entertainment (not only music, but magic tricks, stories, bear training, etc.) during the less eventful parts of the ritual. The lăutari also function as guides through the wedding rituals and moderate any conflicts that may arise during what can be a long, alcohol-fueled party. Over a period of nearly 48 hours, this can be very physically strenuous.

Following custom almost certainly dating back at least to the Middle Ages, most lăutari rapidly spend the fees from these wedding ceremonies on extended banquets for their friends and families over the days immediately following the wedding.

Scottish Wedding Traditions and Customs

Scotland has historically been a popular place for young English couples to get married, due to the fact that in Scotland, parents’ permission is not required if both the bride and groom are old enough to legally be married (16). In England it was historically the case that if either was 16 or 17 then the permission of parents had to be sought. Thus Scotland, and especially the blacksmith’s at Gretna Green, became a very popular place for couples to elope to, especially those under 18 and usually living in England. Gretna Green now hosts hundreds of weddings a year and is Scotland’s third most popular tourist attraction.

A Church of Scotland wedding and reception generally follows a fairly established set of customs and practices although most couples chose to adapt these to their own personal circumstances and preferences.

Typical Wedding Traditions and Customs:

  • The bride’s family sends invitations on behalf of the couple to the wedding guests, addressed by hand. The couple may send the invitations themselves, especially if they are more middle-aged. The invites will specify if the invitation is for ceremony and/or reception and/or evening following the meal at the reception.
  • Guests send or deliver wedding gifts to the bride’s family home before the wedding day. Alternatively, the couple may register at department store and have a list of gifts there. The shop then organises delivery, usually to the bride’s parents’ house or to the reception venue.
  • A wedding ceremony takes place at a church, register office or possibly another favourite location, such as a hilltop. In this regard Scotland differs significantly from England where only pre-approved public locations may be used for the wedding ceremony. Most ceremonies take place mid afternoon and last about half an hour during which the marriage schedule is signed by the couple and two witnessess (usually the best man and chief bridesmaid.
  • The newly wed couple usually leave the ceremony to the sound of bagpipes.
  • There is a wedding reception following the ceremony, usually at a different venue.
  • The bridal party lines up in a receiving line and the wedding guests file past, introducing themselves.
  • Usually a drink is served while the guests and bridal party mingle. In some cases the drink may be whisky or wine with a non alcoholic alternative.
  • The best man and bride’s father toast the bride and groom with personal thoughts, stories, and well-wishes, usually humorous. The groom then follows with a response on behalf of his bride. Champagne is usually provided for the toast.
  • There is nearly always a dancing following the meal. Often in Scotland this takes the form of a ceilidh, a night of informal traditional Scottish dancing in couples and groups to live traditional music. The first dance is led by the bride and groom, followed by the rest of the bridal party and finally the guests.
  • The cake-cutting ceremony takes place; the bride and groom jointly hold a cake cutter and cut the first pieces of the wedding cake.
  • Gifts are not opened at the reception; they are either opened ahead of time and sometimes displayed at the reception, or if guests could not deliver gifts ahead of time, they are placed on a table at the reception for the bride and groom to take home with them and open later.
  • A sprig of white heather is usually worn as a buttonhole for good luck.
  • It is the norm for the groom and much of the male bridal party and guests to wear kilts, although suits are also worn. Kilts and Highland dress are often hired for this purpose.

Unusual Wedding Traditions and Customs

Handfasting

Handfasting is an ancient Celtic wedding ritual in which the bride’s and groom’s hands are tied together — hence the phrase “tying the knot”.
United States customs

  • The bride traditionally wears “something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue. (See also Ceremonial clothing in Western cultures.)
  • The bride usually wears a white dress.
  • Clinking silverware against glassware obliges the newlyweds to kiss.
  • A color scheme is often used so that the invitation matches the bridesmaids’ dresses and the table settings.

Wedding and Wedding Reception Music Traditions

Music often played includes:

  • The ” Bridal Chorus” from Lohengrin by Richard Wagner, often used as the processional and commonly known as “Here Comes the Bride” - Note: Richard Wagner is said to have been Anti-Semitic, and as a result, the Bridal Chorus is often not used at Jewish weddings.
  • Johann Pachelbel’s Canon in D is often used as an alternative processional.
  • The ” Wedding March” from Felix Mendelssohn’s incidental music for the Shakespeareplay, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, often used as a recessional.
  • The “Toccata” from Charles-Marie Widor’s Symphony for Organ No. 5 , also used as a recessional.
  • Segments of the Ode To Joy, the fourth movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, sometimes make appearances at weddings; its message of unity is suitable for the occasion.
  • At wedding receptions, Der Ententanz, a 1950s Swiss Oom-pah song known more commonly in America as The Chicken Dance, has become a popular part of the reception dance music.

African-American Wedding Music

Traditional music throughout Africa is almost always functional; in other words, it is performed to mark a ritual such as a wedding. Because Africa is a continent with a wide range of ethnic, cultural and linguistic diversity, the music of Africa varies widely.

Wedding Gift Traditions and Customs

Originally, the purpose of inviting guests was to have them witness a couple’s marriage ceremony and vows and to share in the bride and groom’s joy and celebration. Gifts for the bride and groom are optional, although most guests attempt to give at least a token gift of their best wishes. Some brides and grooms and families feel that, for the expense and effort they put into showing their guests a good time and to wine and dine them, the guests should reciprocate by providing nice gifts. No etiquette book or rule condones this belief.

The couple often registers for gifts at a favorite store well in advance of their wedding. This allows them to create a list of preferred or needed household items, usually including a favorite pattern for china, for silverware, and for crystalware; often including linen preferences, pots and pans, and similar items. With older brides and grooms who might already be independent and have lived on their own, even owning their own homes, they sometimes register at hardware or home improvement stores. This is intended to make it easy for guests who wish to purchase gifts to feel comfortable that they are purchasing gifts that the newlyweds will truly appreciate. Taking this a step further, some couples register with services that enable money gifts intended to fund items such as a honeymoon, home purchase or college fund.

Etiquette rules prohibit the bride and groom from soliciting gifts, which would preclude them listing their place of registry, for example, in their wedding invitations. Guests are supposed to ask for this information if they want it; however, many couples do include the information in their invitations with the intention of making it more convenient for guests.

Many older guests often find bridal registries vulgar. They can be seen as an anathema to traditional notions behind gift buying, such as contravening the belief that “one should be happy for what they receive”, taking away the element of surprise, and leading to present buying as a type of competition, as the couple knows the costs of each individual item.

Christian Wedding Traditions and Customs

A Christian or mainstream wedding and reception follow a similar pattern to the Italian wedding. Customs and traditions vary with part of the country, ethnic group, social group, and so on, but components include the following:

  • The bride’s family sends engraved invitations to the wedding guests, addressed by hand to show the importance and personal meaning of the occasion.
  • Guests send or deliver wedding gifts to the bride’s family home before the wedding day.
  • A wedding ceremony takes place at a church or other favorite location, such as an attractive outdoor venue.

At the wedding reception following the ceremony, sometimes at the same location but sometimes at a different venue:

  • The bridal party lines up in a receiving line and the wedding guests file past, introducing themselves.
  • Usually snacks or a meal are served while the guests and bridal party mingle.
  • Often the best man and/or maid of honortoast the bride and groom with personal thoughts, stories, and well-wishes; sometimes other guests follow with their own toasts. Champagne, sparkling cider, or nonalcoholic carbonated drinks are usually provided for this purpose.
  • If dancing is provided, the bride and groom first dance together. Often further protocol is followed, where they dance first with their respective mother and father, then possibly with the maid of honor and best man; then the bride and groom rejoin while the parents of the bride and groom join the dance and the best man and maid of honor dance together; then other attendants join in; then finally everyone is entitled to dance. Dancing continues throughout the reception. Music is sometimes provided by a live band or musical ensemble, sometimes by a disc jockey with stereo equipment.
  • In some cultures, the money dance takes place, in which it is expected and encouraged for guests to pin money onto the young bride and groom to help them get started in their new lives in a new household. In other cultures, this would be considered vulgar.
  • The cake-cutting ceremony takes place; the bride and groom jointly hold a cake cutter–often a special silver keepsake cutter purchased or given as a gift for the occasion–and cut the first pieces of the wedding cake. They then entwine arms and feed each other a bite of cake.
  • In some social groups, the bride and groom smear cake on each other’s faces at this time. In other social groups, this would be considered vulgar.
  • The bride tosses her bouquet over her shoulder to the assembled unmarried women; the woman who catches it, superstition has it, will be the next to marry. In some social groups, the process is repeated for unmarried men with the groom tossing the bride’s garter for the same purpose.
  • Gifts are not opened at the reception; they are either opened ahead of time and sometimes displayed at the reception, or if guests could not deliver gifts ahead of time, they are placed on a table at the reception for the bride and groom to take home with them and open later.

Jewish Wedding Tradition and Customs

The prominence and exact expression of traditions used in a Jewish wedding varies based on the denomination of Judaism of the people being married. Some of the most common are listed below. The bride and groom sign a Ketubah (a marriage contract). Originally, the Ketubah detailed the husband’s obligations to his wife, and provided for monetary payment to her in case of divorce. Nowadays,while literally it serves the same function, the Ketubah is a decorative keepsake that sets out expectations for both the bride and groom. It is typically framed and displayed in the couple’s home.

The Jewish ceremony generally starts with the bride and groom being escorted to the huppah (a Jewish wedding canopy) by both sets of parents. The ceremony takes place under the huppah, and is presided over by a Rabbi. After the vows, seven marriage blessings are read and the groom then smashes a wine glass with his foot. The bride and groom spend time together alone before the reception, which is traditionally a joyous celebration with much music and dancing.

There are several traditional activities that often take place during the reception:

  • The wedding breakfast.
  • Wedding table placecards , which in prior eras listed only the husband’s first name, now list the wife’s first name as well in all modern weddings, as a sign that women are a part of the Jewish community. To list only the husband’s name (e.g., Mr. & Mrs. Abraham Schwarz) is now viewed as a significant slight towards women in general, and to the specific couple in particular.
  • The Hora, a dance in which the bride and groom hold opposite corners of a handkerchief while they are lifted up on chairs by the guests and whirled around.
  • The Krenzl, in which the bride’s mother is crowned with a wreath of flowers as her daughters dance around her (traditionally at the wedding of the mother’s last unwed daughter).
  • The Mizinke, a dance for the parents of the bride or groom when their last child is wed.
  • The gladdening of the bride, in which guests surround the bride and sing her praises.

Quaker Wedding Tradition and Customs

A traditional Quaker wedding ceremony in a Friends meeting is similar to any other Meeting for Worship, and therefore often very different from the experience expected by non-Friends.