Cultural Wedding Traditions


The purpose of this section is simply to give an overview of some of our favorite cultural wedding traditions. Many of these traditions can be seen in various forms in more than one culture, and we do not mean to insinuate that these are the most important traditions of any particular culture. They are simply some of our favorites.


In the second section below we will give you some more general ways to incorporate the feeling of a particular culture into your day.


Feel free to use any of these traditions in your wedding or ceremony, regardless of your connection (or lack thereof) to any of the cultures mentioned. Traditions often have at their foundation ritual behaviors that are universal in their meaning. This is precisely why we see similar practices across many different groups of people. Also, feel free to change or modify these traditions. Use your imagination and get creative. Maybe you will develop a new tradition that one day becomes popular within your particular group or culture.


If you are looking for all the traditions of a particular culture or ethnic group, or if you would like to see a more comprehensive list of many country's or culture's practices, the internet has scores of wonderful and informative web sites that can provide this information.




African

One of the most common elements in many African-American weddings is "Jumping the Broom." This practice in its current form seems to have originated in the Deep South during the American Civil War when slave weddings were not permitted. In an effort to develop an alternative ceremony, the slaves incorporated jumping over a broom to possibly symbolize jumping from single life to married life (i.e., domestic life) or maybe even sweeping away the old to welcome the new.


Find your own meaning for this practice or even think about substituting a different item for the broom. We have heard of some cultures using a sword, a decorated pole (like a maypole) and even a row of flowers.


Buddhist

In many religions (both Asian and western), marriage is a sacrament and is considered an essential aspect of religious duty. Marriage in Buddhism, however, is purely a secular affair. A Buddhist's decision to wed is not affected by or intertwined with their faith or practice in any way. Marriage is considered a personal matter and there are no religious instructions indicating whether or not one should marry or even how a wedding ceremony should be conducted.


This does not mean, however, that Buddhist weddings do not exist. Since Buddhism tends to take on much of the flavor and traditions of the local culture, Buddhist communities throughout the world have assembled some truly inspired wedding ceremonies, mostly out of Asian and Buddhist rituals.


A typical wedding on the subcontinent would begin at a local temple where the couple separately asks for the blessings of Buddha, and in some areas, ask for the blessings of the ancestors. Both bride and groom would then change into outfits traditional to their region.


In the west, however, Buddhist wedding traditions don't require the use of a temple's shrine room. For these traditions, the wedding location might be equipped with a makeshift shrine to Buddha featuring candles, flowers, incense and maybe even a statue or image of Buddha and the ceremony itself may include prayers, lighting candles or incense and the presentation or scattering of flowers.


Other elements one might find include readings from one of the Buddhist scriptures, some version of a handfasting (a number of Buddhist cultures have a form of handfasting), an exchange of rings, the five precepts and blessings for the couple. Generally, the wording of the ceremony would heavily reflect the Buddhist tenets of compassion, helping ease other’s suffering and deep mutual respect.


Chinese

Red is the traditional color of luck, good fortune and joy in China. Therefore, most brides are seen wearing a red wedding dress on their wedding day. How beautiful!


Frankly, we don't really care for the stark white that Americans choose for their wedding dress. We think it is bland and un-exciting. When we think of love, joy, happiness, marriage, we think of laughter, sunshine, flowers; we think of COLOR!


An interesting note is that we are starting to see the addition of red as well as a variety of other colors on many wedding dresses in the west now. Look through any bridal magazine and you will see red inlays, red embroidery and red sashes just to name a few. Some of the more progressive designers like Maggie Sottero also design wedding dresses in many gorgeous shades, including of course, red.


If you're not quite ready to actually wear a red wedding dress, find ways of incorporating red into the day in new and creative ways...not just roses...to bring a little good fortune to your marriage.


Dutch

A beautiful Dutch custom is to create a wedding "wish tree". At the reception a beautiful tree branch is placed next to the bride and groom's table. (Maybe you could spray paint the branch gold or silver or one of the colors from the wedding.) Then paper leaves attached to pieces of colorful ribbon are placed at each guest's place setting. Guests write their special wish for the happy couple on their leaves and throughout the reception, come up and tie the leaf to the branch. Or the guests could deposit them in a basket at the head table for the bride and groom to read and then hang on the tree.


French

A longstanding tradition at French wedding receptions is for the couple to toast from a two handled cup made specifically for that purpose called the "coup de marriage" (cup of marriage.) These wedding cups or goblets are often intricately carved and are considered family heirlooms and handed down from generation to generation.


We have seen modern ones made from pottery as well as magnificently carved silver ones. Find one with your personality or have one made for you. These look beautiful on a mantle or as a centerpiece.


German

Interestingly enough, the Germans have a very similar tradition to the coup de marriage. It is commonly referred to as the wedding cup or bridal cup.


The German wedding cup dates back to 1450 and a little town in Southern Germany called Nuernberg. Legend has it that a noble mistress fell in love with a (lowly) goldsmith of whom her wealthy father, a powerful nobleman, did not approve. In an effort to thwart their relationship, the father presented the goldsmith with a challenge to produce a cup that two people could drink from at the same time and yet neither would spill a drop. Of course, the father was sure the young man could not accomplish the task. However, as one can guess, love inspired the goldsmith to create a cup of such clever and beautiful design, that he won the hand of his true love. And so was born one of our favorite German wedding traditions.


If you would like to read the story of the German bridal cup in its entirety and/or see some of these exquisite cups, go here: http://www.german-toasting-glasses.com/bridal_cups/nuernberg_bridal_cup_story.html


Another wonderful German tradition is for the bride to carry lengths of white ribbon with her bouquet, and after the church ceremony is over and the guests are leaving the church, she hands each driver a ribbon that they tie to the car radio antenna.


Feel free to use whatever color ribbon you would like. How neat would it be to see a line of cars driving down the street with blue, or pink or yellow ribbons streaming from their antenna? And with today's technology, you can likely get the ribbons printed with your names and the date of the wedding.


Greek

At an Orthodox ceremony, the priest places gold crowns or wreathes made of orange blossoms on the heads of the bride and groom. For the rest of the day, the couple is honored as the king and queen.


How fitting that the bride and groom should be treated like a king and queen on their wedding day? We think this would be so much fun and the couple would look so nice. Many brides wear a tiara in lieu of a veil anyway (yeah!), so the couple is already halfway there.


Hawaiian

The lei is the Hawaiian symbol of love and aloha. The custom of giving and receiving leis at weddings began long ago in Hawaii's history. During the ceremony the Kahuna Pule (religious man) binds the hands of the bride and groom with Maile leis as a symbol of the couple's commitment to each other.


The fragrant Maile lei is considered to be the oldest type of lei in the tradition of Hawaiian lei making and comes from a rare vine that grows in remote areas of the Hawaiian mountains.


A Maile lei symbolizes good luck and prosperity and so is a must for brides and grooms in a Hawaiian Wedding. In addition, Hawaiian brides typically wear a crown of flowers rather than a veil, hat or headband. There are many great sites all over the web where you can order fresh Hawaiian leis for your wedding and they ship overnight to boot.


Hispanic

In the Hispanic tradition, the groom gives the bride thirteen gold coins, called arras, as a symbol of his unquestionable trust and confidence. He pledges that he places all of his goods into her care and safekeeping. Acceptance by the bride means taking that trust and confidence unconditionally with total dedication and prudence.


While the custom of the coins originated in Spain, it is practiced in many Hispanic countries around the world. Often presented in ornate boxes or gift trays, the coins represent the bride's dowry and holds good wishes for prosperity. These coins become a part of their family heirloom which the bride then hands down to her son to give to his wife.


Traditionally, this ritual takes place near the end of the ceremony. The groom pours the coins into the bride's cupped hands and places the box on top. This represents his giving her control as mistress of all his worldly goods. In the Philippines, the priest pours the coins into the cupped hands of the groom, who lets the coins cascade into his bride's cupped hands, who lets them cascade into a tray or container. It's a very pretty effect, looking very much like a waterfall of coins.


For the most part, a groom in modern times is not expected to support the bride, nor in most cases is he purchasing the bride. So nowadays, the coins are taking on the meaning of the bride and groom sharing their worldly possessions and the financial responsibilities of the marriage. In the Filipino culture, the coins represent the couple's commitment to mutually contribute to their relationship, their children, and their community. (Maybe the bride and groom could each put in half of the coins?)


Also, coins are a universal symbol for prosperity, and what marriage couldn't use that blessing? Maybe you could have each guest drop a coin into a specially designated box to represent their wishes for your prosperity.


Another great idea is to place the box of coins on the desk where you pay your bills. This would incorporate the energy of prosperity and good fortune directly into the activity that most represents your marital finances.


Indian (Hindu)

There truly is no standardized Hindu wedding ritual or tradition. Each region of the country and Hindus who live in places other than India all have very different practices. However, we have come across a few that we particularly like that seem to be common to many.


The first is a ritual called Jaimala or the Exchange of Garlands. During the ceremony, the couple exchanges flower garlands as a gesture of acceptance of one another and a pledge to respect one another as partners. It is also a symbol of love. The garlands are usually constructed of marigolds, lotus, jasmine and roses.


The second is more of a general practice of having lots and lots of flower petals at the wedding. To the Hindu, flowers are considered symbolic of life and happiness and are therefore an important aspect of any worship and definitely in a wedding. The couple is showered with petals during and after the wedding as a blessing and a wish for a happy life, and in some instances to ward of evil spirits. The petals most used in weddings are red rose petals.


Irish

The chime of bells is thought to keep evil spirits away, restore harmony if a couple is fighting, and also remind a couple of their wedding vows. Giving a bell as a gift has become an Irish tradition.


In some of the weddings we have performed, we have included the Irish wedding bell in the actual ceremony. First, the bell is rung after the bride and groom say their vows to each other. Then something is said along the lines of: "As you hear the beautiful chime of this bell, think about the words you have spoken to each other this day. Place this bell in a place of prominence wherever you make your home. And should you argue, one of you is to retrieve the bell and ring it, reminding both of you of this moment; of the promises you made; and of the love that brought you together in the first place."


You could also hand out tiny bells to your guests as wedding favors. Guests could ring their little bells at the reception instead of the harsh (IOHO) clinking of glasses. (You might want to let them know when they're supposed to be rung - perhaps mention it in your program along with an explanation of the custom).


Italian

As a way to raise funds for the couple's honeymoon, the groom's tie is cut into pieces and sold to the wedding guests at the reception as a memento of the day.


To add some fun to this tradition, and to make more money for the honeymoon, purchase a number of ties that look exactly the same and cut them all up into pieces to sell at the reception. This would work especially well if you were having many guests, as each guest would be able to get a piece of the tie. Also, if anyone caught on that there were too many pieces for just one tie, it would make for a funny story.


Jewish

The Jewish wedding ceremony takes place under the chupah (canopy), a symbol of the home to be built and shared by the couple and in a more general sense, shelter and protection. It is open on all sides to symbolize how their home will be open always to welcome friends and relatives in unconditional hospitality.


Actually, many cultures use a structure similar to the chupah. To the Hindus, it is a mandap. The French couple sits under a carre, a silk cloth held over their heads to protect them from evil. Some are decorated with draped fabric, some with plants and flowers, but whatever adorns these open structures, the result is always beautiful. What a fitting symbol of the new home this couple will establish together.


In the wedding procession, the bride and groom are escorted by both parents down the aisle. In modern times, this makes more sense to us than the bride being brought by her father alone and the groom already being at the altar (sort of appears out of no where like magic!) having been escorted by no one.


Prior to the actual wedding ceremony, the groom signs a document called the Ketubah, or marriage contract. The document, historically written in Aramaic, originally outlined the husband's obligations to his wife in marriage, and by signing it he pledged to provide for her support in case of divorce or death.


In today's day and age, couples are choosing to modernize the custom of the Ketubah to make it more relevant and meaningful to their lives. The document now includes a vow of commitment from both the bride and the groom, plus a declaration of the couple's dedication to God and the Jewish people. Signed by the bride and groom, their rabbi, and two witnesses, today's Ketubah is a statement of the couple's loyalty not only to each other, but also to their faith. The Ketubah is often an elaborately decorated document that the couple frames and keeps in their home and is now usually written in both English and Hebrew.


If you have never seen a Ketubah, please go out on the web and find some examples. They are extremely beautiful and we are always moved by their ability to capture the momentousness of the occasion.


Our suggestion is to partake of this custom whether or not you are Jewish. Any couple could easily substitute their wedding vows, along with any other significant and/or personal information they wish to include on one of these documents (and many websites have provisions to do just that.)


Moravian

The Moravians have a simple yet beautiful wedding tradition. The bride and groom begin by lighting a single, large candle. The flame is then passed along to each guest who holds a handmade beeswax candle. Each guest lights the candle of the person next to them until all the candles are lit.


This is a wonderful way to involve everyone and results in a warm, candlelit room, church, or chapel in which to hold the ceremony.


One way modern couples have adapted this custom is to enter the ceremony area/aisle together, each holding a lit candle. As they walk down the aisle, the bride and groom light the candle of the person sitting at the end of each row. That person then lights the candle of the person next to them, etc. on down the row. By the time the bride and groom reach the front of the room all the candles should be lit. The couple can place their candles into holders and use them in the Unity Candle Ceremony if they wish.


Obviously, this is not very practical for weddings with a large number of guests, nor probably one held outside. But for the smaller, indoor ceremony the effect is lovely. Also, many places have rules against candles and/or fire, so check with your location first.


Native American

There really is no single Native American wedding ceremony. Native American is a term that refers to literally hundreds of tribes, each with their own traditions and beliefs. And despite what one might think, the wedding traditions of each can be VERY different.


There are however, some practices that have come to the fore-front in the last half century or so that seem to represent a fair spectrum of modern Native American wedding traditions. Even among the tribes themselves, it is said that some of the elements from other tribes are making their way into their modern wedding celebrations.


Our absolute favorites include the blanket ceremony and the Native American wedding vase, both with similar symbolism to many of the unity elements found in Westernized ceremonies.


In the blanket ceremony, two blue blankets are used to represent the couple’s lives before the marriage. Each is wrapped in their own blanket. Towards the end of the ceremony or after the “joining” part of the ceremony, relatives of the couple, often the mothers or grandmothers, step forward, remove the blue blankets and drape the couple in one white blanket. The white blanket is kept by the couple and proudly displayed in their home.


The Native American wedding vase is a beautiful object with equally beautiful symbolism. While each vase has its own personality and artwork, the shape of the vase remains basically the same. Two separate spouts represent the bride and groom; an arched piece unites the two spouts and represents the marriage that unites the couple, and the one body of the vase below the spouts represents the one path that lies before them.


If you wish to have a wedding ceremony recognized by a specific tribe or performed by an authentic elder, priest or clergy from that tribe, you really must contact the tribe itself to inquire how that would be done.


However, if you wish to incorporate specific or general Native American elements into your wedding ceremony in an authentic way, then you’ve come to the right place! Rev. Ari does have Native American ancestry and is ordained by First Nation Church, a traditions-based Native American religious organization.


You can find more information at The Manataka American Indian Council website, which has a wonderful on-line reference for couples interested in American Indian wedding ceremonies.


Persian

For Iranians marriage is considered to be an event, which must be celebrated not quietly but with glory and distinction. It is the most conspicuous of all the rituals and must be celebrated in the presence of an assembly, which can bear witness to the event.


The ceremony takes place in a specially decorated room with flowers and a beautiful and elaborately decorated spread on the floor called "Sofreh-ye Aghd". Traditionally Sofreh-ye Aghd is set on the floor facing east, the direction of sunrise (light). Consequently, when the bride and bridegroom are seated at the head of Sofreh-ye Aghd, they will be facing "The Light".


While the Persian wedding ceremony has many visually stunning aspects, our two favorite parts are during the service, happily married female relatives of the couple (mainly the bride) hold over the couple's head a fine scarf or shawl made out of silk or other fine fabric and the couple feeding each other honey after their vows to represent a sweet life.


To see more details about a Persian wedding as well as watch a video clip complete with traditional Persian music, go to: http://www.farsinet.com/persian_wedding/


Philippines

Filipino Weddings reflect the strong traditions of family and extended family and so incorporates considerable symbolism in this area. Filipino wedding ceremonies typically involve many people, and the wedding rituals are usually tailored to the couple personally.


Beyond the usual bridal party, the Filipino wedding includes other people who are significant in the couple's life. These participants take on the role of either Principal Sponsors or Secondary Sponsors to the couple.


The Principal Sponsors, also called Ninang and Ninong, are women and men whom the bride and groom respect and admire. They are, as in the early days of the Church, sponsors of the couple attesting to their readiness for marriage and freedom to marry. These are often aunts and uncles or close friends of the family and in the Philippines, they are the official witnesses of the state and sign the marriage license as such. Outside of the Philippines, their participation is symbolic of the wisdom and support they shall offer the new couple. The number of sponsors can vary from a single couple to many couples. The Principal sponsors are part of the bridal procession and at the nuptial blessing they may be invited to come up with the celebrant and to extend their right hands to join in the prayer of blessing.


There are four sets of Secondary Sponsors consisting of women and men whom the couple chooses to involve in their ceremony because of their close affinity or friendship with them. The four groups are the Coin Sponsors, the Veil Sponsors, the Cord Sponsors and the Candle Sponsors.


A great place to read more about Filipino wedding traditions and the sponsors is here: http://www.mybarong.com/mybarong/fil.html


Polish

The sharing of bread, salt and wine is an important element in Polish weddings. At the reception, the parents of the bride and groom greet them with bread that is lightly sprinkled with salt and a goblet of wine.


The bread signifies the hope that the couple will never hunger or be in need. The salt is to remind the couple that their life may be difficult at times and they must learn to cope with life's struggles. The wine signifies the hope that the couple will never thirst and represents the wish that they have a sweet life; a life of good health and good cheer and share the company of many good friends.


The parents then kiss the newly married couple as a sign of welcome, unity and love.


This could easily be incorporated near the end of any ceremony maybe in place of the unity candle. There wouldn't be a dry eye in the place!


Another Polish tradition is that of the silver coin. The bride and groom hold a silver coin between their right hands together to represent "May you be wealthy and with good health and may you never suffer financial distress."


Quaker

In the Quaker tradition, everyone present at the wedding signs the wedding certificate as a promise to help the newlyweds grow as a couple. Then, as in the Jewish faith, the certificate is hung in a prominent place in the new household as a beautiful memento of the occasion.


Scandinavian

While this might seem strange to those of us in the west, we thought this was really a nice gesture. There is a lovely Danish tradition, if the bride or groom have deceased parents, whereby the bride places her bouquet at the grave after the ceremony. In fact, it is not unusual to see wedding parties in a cemetery.


We sincerely doubt that we'll be seeing any wedding parties in our area at a cemetery any time soon, but maybe the bride could have a special smaller bouquet made that can be placed at the grave on a designated day after the ceremony. What a touching way to remember those particularly special people who have passed on and who you know would have enjoyed the wedding. And it wouldn't have to be limited to just parents, but could be done for a deceased grandparent or a particularly close aunt, etc.


Scottish

The obvious element to add some Scottish flair to your wedding would be to hire a bagpipe musician to play your procession and/or recession. If you have never actually witnessed this before, you have truly missed something beautiful.


One of our absolutely favorite Scottish traditions however, is just after the bride and groom exchange vows (or after the ring ceremony if you prefer) the groom drapes a shawl of his clan's tartan over the shoulder of the bride.


If you wanted to make this particular tradition more modern, the bride could make (or have made) a gift for the groom in her clan's tartan and present it to him at the same time. A scarf would work perfectly in this case, and could be draped loosely around his neck. This would signify the welcoming of both parties into the other's clan.


Welsh

Probably the best known Welsh wedding custom is the carving of a wooden "love spoon." This tradition, which is still practiced today, began centuries ago when most Welsh men spent a lot of time at sea. A man who wished to marry would carve a wooden spoon with various symbols such as hearts, bells or keys which represented his promises of love, wealth, devotion and so on. Upon returning home from the sea, he would then give the spoon to his beloved, showing his intention to marry her.


One of the many retail sites on the web that sells Welsh love spoons is: http://www.welsh-lovespoons.co.uk/english/index.html. These people have also developed love spoon jewelry. So if the groom is not much of a carver, or does not feel that a wooden spoon is quite the right gift, he can give his bride a gold or silver love spoon pendant or earrings. This website also explains some of the meanings for the symbols found on love spoons as well as a history of the love spoon.


For those "purists" in the group, here is a website that teaches you how to carve your own Welsh love spoon: http://www.carvingpatterns.com/spoons/spoons-1.htm


General Ideas

As stated in the opening paragraphs, this section contains some more general ideas to incorporate the feel of a particular culture into your wedding day without using any specific component or ritual.

  • Music - Since music is typically a part of both the ceremony and reception, it is very easy to create the ambiance of a specific culture by playing traditional music and/or having traditional musicians and instruments.

  • Clothing - You can either reproduce an entire authentic costume, or just elements of it. Even something as simple as using the colors, patterns or fabrics associated with the costume or culture can add to the effect you are trying to create. Don't forget headdresses and carried items, such as bouquets, purses or holy books.

  • Symbols or Designs - Many cultures have distinct symbols, emblems or designs that have come to be associated with them. For example, think of Ireland, and one usually thinks of Shamrocks, Celtic knots and the Claddaugh. If you included these designs in say, your invitations, your table décor or even your wedding dress, it would be fairly obvious that you are somehow connected to Ireland or the Irish culture. Bring up the name of a country or culture on the web and see what symbols they use on their home page. Often, these are the most common representations of that culture. Also look to things such as the national flag of the country, the national bird, flower or religion for additional ideas.

  • Food - This is probably one of the easiest ways to incorporate the feel of a particular culture into your celebration. Many countries have very distinct culinary dishes, some specifically associated with weddings. If you have older relatives in your family, you might turn to them for suggestions, recipes and even assistance in cooking some of these traditional foods. Don't forget drink as well in this category. Be authentic!!!

  • Poetry or Blessings - Most cultures have poems and blessings about love and marriage. Some are famous the world over and others are known only within that culture. Have someone read one of these poems or blessings during the ceremony to incorporate the essence of a particular culture. To make it even more meaningful, have a beloved older family member read the poem or blessing in the mother tongue (or with the accent as in the case of Irish, Scottish, British, etc.) Then either another family member or the same one could read it in English. Another variation of this idea would be to learn how to recite your vows in the language of your partner/partner's family. How touching would that be? (And how many brownie points would you earn?) This idea could also be applied at the reception with toasts to the bride and groom.

There are far too many wedding traditions in the world or ways to include elements of them in your wedding to possibly list all of them here. Hopefully this list will get you thinking about the ways you might want to include cultural touches in your wedding or reception, or even simply trigger your creativity to come up with something completely new or original. Have fun with it. Your wedding day should be a festive celebration and ultimately a joyful memory.

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