Wedding customs are one of the primary cultural signifiers of a community. Rites and rituals associated with weddings are so steeped in the religious, cultural and anthropological values of the community that they are bound to seem strange and even at times bizarre to people from other parts of the world. Here are a few instances of wedding customs which figure quite high on the scale of the unique and the unusual.
In some parts of England, a bride is expected to wear a penny in her shoe in the hope that the marriage will bring prosperity to her in future.
Traditionally a Chinese wedding was preceded by a series of three letters. The first is supposed to be a request letter sent from the groom’s family to the bride’s family, as a formal request for the girl’s hand in marriage. The second one is a gift letter that accompanies the gifts of the groom’s family to the bride’s family shortly before the wedding. The third and final one in the series is the wedding letter given on the day of the wedding, formally accepting the bride into the groom’s family.
If you are afraid of loud noises, better beware of getting married in France. Here after the wedding reception, some of the invited guests may take their merry-making a step further and gather outside the newlyweds’ window and bang pots and pans. After a few minutes they are invited into the house for some more drinks in the couple’s honor, after which the couple is finally allowed to be alone together.
In Jewish weddings, the newlyweds are required to stand under the Chuppa, a canopy meant to provide sanctuary from evil spirits. As part of the wedding rituals, the groom stomps glass wrapped in cloth to symbolize the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. On another level, it could also be meant to symbolize life's mix of joy and sadness, something that the new couple should be prepared for as they start a life together.
Yet another country where wedding ceremonies prepare the newlyweds for ups and downs of life is Poland. Here the married couple is welcomed at the reception place by the parents with bread and salt. The bread symbolizes the prosperity, salt stands for hardship of life. Also families and friends of the couple prepare “passing gates” on the way to the reception for the newlyweds, who in order to pass have to give the “gate keepers” some vodka.
Japanese wedding ceremonies of the Shinto tradition require the bride to be painted pure white from head to toe implying that she is a maiden and has had no sexual contact previously. She also wears a white kimono and an elaborate head piece, further emphasizing her virginal status. During the ceremony, the bride wears a white hood to hide her "horns of jealousy" that she feels toward her mother-in-law. This is indicative of Japanese culture where women are expected to be gentle, obedient wives and accordingly submit themselves to the ways of their husbands’ families.
Marriages in Jamaica are community based where entire villages can turn up to take part in the wedding festivities. An interesting part of the wedding customs involves the bride walking down the main street of the village while everyone gathers there to watch the bride. Incredibly if the girl is not found to meet the villagers’ expectations, she is even publicly criticized.
In Islamic societies, the wedding ceremony is known as ‘nikah’. To most people from western cultures, it is quite strange since the bride and groom do not even come face to face while getting married. An official, usually a maulvi, goes to each room and asks the man and woman separately if they take each other in marriage. A marriage contract is then signed in front of witnesses. Once the contract is signed, the couple is brought together and declared man and wife.
At a wedding party in Germany friends and neighbors of the newlywed couple bring old dishes which are then broken as a symbol of good luck.
Czechoslovakian wedding ceremonies are centered on many fertility traditions. This is because in this culture, procreation is seen as one of the essential responsibilities of a couple. So before the marriage vows, a baby is placed in the couple's bed, to pray for their fertility. The bride is also given three dishes, symbolic of motherhood - wheat for fertility, millet mixed with ashes that she must sort through in order to prove her patience and in the third a sparrow hides under the lid, signifying the baby that is to be born of her.
In Norway a bride traditionally wears a white or silver wedding gown and along with that a silver or golden crown. Small spoon-shaped bangles that tinkle when moved hang from the crown. According to Norwegian legend, the music produced from these bangles help to ward off evil spirits and keep the bride as well as the couple safe.
In wedding ceremonies relating to west African Asante culture, jumping the broom signifies an important ritual. The broom in Ashanti and other Akan cultures is symbolic of sweeping away past wrongs or warding off evil spirits. This is why brooms are waved over the heads of marrying couples or the couple is asked to jump over the broom in an attempt to keep them safe from the evil eye. Jumping the broom also signifies the end of the wedding ceremony.
In Russia, all couples must have a civil ceremony if their wedding is to be legally recognized. However those belonging to the Orthodox church have rather interesting wedding customs. For instance couples getting married are crowned as royalty for the day. They stand on a special carpet to recite their vows, but before doing so, the newlyweds race to the carpet and the winner is often considered the head of the household.
Despite being a universal life event, weddings are widely differentiated by customs and rituals according to the various parts of the world where they originate. And yet almost everywhere, the common themes of health, procreation and prosperity of the newlywed couple are highlighted and upheld in the hope that they have a happy life together.