Weddings, a History – Part 1

A wedding is the ceremony in which two people are united in marriage or a similar institution. Wedding traditions and customs vary greatly between cultures, ethnic groups, religions, countries, and social classes. Most wedding ceremonies involve an exchange of wedding vows by the couple and a public proclamation of marriage by an authority figure or leader. Special wedding garments are often worn, and the ceremony is sometimes followed by a wedding reception. Music, poetry, prayers or readings from religious texts or literature are also commonly incorporated into the ceremony.

The use of a wedding ring has long been part of religious weddings in Europe and America, but the origin of the tradition is unclear. Historians like point out that belief in the “ancient” quality of the practice are most likely a modern invention. “Double ring” ceremonies are also a modern practice, a groom’s wedding band not appearing in the United States until the early 20th century.

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The wedding is often followed by a reception or wedding breakfast, in which the rituals may include speeches from the groom, best man, father of the bride and possibly the bride, the newlyweds first dance as spouses, and the cutting of a wedding cake.

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A number of cultures have adopted the traditional Western custom of the white wedding, in which a bride wears a white wedding dress and veil. This tradition was popularized through the wedding of Queen Victoria. Some say Victoria’s choice of a white gown may have simply been a sign of extravagance, but may have also been influenced by the values she held which emphasized purity. Within the modern ‘white wedding’ tradition, a white dress and veil are unusual choices for a woman’s second or subsequent wedding. The notion that a white gown might symbolize purity has been long abandoned.

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Different religions have different beliefs as regards the breakup of marriage. For example, the Roman Catholic Church believes that marriage is a sacrament and a valid marriage between two baptized persons cannot be broken by any other means than death. This means that civil divorcés cannot remarry in a Catholic marriage while their spouse is alive. In the area of nullity, religions and the state often apply different rules. A couple, for example, may begin the process to have their marriage annulled by the Catholic Church only after they are no longer married in the eyes of the civil authority.

Judaism, marriage is so important that remaining unmarried is deemed unnatural.

Islam also recommends marriage highly; among other things, it helps in the pursuit of spiritual perfection. Hinduism sees marriage as a sacred duty that entails both religious and social obligations. Buddhism does not encourage or discourage marriage, although it does teach how one might live a happily married life and emphasizes that marital vows are not to be taken lightly. Many Christian faiths emphasize the raising of children as a priority in a marriage. Most religions recognize a lifelong union with established ceremonies and rituals. Some religions permit polygamous marriages or same-sex marriages. The Baha’i Faith sees marriage as a foundation to the structure of society, and considers it both a physical and spiritual bond that endures into the afterlife.

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Weddings in Chinese Cultures

At traditional Chinese weddings, the Tea Ceremony is the equivalent of an exchange of vows at a Western wedding ceremony. This ritual is still practiced widely among rural Chinese, however young people in larger cities, as well as in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore, tend to practice a combination of Western style of marriage together with the Tea Ceremony.

When the bride leaves her home with the groom to his house, a “Good Luck Woman” will hold a red umbrella over her head, meaning “raise the bark, spread the leaves.” This “good luck woman” should be someone who is blessed with a good marriage, healthy children and husband and living parents. Other relatives will scatter rice, red bean and green bean in front of her. The red umbrella protects the bride from evil spirit, and the rice and beans are to attract the attention of the gold chicken.

Newlyweds kneel in front of parents presenting tea. A Good Luck Woman making the tea says auspicious phrases to bless the family. Newlyweds also present tea to each other, raising the tea cups high to show respect before presenting to each other.

Those who receive the tea usually give the bride gifts such as jewelry or Li Shi money wrapped in red envelope.

Tea Ceremony is an official ritual to introduce the newlyweds to each other’s family, and it’s a way for newlyweds to show respect and appreciation to their parents. The newlyweds kneel in front of their parents, serving tea to both sides of parents, as well as elder close relatives. Parents give their words of blessing and gifts to the newlyweds. During tea presentation, a “Good Luck Woman” would say auspicious phrases to bless the newlyweds and the parents. These auspicious words of blessing are designed to bless and amuse the family and make the occasion filled with fun and joy.

Christian Customs

Most Christian churches give some form of blessing to a marriage; the wedding ceremony typically includes some sort of pledge by the community to support the couple’s relationship. A church wedding is a ceremony presided over by a Christian priest or pastor. Ceremonies are based on reference to God, and are frequently embodied into other church ceremonies such as Mass.

Customs may vary widely between denominations. In the Roman Catholic Church “Holy Matrimony” is considered to be one of the seven sacraments, in this case one that the spouses bestow upon each other in front of a priest and members of the community as witnesses. As with all sacraments, it is seen as having been instituted by Jesus himself.

The wedding ceremony of Saint Thomas Christians, a group of Christians in India incorporate elements from Hindu, Jewish and Christian weddings.

Jewish Customs

Before the ceremony, the couple formalizes a written marriage contract, specifying the obligations of husband to the wife and contingencies in case of divorce. The Keetoowah is signed by two witnesses and later read under the chuppah.

The couple is married under a wedding canopy signifying their new home together. The chuppah can be made from a piece of cloth or other material attached to four poles, or a prayer shawl held over the couple by four family members or friends.

The couple is accompanied to the chuppah by both sets of parents, and stands under it along with other family members if desired. Seven blessings are recited, blessing the bride and groom and their new home. The couple will sip from a glass of wine. The groom will step on the glass to crush it, usually with his right foot, ostensibly in remembrance of the fall of the Second Temple. At some weddings the couple may declare that each is sanctified to the other, and/or repeat other vows, and exchange rings.

In Orthodox and traditional Jewish weddings, the bride does not speak under the chuppah and only she receives a ring. The groom recites: “behold you are sanctified to me by the Law of Moses and Israel” as he places the ring on the bride’s right index finger. The bride’s silence and acceptance of the ring signify her agreement to the marriage. This part of the ceremony is called Kiddush in. The groom’s giving an object of value to the bride is necessary for the wedding to be valid. The ceremony is followed by a wedding meal, as well as music and dancing. At the conclusion of the wedding meal, “Grace After Meals” is recited, as well as the seven wedding blessings. In more observant communities, the couple will celebrate for seven more days, called the seven blessings during which the seven wedding blessings are recited at every large gathering during this time.

A wedding is always a happy time for families to celebrate in the Muslim world; they are colorful, cultural variations from place to place. According to the Quran, a married couple, both husband and wife act as each other’s protector and comforter and are therefore only meant “for one another”.

All Muslim marriages have to be declared publicly and are never be undertaken in secret. For many Muslims, it is the ceremony that counts as the actual wedding alongside a confirmation of that wedding in a registry office according Islam a wedding is also viewed as a legal contract particularly in Islamic jurisprudences. However, most Muslim cultures separate both the institutions of the mosque and marriage, no religious official is necessary, but very often presides and performs the ceremony, he may deliver a short sermon. In Islam, polygamy is allowed with certain religious restrictions, despite that an overwhelming majority of Muslims traditionally practice monogamy.

It is forbidden in Islam for parents or anyone else: to force, coerce, or trick either man or woman into a marriage that is contrary to the individual will of any one of the couple. It is also necessary for all marriages commence with the best of intentions.

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