People around the world vary in the ways they approach everything. Language, dining habits, dress and social structure can vary wildly from one country to the next. It comes as no surprise, then, that the cultural traditions and customs used in weddings would vary from place to place as well.
Incorporating some of your family’s heritage into your wedding can be a beautiful or fun nod to your ancestry. Be sure to explain any uncommon customs in your program or at the reception so your guests can fully appreciate them with you. Below are some customs from different countries and parts of the world. These are brief descriptions, so do your research and find something that fits and represents you and your intended.
A common blessing stated to the bride is “may thoust bear 12 children with him”. Plaited grass is still used to bind the wrists of the newlywed couple. Weddings in Africa are based largely on family and oftentimes the groom must pay his brides family in cattle or by other means for their loss of labor when he claims his bride. In some regions a man may take multiple wives if he can care for them all. Arranged marriages are still very common with some girl’s husbands being decided before they are even born. Divorce is rare and any problems are often discussed among both families to help the couple find a solution.
A thick wool blanket was wrapped around the bride by the groom to symbolize that he would love, protect and provide for her.
Early African American brides believed Tuesdays and Wednesdays were the only days to wed. They believed these days would guarantee them a long life and happy marriage.
Newlyweds in Bermuda plant a small tree or shrubbery believing that as it grows and strengthens so will their love.
In Belgium, brides carry a handkerchief embroidered with their name which is then framed until the next bride in the family adds her name.
The couple’s glasses for their wedding toast are joined with a red ribbon before they drink. The ribbon symbolizes love and joy while the drink symbolizes their unity. Bright red is a common color of theme in Chinese weddings to symbolize love and luck for the new couple.
Rosemary is included either in the bouquet or worn in a wreath on the bride’s head to symbolize wisdom love and loyalty.
Country brides in England would often walk to the church on a carpet of blossoms and petals laid out by her guests and attendants to symbolize a happy path through life. Something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue is an old nursery rhyme that got its start in England and the surrounding countries. Some brides today still swear by it though much of the original meaning has been lost. Something old was symbolic of continuity. The old item was often a piece of lace or a grandmother’s scarf or an old piece of jewelry. Something new signifies hope for the future, and can be anything from a piece of clothing to the wedding band itself. Something borrowed is symbolic of future happiness and is often provided by a happily married friend of the bride. And finally, something blue symbolized purity and loyalty.
In Finland they have a traditional way of predicting the next bride. Instead of the bride tossing a bouquet, she wears a crown during the ceremony. After the ceremony she is, at one point, blindfolded while unmarried women dance around her. It is said whomever she crowns will be the next to be wed. The bride may collect her presents walking house to house with a pillowcase. She does this before the wedding and accompanied by an older, married man for protection.
The French couple drinks their wedding toast from a single two handed cup. This “coupe de marriage” is often passed to future generations.
On the eve of the wedding, friends of the bride smash pottery at her door in Germany. The loud noise is said to avert bad luck. To be sure of future bliss, the bride must sweep it up by herself. The tradition of the best man was started in Germany where grooms sometimes had to kidnap or rescue their brides form a neighboring village. Their best man would assist them the night before the wedding and help to deter any family members that may try to take her back.
In Greek weddings the couple holds decorated candles throughout the ceremony.
In Guatemala the bride’s attendants also wear all white. The couple is bound with a silver cord to symbolize their union. As in many Central American countries the bride may dance or waltz on her approach up the aisle with a male older family member.
Hollands (Netherlands region)
In the Netherlands the bride and groom are often placed on thrones or places of honor under an evergreen canopy to promote everlasting love. This is done on the eve of the wedding and guests approach the couple one by one to offer good wishes and gifts.
Indian weddings are several day affairs filled with culture and tradition. They are more about joining the two families than the individuals involved. Tradition is often followed in arranging the marriage right up until the bride is sent from her father’s home to that of her new husband. At the end of the actual wedding ceremony the groom’s brother may sprinkle flower petals on the couple to promote prosperity and fertility.
In Persian times the Iranian groom would purchase yards of white sheeting in which his bride was to be wrapped. It was traditionally 10 yards though it varied. This was worn by the bride in lieu of a wedding dress.
In Ireland December 31st is considered the luckiest day to be married.
One tradition in Israeli has survived the centuries. In this tradition the marriage contract is written and decorated beautifully with borders and bible verses to be displayed in the marriage home.
In Roman times, Italian couples would walk through their village handing out cakes, sweets and small trinkets. Italian weddings are very lavish affairs and guests usually give the young couple money in lieu of gifts.
In Japan the bride and groom would take 9 sips of sake. They were said to become husband and wife after the first sip with the subsequent sips strengthening their bond and making it last for all eternity.
The parents of the wedding couple serve the couple on their wedding day. They are served wine for joy, salts for tears and bread for work. These items are said to be symbols of the married life of the young couple.
A white silk cord is sometimes draped on the couple to physically symbolize their union. This is sometimes substituted with a rosary. The couple may also dance in a heart shaped ring formed by their guests in Mexico. Piñatas are included in Mexican weddings as well. The wedding piñata is traditionally a white heart shaped one and the candy is shared with all the guests.
A white silk cord custom is practiced in the Philippines as well as in Mexico. All wedding expenses are met by the groom’s family, who give the bride old coins symbolizing prosperity. The bride’s family presents the newlyweds with a cash dowry.
In Poland the bride’s bouquet is sprinkled with sugar to keep her temper sweet. The bride also wears an embroidered apron over her dress for guests to discreetly slip money into the pockets. The Polish also recognize bread, salt and wine as symbols of married life and a newlywed couple will often be presented with all three. Bread represents the work and fruits of married life, salt the trials and wine the joy.
In Romania the couple gives their guests gifts rather than the other way around. All guests except family receive gifts from the happy couple. The bridal dance is sometimes done at midnight according to tradition.
In traditional weddings in Spain the bride wears a mantilla and orange blossoms. The groom wears a shirt that was hand embroidered by his bride to be. The Spanish bride is accompanied on the day of her wedding by her father. His role is to ensure the groom does not see his bride before the ceremony and also to escort her down the aisle. In Spanish weddings, the groom also walks down the aisle, usually accompanied by his mother, rather than just waiting at the altar.
Brides in Sweden carry fragrant herbs in their bouquets to frighten trolls, dwarfs and other mischievous creatures. Grooms may have thyme stitched into their suits for this same purpose. Swedish wives wear three rings. The traditional engagement and wedding rings and a third ring to symbolize motherhood and fertility. The third ring is place on her hand at the wedding ceremony by the groom. The tradition of coins in a bride’s show may have originated in Sweden where a bride’s mother would give her a gold coin for one shoe and her father a silver for the other. It was meant to ensure their daughter would never have to deal with poverty.
In Switzerland the junior attendants travel in front of the couple tossing colored handkerchiefs to the guest. It is tradition for whoever catches one to contribute to the couple’s nest egg. Sometimes attendants, instead, go ahead of the couple to the reception and give a handkerchief to all of the guests. The guests then place their monetary gifts into a basket which is presented to the happy couple. The bride in the traditional Swiss wedding wears a crown or wreath on her head that represents her maidenhood and youth. The wreath is removed and burned after the couple exchange vows. It is said to be good luck if it burns quickly.
The bride in Wales gives her attendants cuttings of myrtle. If one blooms it is said to predict another wedding. It is a marriage custom, in Wales, for the bride’s family to kidnap her just before the wedding ceremony. The groom and his family follow in pursuit and whoever rescues the bride-to-be will marry within a year.
A little bit of research can uncover countless traditions that symbolize your heritage and some you just absolutely love! As long as you explain them to your guests any one of them can be an appropriate addition to your ceremony. Throughout history cultures have blended and traditions evolved. Why not choose what you love best for your wedding? Who knows maybe you will start a new trend.
Read more about wedding traditions and origins in our Wednesday blog, Wedding Traditions and Their Origins from at Home and Around the World. Which Ones are Right for You – Part 1