Wedding Traditions Around the World
There are more to weddings than bouquet tosses and cake cuttings.
Almost every culture celebrates marriage — it is a joyful event symbolizing the coming together of two people and their families. While some traditions remain similar across cultures, every country has its own unique traditions. Below, we have compiled 30 of the loveliest and most interesting ways to say "I do" from cultures around the world.
1. Ireland — Strawboys and Heavy Feet
Traditional Celtic ceremonies have many old customs to choose from — wearing old shoes (a sign of fertility), eating an Irish wedding cake (a fruitcake doused in brandy) and having harvest knot wedding favors (a symbol of devotion). But by far the most fun is the tradition of the strawboys, where young men disguised in straw costumes and hats storm the wedding dance and demand a dance with the bride. The boys sing, tell jokes and burn their costumes at the end of the reception in a blazing bonfire. The lighthearted custom is thought to bring good luck and fortune to the couple.
Another custom dictates that the bride's feet must never leave the floor when dancing or else spirits might whisk her away, which raises the stakes for the first dance.
2. France — Cream Puffs and Toilet Bowls
Instead of a wedding cake, a traditional French reception will often feature a "croquembouche," a tower built of cream-filled puff pastries. The desserts are stacked in a tall cone-shaped pile and are surrounded by caramelized sugar.
But the reception does not end with the cake. One old tradition forced the couple to drink alcohol from a brand-new chamber pot to give them strength for the wedding night. A modern spin on the tradition involves a toilet-shaped bowl, chocolate, champagne and a lot of laughter.
3. South Korea — Wooden Ducks
Forget flowers — in ancient South Korean weddings, the groom would give his new mother-in-law a pair of ducks or geese. The gesture was a way to show his fidelity, since both types of birds mate for life. Now, you might see a bride and groom exchange wooden ducks during a ceremony. The birds are often hand-carved by a cherished member of the community, chosen by the couple. The gesture remains, but without the upkeep of real birds.
Another custom involves beating the groom's feet after the ceremony. His shoes and socks are quickly removed by eager groomsmen, and his family along with the wedding party take turns hitting the soles of his feet with a cane, stick or even a fish. While they strike his feet, the guests quiz the groom to test his knowledge.
4. India — Stealing the Groom's Shoes
In traditional Indian ceremonies, the bride and groom remove their shoes before entering the "mandap" canopy where the priest will marry them. The bride's female relatives spring into action — they steal the groom's shoes (called "joota") and hide them somewhere near the venue. This tradition, called "Joota Chupai," involves both sides of the family. While the bride's relatives keep the shoes hidden, the groom's family tries to help him find his missing footwear — he cannot leave the venue until he is wearing his shoes. The mischievous ritual typically ends with the groom paying a "ransom" to retrieve his joota, and is meant to bond both sides of the family.
5. Guatemala — Breaking a Bell
During a Guatemalan reception, the newlyweds arrive in style. When the couple enters the venue, it is customary for the mother of the groom to stand and show the guests a white ceramic bell. She then breaks it, and the crowd cheers as its contents — typically grains such as flour and rice — spill onto the floor. The ritual brings the couple prosperity and luck and marks the beginning of the reception.
6. Denmark — Cutting the Sock
After a Danish ceremony, the happy couple and their guests move to a lively reception. Traditionally, during the party, the groom will be hoisted into the air by all of the male guests. One of them pulls out a pair of scissors, pulls off the groom's shoes and cuts off the end of one of the groom's socks. The chosen foot is his "frierfødder," or the foot he knelt on to propose, and the custom is supposed to indicate his fidelity to his new bride.
7. Scotland — The Blackening
Nothing says "wedding" like being pelted with garbage. In old Scottish weddings, the groom and bride were kidnapped by friends and family the night before their wedding. The couple was tied up, and their friends took aim. Everything from molasses to ash and flour was thrown at the couple before finishing up with a dusting of feathers. This ancient Scottish custom is making a modern comeback and is thought to bring good luck to the bride and groom — although it seems to bring more joy to the guests than the poor couple.
8. Peru — A Ring Pull
In Peruvian weddings, the cake is not cut by the couple. First, all single female guests gather around the cake and claim one of the many white ribbons draped from its center. One of the ribbons is attached to ring baked into the cake — whichever guest pulls the ribbon with the ring is the next girl to be married.
9. Norway — Almond Cakes and Future Children
If you are invited to a traditional Norwegian wedding, expect to see a "kransekakes," a tower made from iced almond cakes. The pastries are baked in a ring shape and form a cone when stacked. Iced in delicate ripple patterns, the cakes can be topped with flowers, and the couple can fill the hollow center with gifts or even a bottle of wine. During the reception, the newlyweds will lift the top ring together. Folk legend says that however many rings stick to the bottom indicates the number of children the couple will have.
10. Germany — Pull out the Saw (and Plates)
In Germany, the ceremony does not end with "I do." As they leave the church, the couple marches outside and grabs a two-person saw. The German tradition of "Baumstamm Sägen" requires the newlyweds to saw through a log together, which represents the first obstacle the couple will face and overcome in their marriage. With friends and family cheering them on, the bride and groom must demonstrate their teamwork and strength to cut through the wood.
Another vibrant German tradition is the "Polterabend." Translated as "eve of making a racket," the ritual typically occurs the night before the wedding. Friends and family gather in front of the bride's or groom's home — or both — and joyfully shatter porcelain on the street. After the smashing has finished, the bride and groom are handed brooms — the guests stay to cheer and watch the couple work together to clean up the mess. Besides warding off bad luck, the tradition symbolizes how the couple must work together in marriage. Be careful not to break glass, however, unless you want to wish ill-luck on the newlyweds.
11. South Africa — Symbols of Life
During a traditional South African wedding, 12 symbolic items are incorporated into the ceremony — wine, wheat, salt, pepper, bitter herbs, water, a pot and spoon, a shield, a spear, honey, a broom and a holy book such as the Quran or Bible. Every item signifies an element of married life. For example, wheat symbolizes fertility for the marriage, the spear represents the protection of the union and the wine points to the mixing of two families.
In some weddings, the bride and groom's families bring a lighted torch to the newlywed's home. Using fire from their childhood homes, the families light the first fire in the couple's hearth, signifying a new life built on a solid foundation.
12. Japan — All White
In a traditional Shinto ceremony, the bride goes beyond a white dress. Dressed in a lavish white kimono, the bride is white from head to toe — even her makeup is white. Her white hood signifies her maidenhood and covers her "horns of jealousy" — according to legend, a new bride will always feel envy towards her new mother-in-law. After the ceremony, guests attend a reception and are expected to give the new couple gifts of money. In return, they receive a "hikidemono," or wedding favor.
13. Sweden — Bridal Crowns and Stolen Kisses
Stemming from old customs to ward off bad luck, a Swedish bride traditionally wears a lovely silver-and-gold crown on her wedding day. Small, dainty charms hang from the crown, and the graceful sounds are said to deflect evil spirits. At the beginning of the ceremony, the bride and groom walk the aisle together. During the reception, every time the bride or groom leaves the room, guests are allowed to swarm the remaining newlywed and steal a kiss.
14. China — Bring out the Tissues
For the Tujia culture in southern China, the month before the wedding is filled with tears. Four weeks before her wedding, the bride-to-be begins to cry for one hour every night. After she has cried for 10 nights, her mother joins in — 10 days later, her grandmother starts to weep with them as well. In the last week, every female relative is expected to join the crying vigil for an hour every night. The women can sing through their tears in a "Crying Marriage Song" — the sound is a beautiful expression of grief and joy as the different tones of the women merge in song and weeping.
15. Venezuela — Sneaking Away
In Venezuelan weddings, the reception does not end with guests lining up to send off the happy couple. Instead, it is common for newlyweds to sneak away from the party. For the couple, the goal is to slip out without getting caught — for the guests, the goal is to be the first to notice that they are gone. Whoever catches on first is said to get good luck. The reception continues without the bride and groom, and food and dancing last well into the night.
16. Wales — Spoons and Myrtle
Traditionally, if a Welsh man wanted to court a woman, he would present her with hand-carved wooden spoons. Decorated with keys, wheels or beads, these spoons are not as common today, but still crop up in some traditional weddings.
Another Welsh tradition involves the bridal bouquet. According to custom, a bride's wedding flowers always include myrtle leaves. The herb symbolizes love, and the bride gives a cutting to each of her bridesmaids. If the planted cutting blooms, the girl will be married soon.
17. Kenya — Spit on the Bride
In the Maasai culture, the father of the bride does more than give her away. After presenting her dowry to her husband and his family, the father turns to his beautifully dressed daughter. As a sign of blessing, he spits on her face and chest. Spitting is a common form of greeting and respect among the Maasai people and is practiced in a wedding to bring luck to the couple.
18. Russia — The Biggest Bite and the Longest Kiss
During the reception, Russian couples share a special sweetbread called "karavay." The bread is decorated with wheat and interlocking rings which symbolize prosperity and faithfulness. Served to the couple by their parents, the newlyweds lean in. Whoever takes the largest bite without using their hands is considered the head of the family.
The first step of a Russian reception is a toast to the new couple. After the first taste of the wine, someone from the audience will shout "Gor'ko," claiming the drink tastes bitter. The rest of the guests take up the chant, and the couple has to stand up and kiss for as long as possible. If they stop too soon, the guests might begin the ritual again until they are satisfied with the kiss.
19. Philippines — Release the Doves
In Filipino weddings, it is traditional for the new couple to dramatically release a pair of white doves during the reception. The bride holds the female dove, and the groom releases the male. Doves mate for life, so the custom symbolizes fidelity and eternal love. It can also represent peace, purity and the memory of lost loved ones.
20. Mongolia — Find a Healthy Liver
For the Daur people in Mongolia, setting a wedding date is not a simple decision. To determine the best date, the engaged couple must take hold of a knife and kill a baby chicken. Together, they search for the chick's liver — if it is healthy, they can set a date for the wedding. If not, they must keep trying until they find a healthy one.
21. Romania — A Friendly Abduction
Throughout Eastern Europe, a common wedding practice is kidnapping the bride during the reception. Guests work together to "abduct" the bride and whisk her away to an undisclosed location. To get her back, the groom must pay a ransom. Typical requests include alcohol or public humiliation — for example, the groom must loudly sing a love song in front of the whole party.
Another facet of a Romanian wedding is the wedding headscarf. At some point in the reception, the godmother of the marriage will approach the bride as a song plays. She will exchange the bride's veil for a white headscarf to signify her transition from maidenhood to a married woman.
22. Netherlands — The Wishing Tree
Instead of a guestbook, some Dutch couples opt for a traditional "wishing tree." The tree is placed next to the bride and groom's table, and guests are encouraged to tie little notes of good wishes to the branches. After the wedding, the newlyweds can plant the tree and enjoy a symbol of their big day for decades to come.
23. Australia — Unity Bowl
Forget unity sand — some Australian weddings feature a unity bowl. During the ceremony, guests are given a stone to hold through the wedding. After, they put their stones in a large bowl. The couple keeps the filled bowl as a reminder of the enduring support of their loved ones.
24. Nigeria — Where Is the Groom?
In a traditional Igbo ceremony, the officiating elder — often the bride's father — takes a sip of palm wine. He then offers the cup to the bride, who must, in turn, offer it to her husband. But the bride has her work cut out for her — while she drinks, the groom hides among the guests. Only after she finds her husband and he drinks from the cup are they considered married.
25. Fiji — A Whale's Tooth
In the Fiji islands, asking a woman to marry you is not a simple process. A hopeful young man must offer the father of his beloved a "tabua," the giant tooth of a sperm whale. Tabuas are also presented during weddings to indicate depth of feeling and the sanctity of the marriage promise.
26. Lebanon — Party Processional
Nothing quite captures the energy of a Lebanese wedding like the "zaffe." This pre-wedding party begins at both the bride's and groom's houses and includes upbeat music, spirited dancing and enthusiastic cheering. The zaffe follows the couple as they make their way to the location of the ceremony, and will follow them afterward to the reception. With its infectious joy, the zaffe is an old tradition still loved by modern Lebanese couples.
27. Jamaica — Tough Critics
In a traditional Jamaican wedding, the bride would walk down her village streets before the ceremony. The crowd would shout criticisms about her appearance, and negative comments were expected. If she got too many negatives, though, the girl was escorted back to her home to try again. The wedding cake at a Jamaican reception was a dark fruit cake filled with rum and has a distinct black appearance — the same cake is often served at Christmas as well.
28. Czechoslovakia — Babies and Trees
Old Czech wedding customs emphasize fertility and prosperity within a marriage. Before the ceremony, an infant was placed on the couple's future bed to bless the fertility of the union. While the ritual is not often practiced today, the spirit is still upheld in a Czech recessional. As the couple leaves, guests shower them with rice, peas or lentils to give good luck and promote fertility.
Before the wedding day, the bride's friends plant a tree in her yard. Decorated with painted eggshells and bright ribbons, the tree blesses the longevity of the couple — legend claims that the bride will only live as long as her tree.
29. Niger — Dancing Camels
In the nomadic Tuaregs culture, no wedding is complete without a camel. But the camel does more than just attend the wedding — the animal "dances" to the beat of a drum in the presence of the wedding guests. The impressive ceremony is part of an elaborate series of rituals in a traditional Niger wedding, which revolves around the full moon.
30. Mexico — Double Bouquets and 13 Coins
Mexican brides have double the flowers — it is common for women to carry two bouquets on their wedding day, one for herself and one as a tribute to the Virgin Mary. In some regions, it is also common for the groom to present the bride with 13 gold coins as a symbol of trust and devotion. Symbolizing Christ and his 12 apostles, the coins are delivered in an ornately decorated box or tray.
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