Cultures, Customs & Traditions Of Weddings In Other Countries (part 1)

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Planning a wedding involves so many details and being original will take a great deal of thought. There are kits available for couples to go through the planning and have a checklist to mark off as you move along. Unfortunately, there’s little to no originality, it’s one size fits all. What if you want to bring something from your unique culture, religion or traditions?

Many couples want to bring in a bit of their heritage and create a traditional wedding or reception around their ancestry. Bringing in your family’s culture and customers will be a wonderful experience for your guests while celebrating your family’s history.

You can incorporate your culture quite easily with decorations, dress, music, and even meals if you are allowed, though most meals are limited. If that’s not possible, offer a traditional drink from your culture. A rich coffee for an Indian wedding or Pastis which is a traditional French apéritif.

Let’s face it, the bride and groom are center stage at their wedding and it’s only natural they would like to celebrate their rich cultures and their bonding of both during their wedding. Not only will this create an incredible moment for family and friends but will leave everyone with wonderful memories. To help you customize your wedding with a cultural flair, here are some of many traditional weddings to take a look at:

Cultures & Traditions

African Weddings

The colors purple and gold represent royalty and would make a rich and vibrant wedding theme.

Seashells represent purity and beauty in the African culture. Bridesmaids, in Morocco, bathe the bride in a hammam before the wedding and then apply designs on her hands and feet using apple and henna stains before being dressed in her wedding gown.

During the ceremony, a Libations ceremony is held for their elders. A prayer is recited and an elder presents water or liquor as an offering to God their ancestral spirits to received blessings. The groom might seek permission from the bride’s mother to marry her daughter while offering gifts to her father which symbolizes his ability to care for her.

Also, during the ceremony, there is a tradition that includes tasting four elements that represent the different moments in married life. They are lemon for sour, vinegar for bitter, cayenne pepper for hot, and honey for sweet. In some ceremonies, the couple’s hands are tied with plaited grass before walking down the aisle. Today, many couples have chosen to just hold hands.

If you have never heard the expression “jumping the broom”, it dates back to the time of slavery when slaves were not allowed to marry. They created a ritual to represent the beginning of their new lives together by jumping over the broom. In today’s ceremonies, couples jump over a broom that has been decorated with ribbons or tulle, after they have been pronounced married.

For the reception, bring in African dancers and/or drummers and serve traditional foods to bring in a wonderful celebration of your culture.


Chinese Weddings

Traditionally, the date of their wedding was chosen by the astrological signs and birth dates. The ceremony begins on the half hour to secure the couple’s good fortune. The night before the wedding, the bride is bathed in citrus water to cleanse her of any evil powers.

In modern weddings, the bride has separate wardrobes that she changes three times throughout the day. A traditional white dress, a traditional Chinese bridal dress during the ceremony, and a cocktail dress to send off their guests. The bride’s headpiece is made of kingfisher feathers and pearls with a red veil that protects her until she arrives at the groom’s house. The groom wears a blue dragon robe with a black silk coat and his headpiece is black with red tassels.

The day of the wedding, the groom is put through a series of obstacles by the bridesmaids to prove his worth. Traditionally, he would continue these obstacles or stunts and then would give each bridesmaid a red envelope of money. When the bride arrives at his home, there are firecrackers and gongs and she must jump over an iron basin lit with charcoal to represent prosperity and to keep evil spirits away.

If your ceremony is held outdoors, you can offer your guests a paper parasol or silk painted fan. In a traditional ceremony, the bride serves tea to her parents and her future in-laws as a symbol of respect. Today, the groom can serve tea with his bride. 761

The color red represents celebration and prosperity and the Chinese character “xi” (or double happiness) is bestowed with a wish of a happy life for the couple. You could place this symbol on various items such as chopsticks, or on gift wrappings or bags for the guests.

Traditionally, the bride and groom are required to make their rounds and toast each table. In some cases, members of the wedding party may be called on to drink in place of the bride and groom.

The wedding cake also plays a major role in the wedding. It is the symbol of a ladder that the couple must climb to reach success. Therefore, there are many layers and the cake is cut from the bottom to the top. During the reception, the meal consisted of 9 or 10 courses which usually included lobster and chicken which symbolized the dragon and the phoenix. You might want to cut back on the number of courses!


French Wedding

Traditionally, the groom walks his mother down the aisle to the altar. You might want to use this tradition in your wedding. It would be a really lovely touch. The bride will have her trousseau which is comprised of linens and clothing that she takes with her after the ceremony. The items are placed in a hope chest that was usually hand-carved by her father. If your father is not a carpenter or not gifted at carving, worry not! There are many beautiful hope chests around!

The day of the wedding, the bride would take a long bath that washes away thoughts of her previous lives or loves. (Only the French!) Traditionally, the groom would pick up the bride at her home and walk to the chapel. In small towns, children would block their path to the chapel with white ribbons that the bride will then cut, symbolizing their breaking through obstacles.

In France, the bride wore a wreath of flowers and before the modern veil, a carre or square piece of silk fabric was held over her head and the head of the groom as they received their final blessings from the priest in order to ward off descending malice.

The croquembouche was a popular wedding cake that was a pyramid of creme-filled pastry puffs and covered with a caramel glaze. It is believed this cake first started in the Middle Ages when guests would bring small cakes and stack them in a pile. Without knocking over the pile of cakes and kiss, they will live a life in prosperity. There are many talented pastry chefs that still make this glorious cake so check it out!

Another fun thought would be getting a La Coupe de Marriage which is an engraved two-handled cup that the newlyweds would toast each other from. Traditionally, this cup was usually a family heirloom. Another interesting custom in France was “beheading” a bottle of champagne. This was done by skilled swordsmen who used special sabres to strike the bottle which a lady would hold up. You probably can find replicas of the sabres if you’d like to give it a try!

During the wedding night, a group of the bride and groom’s friends would interrupt the couple with a prank called chiverie by banging pots and pans together. The couple was expected to provide their friends with treats and drinks in order to be left alone.


The German Wedding

This tradition was believed to prepare the couple for facing life’s many trials together. They would break dishes, pots, or anything that would break into pieces and then they would clean up together. This would take place just before the wedding.

Another tradition before the wedding, friends, and family would create a wedding newspaper filled with pictures, articles, and stories about the couple. The paper would be sold at the reception to help pay for the honeymoon expenses.

The delivery of invitations was absolutely charming! A man dressed in fancy clothes with flowers and ribbons would go door to door and extend a personal rhyming invitation to the guests. Guests would accept by pinning ribbons on the man’s hat and then offer him a drink. If there were a large number of invitations, it would usually take a few days to cover all the houses.

Brides wore tiaras or flowered headbands instead of veils and their gowns did not have trains. After the ceremony, the bride and groom had to cut a log in half together which stood for overcoming life’s challenges. Much like modern day, the guests would throw rice but in their tradition, the amount of rice remaining in the bride’s hair told how many children they would have. Let’s hope it wasn’t pieces of rice!!

A path of fir boughs was laid before the bride and groom to make their way to their car. This was a symbol of hope, fertility, and luck. The hood of the car was decorated with flowers and as the car procession drove through town, they would blow their horns and others would honk back, wishing the couple luck.

In southern Germany, the toast during the reception was done with a brautbecher or bridal cup that was pewter or crystal in the shape of a maiden holding a cup above her head. Both the skirt and cup were filled with champagne or wine and the bride and groom would be first to toast from it. That signified their union.

During the reception, there’s another interesting custom. The bride would be kidnapped by the groomsmen and take her to a pub. Once the groom has located her, he would invite every in the pub to a drink and cover the bride’s bill. At midnight the bride’s tiara was replaced with a bonnet. It was considered very bad luck for the tiara to be removed before then. Some of you might just find this an interesting tradition to incorporate into your wedding! 985


The Greek Wedding

Long before the proposal, the bride’s mother would spend years collecting household items for her daughter’s dowry. Once the dowry was given to the couple, local girls would volunteer to decorate and set up the couple’s new home. I wish someone would just come in a clean my home!

The groom is expected to ask the father for the daughter’s hand in marriage before proposing. There will then be a betrothal service once the engagement becomes official and their rings will be blessed by a priest. During the actual wedding, the rings will be blessed again.

During the engagement both the bride and groom wear their rings on the left hand, once they are married the rings are then placed on the right hand. Before the ceremony, musicians bring the groom and his attendants to the church then they go back and get the bride.

Traditionally, the bride and groom are honored as queen and king for the entire day. During the ceremony, they wear crowns made from gold or orange blossoms that are connected with ribbons to signify their union.

The Koumbaros or best man heads the ceremony with the priest and then he is responsible for placing the crowns on the heads of the bride a groom. He also exchanges the rings between the couple three times to remind them that in marriage, the weakness of one is compensated by the strength of the other.

Once the ceremony is finished, the bride and groom walk around the altar three times which represents the trinity and this is their first walk together as a married couple.

Traditionally, during the reception food is served and guests dance to Greek music in the traditional style. During one of the newlywed’s dances, guests pin money on the bride’s dress. After the celebration, dishes are smashed with chants of “opa” for good luck.


The Indian Wedding

Traditional Indian weddings actually take place over a number of days. There are several ceremonies including the painting of the hands and feet of the bride known as mehndi. Garland is offered to the guests and a lot of flowers and rose petals are thrown for good luck. The wedding is usually broken up into three parts, pre-wedding, the main wedding, and the post-wedding. 380

The pre-wedding consists of preparations and a party the night before where each side of the family will meet each other and then dance and have fun. The Pandit is the one who selected the day of the wedding based on the couple’s horoscopes and conducts prayers with family members to give the couple a happy married life.

The Mandapa or altar is erected on the day of the wedding. The groom is welcomed by his future mother-in-law, his feet are washed, and he is offered milk and honey. His sister-in-law will try to steal his shoes and if she succeeds, he must pay her to get them back. The groom typically wears a turban with a veil of flowers to protect him from evil spirits.

The parents give the bride away and will not eat before the wedding in order to remain pure for the occasion. The bride’s sari is tied to the groom’s scarf to symbolize the union of the souls. During a different ceremony, a cord is tied around the couple’s necks to protect them from evil. It’s usually the elders of the bride and groom who tie the cord.

A Mangala Sutra is tied around the bride’s neck instead of the exchanging of rings. This is a cord with 2 gold pendants that are tied in three knots by the groom. This symbolizes the bonding of the two souls for 100 years. This also lets others know that she is married. Is this possibly where we get expression “to tie the knot”?

Saptapadi, the groom helps the bride touch 7 betel nuts with her right toe while they recite their vows. Then, seven married women from the bride’s side will pass by her and whisper blessings in her right ear. Once the wedding is over, her brothers will carry her out.

When the bride leaves for the groom’s home, her mother-in-law will have placed a container filled with rice at the entrance. The bride is supposed to spill the rice with her right foot to signify wealth and stating the bride is ready to accept her new responsibilities.

There are a few fun ceremonies as well. One called mangal pheras includes the bride and groom circling the sacred fire 4 times which represents dharma, artha, kama, and moksha and then run to their seats. Whoever gets there first, rules the household!

Aeki Beki is another fun event where a tray of water mixed with milk and Vermillion is filled with coins and a ring. Whoever finds the ring 4 out of 7 times will rule the household. At the end of the day, prayers are asked of God for happiness and love for the couple.


The Irish Wedding

The traditional wedding ring is known as a Claddagh which shows two hands holding a heart bearing a crown. The hands represent faith, the heart is love, and the crown presents honor. This is a beautiful ring that is now recognized around the world.

The night before the wedding, the groom is invited to the bride’s home and offered a cooked goose in his honor. They believe a sunny wedding day will bring good luck and one way to ensure that would happen was to place a statue of the Infant of Prague outside the church before the ceremony.

Traditionally, the bride wore wildflowers in her hair and her bouquet was made up of wildflowers, especially lavender. Her hair would be braided symbolizing feminine power and luck. Also, a horseshoe would be tied around the bouquet with the points facing up so luck would not run out.

A very special hanky known as the magic hanky is carried by the bride. With a few stitches, the hanky can be turned into a christening bonnet and then turned back into a hanky for the child’s wedding day. You might hold off until you have a girl.

Bells have always been a part of the Irish culture believing they keep away evil spirits. Think about giving your guests little bells and have them ring the bells as you exit the reception instead of clinking glasses together. Your guests will love the bells and it’s a wonderful touch!

When exiting the church, someone must throw a shoe over the bride’s head to bring good luck. Just try not to get hit in the head if you opt for this tradition!

One of the most famous Celtic designs is the love knot. It’s a pattern created by using continuous, unending lines that intertwine. The design stands for eternity, unity, and fidelity and is a very important part of the wedding. The four-leaf clover stands for hope, faith, love, and luck. Get creative and have some table dressings or gifts for the guests with these wonderful designs.

Bunratty Mead is considered the oldest drink in Ireland which is a honey drink. It is believed that this drink is where the term honeymoon came from. When the groom kidnapped his bride for a month, or moon, they would indulge in drinking the mead. It was believed that after a month, the bride would become pregnant and then the family would accept the marriage.

The harp has a rich history in Irish culture. In ancient times, harpists were considered the best musicians anywhere and therefore they would walk down the aisle playing the harp.

The traditional wedding cake was a three-layer, whiskey-laced fruit cake with an almond paste. The top layer is saved for consumption at the christening of their first child.

In order for the bride and groom to kiss, a guest would have to sing a song or recite a poem with the word love in it!

I’ve a few more countries to report on so tune in next month for part two!


More Cultures, Customs & Traditions Of Weddings In Other Countries (part 2)


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Jack Robertson is a writer and enthusiast of all things to do with weddings and planning to tie the knot. He works for and loves promoting Le Petite Chateau, an unusual wedding venue in the North East UK.



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