Wedding Traditions Unveiled
Weddings are that special occasion where two people come together to celebrate their love for one another. Yet, was it always this way? How did marriage come to be, and what is the meaning behind some of the many strange traditions observed today? We assume that marriage has always been a sanctimonious tradition; however marriage was not originally about “holy matrimony” or “true love.” The original intent of marriage was to insure a safe environment for the bringing up of children, as well as the acquisition and transfer of property. Indeed it is the rather superficial “marriage of convenience” which can be viewed as the original meaning of marriage. Eventually marriage became more about love, and less about property. Throughout that time, though, numerous different traditions and superstitions have surfaced.
Here are just a few of these. In Ghana, Africa, location is everything. Women in Ghana are viewed as the life force of the tribe. After all, they were where all the great warriors and chiefs came from. Because of this, Zulu culture referred to women as “the great homes.
” Because of this status, it was considered customary for the husband to be, to move to his bride’s village. The Mande people of Africa practice clitoridectomies (female circumcision). During this time, the women are taught how to be good wives. They are also taught a special “secret” language that is only spoken by married women. A common African tradition is “jumping over the broom.” The broom has become a symbol of the sweeping out of the old, to welcome in the new. The part about jumping over is actually of North American origin. It was from the days of slavery, when slaves were not allowed to marry. By jumping over the broom, the couple was solidifying the seriousness of their marriage. In 1076, in Europe, it was decreed that no man should give away his daughter, or other female relative, without a priestly blessing.
Interestingly enough, it wasn’t until the 16th century that priests were even required to perform wedding ceremonies. Another interesting medieval tradition: women at the time would pluck their hairlines in order to attain higher foreheads, which were considered more attractive at the time. Conservative/Orthodox Jews have a neat tradition where the bride walks 3 to 7 times around her husband to be. This is done to signify that she is a protective wall for her husband, and that by stepping inside, their family status has changed. Ah, but what of the breaking of glass? This is done to represent the many, many tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people. It acts as a reminder of those bad times. Interestingly, the Muslim faith doesn’t really celebrate weddings. A marriage is strictly an officious occasion. The marriage occurs inside an office, rather than a mosque. The wedding is viewed as a private civil/religious contract.
The only real tradition here is that the groom must give his bride a dower to serve as insurance for her future. Japanese (Shinto) weddings are also small and private affairs, though they are far more elaborate. Both bride and groom sip three times from three separate cups of sake. It is done to guarantee luck and happiness in the marriage. Chinese brides are given chestnuts and jujubes. This was done with the wish of the bride to conceive a son as soon as possible. Brides wear red dresses to symbolize the color of love and joy. As we shall see further down, Europeans viewed the color red in a completely different light. Speaking of Europeans, many Eastern orthodox ceremonies featured the placement of wreaths on the heads of both bride and groom. It was done to symbolize their place as king and queen of the heavenly kingdom of Earth.
With such a wide variety of traditions out there, it is interesting to note that two of them are almost universal among human culture: the wedding veil and the wedding ring. The Veil Wedding veils saw their origin among the Romans. Ancient Romans believed that women were particularly susceptible to possession by demonic spirits during weddings (perhaps they had a lot of runaway brides back then). The veil was used to “confuse” these spirits. To further help the bride out, bridesmaids were dressed in clothing similar to the bride’s. They were to act as decoys for these demons. When Christianity took over, the veil was changed to represent chastity and modesty. This really took off in Britain during the 1800s. During some Eastern ceremonies, the groom is not allowed to remove his wife’s veil until after the ceremony.
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