As presented by Betty Dunkins of Tying The Knot Wedding Service at the February meeting of the Association of Wedding Professionals. Betty is also the co-author of The Perfect Choice Wedding & Reception Site Directory, a comprehensive guide to wedding and reception sites in the Washington DC Metropolitan area.
Tonight, we will touch upon a few of these ethnic and cultural diversities with photographs, panel forum with Q&A, and a round-table discussion.
What’s fascinating about the wedding industry is it not only affords us the opportunity to meet people from many ethnic and cultural backgrounds but it gives us a rare chance to participate in the most important event of their lives, their wedding celebration.
Now take Jewish weddings. No single set of rules applies to all Jewish weddings, for there are differences among the Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform branches of the faith. Marriages may take place at any time except on the Sabbath, on Holy Days, or festival periods. Most weddings are on Saturday evening after sundown or on Sunday.
In a prewedding Orthodox ritual, the bride is “veiled” by the groom as a sign that she is his betrothed. (Bedeken)
There is the signing of the marriage contract, (the Ketubah), by the groom. The Ketubah is an illustrated and artistically lettered document in Hebrew detailing what the groom promises to provide for the bride.
In the Conservative and Orthodox ceremonies, all the men are required to cover their heads with either yarmulkes or silk top hats; the women with hats or kerchiefs. In seating, the bride’s family will be on the right side and the groom’s family on the left.
The order of the procession usually includes the groom with his parents, the bride with her parents and others to follow. The ceremonies are traditionally performed under a huppah, (a type of canopy). As the bride arrives under the huppah, she may walk 3 or 7 times around the groom, symbolizing that the woman is a protective wall for her husband and stepping inside, they have a new status or family circle.
After the vows, a plain gold band is placed on the bride’s right index finger, in Reform ceremony it is placed on the left ring finger.
After reading of the Ketubah, the ceremony ends with the reciting of the Seven Blessings, a reminder that life’s goals are not selfish. But designed for the betterment of the world, the glory of God, and breaking of the glass, a reminder of the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and of other calamities that befell the Jewish people that should not be forgotten.
The reception feast is begun with a blessing over the Challah, (a braided loaf of egg-rich bread), which is cut and distributed to each table for good luck. There are dozens of (Tanzen) simple combinations & story dances associated with weddings that can be announced and improvised. The one that we are most familiar with is the Hora, when the Bride & Groom are raised on the shoulders of their guest usually in chairs.
The Reform branch is the most liberal of the three faiths. They perform the ceremony in Hebrew and English. They have the freedom to opt not to have most of the traditional rituals of the Jewish law incorporated in their weddings. However, most of the couples do.
The Muslim wedding is a private civil and religious contract. It takes place in an office, not in a mosque. The agreement having been negotiated beforehand by the groom and the bride’s closest male relative, with her consent, the couple comes before a religious sheik (an Islamic magistrate) with three male witnesses to effect the marriage. The magistrate asks the groom to give the bride a dower, which is enough money, gold, and gifts to serve as her “insurance” or cushion for the future. Once all agree, the papers are signed & the couple is now legally and spiritually wed. The bride returns to her parent’s home to prepare for the wedding celebration.
There is no wedding in the Western sense, only the reception, which the groom or his family bears the cost.
Japanese – Shinto
Shinto (the mystical or divine) is the name given to the religious beliefs and social customs indigenous to Japan. The wedding ceremony is an elaborate ritual interwoven with Japanese culture & tradition. It is usually small & private.
The Shinto priest cleanses and blesses the four corners of the room and covers the floor with rice paper before the couple enters. As they sit or kneel before the priest, he recites Shinto prayers.
The high point of the ceremony is the three, three, nine times, in which the bride and groom share sips of sake from each of three lacquered cups. This three-times-three ritual symbolizes luck and happiness and solemnizes the marriage.
Following is a large group of family and friends at a banquet where toasts are made, and stories told about the couple. The bride will change from a wedding robe into a colorful gown or kimono. At the end, she may even change again into a white Western-style wedding dress.
During the ceremony, the couple drink from goblets of wine and honey symbolically tied together with red string. The bride is given chestnuts & jujubes-a date like fruit, in a wish for a son ASAP.
The bride’s dress may be red which is the color of love and joy.
The couple honors their ancestors with a tea ceremony. They kneel before older relatives and family, offering cups of tea as a jester of respect.
The couple receives red envelopes of money or gold jewelry from the elders.
Hispanic — Spain, Mexico, South America
Ceremonies are in the Roman Catholic Church and are often performed within the context of the Mass, called a Nuptial Mass for weddings.
The bride, preceded by her attendants, forms the processional. The priest waits for her at the altar with the groom. Met by the groom, or handed over to him by her father, the bride & groom remain in front of the altar, kneeling, sitting, or standing, throughout the ceremony.
The actual marriage rite takes place after the Homily and before the Offertory. The priest asks if the couple has come to marry freely, to which they answer” I do”, and then they join hands and exchange marriage vows.
The bride may want to place her flowers in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary. The groom gives 13 coins to the bride, symbolizing his ability to support and care for her.
Weddings and Masses are performed in the dominant language of the local community (Spanish, Italian, etc.)
Eastern Orthodox – Russian, Greek, Syrian, etc.
The wedding ceremony begins with the betrothal outside the church doors. Here, the rings are blessed and exchanged.
The couple is then led by the priest into the church and onto a white rug or cloth in front of the wedding platform.
A wedding icon is carried in the processional, and the couple receives lighted candles from holding throughout the service. Metal crowns or floral wreaths, sometimes attached with ribbon, are placed on the heads of the bride and groom to symbolize their roles as king and queen of a heavenly kingdom of earth.
There are then scriptural readings, the sharing of a typical cup of wine, and a ceremonial walk three times around the Holy Things on the altar.
Particulars will differ according to the various ethnic customs honored in Orthodox traditions.
The bride’s hands and feet are decorated with henna.
A typical African traditional marriage ceremony involves members of the entire community. Feasting, singing, and dancing is some of the most significant features of the event.
Traditionally, there is no need for paper evidence of marriage. The whole community bears witness to the marriage, and the parents of both parties have agreed to the union.
Since there are cultural aspects from many countries, a standard adaptation of a West African marriage ceremony would be as follows:
1. The couple will walk together followed by their parents who would switch partners to symbolize the union of the two families. They, in turn, will be followed by friends of the couple, one each of the opposite sex, to the officiate to the tune of a West African (Akan Ghanaian)song. There are no maids of honor and no best man. The officiate gives a few words of personal advice to express the sentiments of the community. An incantation, which is to express proverbial ideas of marriage to spur the new couple into bold new ways of life, & to inspire other singles who are present into bold decisions of marriage, is read by someone other than the officiating.
2. An East African ( Swahili) song is sung at this time.
3. It is not customary for Africans to wear marriage rings, but if they are exchanged, the man gives to the woman a silver ring & the woman gives a gold ring to the man. Silver equates to the female aspect of God, the Moon-Mother Goddess, personified by the Queen Mother of many African societies. Gold personifies the Sun-male aspect of God.
4. After Consenting Words by both the parents and the couple, there is an exchange & a sip of wine in front of all to complete the symbolic union of the two families. The couple will embrace only, handshake congratulations are given, and 4 or more women will interpret the West African song by throwing extra clothes, handkerchiefs or headwraps at the feet of the couple as they walk out.
5. A libation will be poured just before the feast begins. A full bottle of wine will be opened before the good wishers, from which half a glass is poured for the libation. An elderly person, because of his wisdom and rich experiences of life, officiates. He selects appropriate words & proverbs fitting for the occasion. He will pause as indicated and pour a little of the wine onto the ground before he continues to the end. The idea of a libation is to call on the ancestral heroes to bear witness to the marriage and the occasion and to seek guidance from them. It is the desire of the living to build the future of the past performances of the ancestors, so that the new generation can avoid as many mistakes as humanly possible. Africans do not believe that death severs the ties of kinship between the dead and the living relatives. This bond is very close, and the African constantly has his ancestors in mind.
6. Drinks are exchanged between the parents of the couple & shared with the well-wishers, with the parents testing them first. It is only after this that the marriage feast begins.
African- American weddings are based on defining one’s own destiny concerning historical roots and traditional culture.
As previously mentioned, Africa has such a proliferation of societies, all of which differ; that one runs the risk of generalization when one speaks of a unique and sole African American wedding ceremony derived from such a diverse African society.
However, there is a common thread in indigenous African values, views & experiences which provides uniformity. Out of this emerges four essentials which give meaning and significance to an African American wedding. Also, there are many unique and exciting “frills” that are sometimes incorporated into the wedding.
1. The Libation offering which I explained in the African wedding celebration.
2. The spiritual basis of the marriage which is prayers, scriptural readings, and songs.
3. Marriage is of families, not of 2 individuals and
4. Marriage is a communal event
3 and 4 were also examined under African wedding and are carried over into the African American service.
Some weddings may incorporate African language, materials, tools, and symbols.
Some may be Traditional African, or a Mix of Traditional and European Style.
Then, of course, there is “Jumping the Broom” which is a popular part of African American weddings. This custom evolves from when the rites of marriage were forbidden to slaves. For them, jumping the broom became the ritual by which they pursued the passage of marriage. The broom is a household symbol in many parts of Africa. The brooms are used by some to sweep away evil. Today, the broom stands as a symbol of the ingenuity and the devotion by which African-American ancestors re-created a solemn rite under adverse conditions. However, slaves were not the only people to jump the broom. Historians record similar ceremonies among poor whites in the South as well as among itinerant laborers in New England and even among some Gypsies.
No rule says you have to stick to your heritage. If you love the sentiment or meaning behind another culture’s custom, add it to the brew. When you do add something different, be sure to make your elderly relatives aware to avoid surprising them. Or you may be surprised.