10 Fascinating Wedding Traditions from Around the World
Thinking about getting hitched, tying the knot, or jumping the broom? Wedding rituals around the world are as varied as ways to say "I do."
Connecting with all five senses in the Andes Mountains of Peru
“Traditional Andean weddings take place outdoors, and are meant to elicit the natural world. At each ceremony, a small offering is given to Pachamama—a Mother Earth goddess, revered in Andean culture,” explains global wedding experts, Alex Pelling and Lisa Gant, whom have gotten married 71 times, in 65 countries, during the last five years, including in the Andes Mountains of Peru. The Pellings’ Andean wedding was illustrative of local customs. The bride and groom entered a garden from opposite sides, to represent the coming together of people from different villages. A shaman awaited their arrival, while chanting a blessing. There was also intense, rhythmic music playing. “There was a scent of burning herbs, and the shaman poured oil down the backs of our necks, to elicit physical sensation. Everything that occurs at an Andean wedding ceremony is designed to overwhelm the senses—sight, hearing, touch, scent, all of it. The ceremony is not just someone talking to you, about your union,” he explains. The Pellings gave offerings to each other, and buried a joint offering to Pachamama, which is meant to be there waiting for her, underground, until the end of time.
Searching for Ms. Right in Germany
In some small villages in Germany, grooms aren’t guaranteed that their brides will make it to the altar on time—or at all. Kidnapping the bride is an old custom, beloved by pranksters, and friends of the betrothed. After the bride’s friends kidnap her, the groom is tasked with looking for his one true love. The best hunting grounds (of course) are pubs. There, the locals might provide clues, provided they are invited to the wedding. If the invite isn’t forthcoming, custom demands that the brideless groom pick up the bar tab—for the entire pub. (Brides used to be routinely kidnapped, around the world. Seriously!)
Showing them the money in Cuba
Since it is still a communist country, weddings in Cuba are nonreligious, civil ceremonies. Even so, they can be extravagant affairs, earmarked by interesting customs, such as the money dance. Meant to help fill the newlywed’s coffers, this interactive tradition is also tons of fun for guests. After the formal ceremony’s pomp and circumstance has been completed, men who wish to dance with the bride must first pin money to her dress. This (highly profitable) custom is also common in parts of the southern United States, Poland, and Greece. Here’s advice for a happy marriage that couples around the world could use.
Stretching out the ceremony in Pakistan
Pakistani wedding ceremonies are comprised of many rituals, which take place over days, weeks, or even months. Pelling and Gant’s wedding here was their most exciting, and fun, to date. “In Pakistan, there aren’t many social outlets, like ice skating, rollerblading, and socializing. Weddings are one of the top social events here, so they are extremely elaborate,” explains Pelling. The colorful, flower-filled extravaganzas often start with the Nikkah, or signing of the wedding contract. Then comes the Mooh Dikhai. For this ceremony, the bride’s face is completely covered, and ceremoniously revealed to her groom, as he gently removes her veil. If this is not a deal breaker (many ancient weddings were arranged), other ceremonies will follow over many days, including the Mehndi, or henna ceremony, where henna and oil are applied to the bride and groom by their families and friends. The Mehndi is great fun, and features lots of dancing, and sweets. After many more days of rituals, which include music, dancing, and the presenting of scarves, filled with sweets, to important members of the family, the Baraat, a processional walk by the groom to the bride’s home, takes place. This typically includes the groom’s clan, and features drumming, and fireworks. Finally, the Shaadi, or bride’s reception, arrives. Unlike the white weddings so customary in the U.S., Pakistani brides typically attend this ceremony in red, or purple. The final wedding ceremony is the Walima. It is often the most extravagant of all the events, and takes place after the couple has already consummated their vows, and are technically, husband and wife. For this ceremony, Western dress is sometimes worn.
Stringing it together in Thailand
Weddings in Thailand are filled with Buddhist rituals, meant to honor the bride and groom’s ancestors, and to sanctify their union. During the ceremony, the couple kneels next to each other, in a prayer position. A trusted, beloved elder of their choosing (preferably one known to have had a happy marriage), places a traditional headpiece on their heads. The headpiece, called a Mong Kol, is made from a single piece of string, which has been blessed by monks. The bride and groom wear the Mong Kol for the rest of their wedding ceremony, to symbolize their union, and oneness. Here’s a brief history on engagement rings.
Live long and prosper in Sweden
In Sweden, brides are decked from head to toe, in tradition. They often wear crowns, made of myrtle flowers, to symbolize virginity, marital fidelity, and good luck on their heads. In their shoes, they tuck one coin each—silver in the left shoe from their father, and gold in the right from their mom. The coins symbolize hope for the couple’s marital prosperity. (Here’s how to be a good bridesmaid.)
Dancing till dawn in France
Joyful, weekend-long French weddings bring new meaning to the phrase, “dancing the night away.” If you love kicking up your heels, you’ll want to nab this custom for yourself. Eimear Lynch, author of Bridesmaids: True Tales of Love, Envy, Loyalty, and Terrible Dresses, reported in New York Magazine, that French weddings feature non-stop dancing all night long, which doesn’t stop until the guests fall down, or it’s time to go to work. French marriages must have a civil ceremony, in order to be legal, so French brides and grooms often opt for two events over a long weekend—one civil service,and one religious ceremony. Either or both may be followed by a fabulous, champagne-filled fete, complete with a disc jockey, band, and foot-tapping rhythms that keep guests on their feet for seven hours, or more. These hangover cures from around the world may come in handy.
Jumping the broom in Ghana
According to the African American Registry, this joyful tradition, strongly associated with American slavery, has its origins in the West African country of Ghana. The broom was used to symbolize the sweeping away of evil spirits, and past wrong doing, by the bride and groom. Sometimes, it was waved over the heads of the betrothed couple. Other times, the bride and groom would jump over it at the end of the ceremony, and whoever jumped the highest, was deemed the head of the household. And if you were wondering, here’s why we say “tie the knot.”
Tying the knot in South Africa
South African weddings are steeped in ancient tradition. Twelve symbols, meant to represent the couple’s life together, must be present at every ceremony. These include wine, wheat, a broom, honey, bitter herbs, salt, pepper, a spoon, spear, a cooking pot, and a shield, plus a holy book, such as a Bible or Koran. In addition to the 12 symbols of life, the bride and groom ceremoniously have their wrists tied together with grass, to symbolize their coming together as a couple.
Finding harmony in Bali
Balinese weddings, called pawiwahans, are meant to generate harmony, and create balance, between the material and spiritual realms. The sacred ceremony provides a chance for the bride and groom to testify before the gods, creatures of the underworld, and their community. The ceremony also solidifies the couple’s citizenship in their village. The ceremony includes gift giving, and a procession through the streets. The couple undergo a purification ceremony, to clear their hearts and minds of negative thoughts and energy, and are then deemed ready to be married, in view of all of their neighbors, family, and friends.