No matter where you travel you’re sure to find yourself in a place where marriages are celebrated, and in many different ways. Some ceremonies share similarities, others are unique to their country of origin, but all are about the bringing together of two people for a lifetime of happiness together.
The Korean Goose
There was a time in Korea, not that long ago, when a groom intending to impress his mother-in-law could do no better than by presenting her with a live goose. This wasn’t because Korean mothers-in-law generally liked geese, or their feathers, or their eggs, or the loud honk-honk noises they make at any opportunity. It was actually a highly symbolic display of intended fidelity because when a goose finds a mate they stay with them for life.
Of course, that didn’t mean presenting a live bird at a wedding didn’t provide problems, especially in a society that had moved from the space of the countryside to the confines of towns and cities. These days the tradition remains popular, but it’s generally accepted that a small and wooden animal carries much the same sentiment as a large and live one, and so wooden ducks are presented instead.
The Western White Wedding
Prior to 1840, American and European brides were married in red or blue, green, grey, or even black dresses detailed with fine embroidery and silvery thread. Then Queen Victoria married Prince Albert having decided that, actually, she’d really rather suit a pure white ensemble piece, and so began a fashion that has long since become a tradition.
At first only brides from the wealthiest and most elite of families emulated the royal style, and not just because it was the royal style and so, quite rightly, should be emulated by wealthy, elite families. In the days before detergents a white dress wouldn’t remain one for long and so could be completely ruined by but a single spill. Books on etiquette quickly decided that whiteness stood for the bride’s purity, but the other meaning was clear – she was also so remarkably wealthy that she could afford to not care if her beautiful dress only lasted a single day.
While the development of washing powder and cheaper fabrics helped bring white weddings to the masses, it was actually Hollywood’s fixation with them in the 1940s that brought them to the widest audience.
Japanese Horns of Jealousy
Although in no way as popular as they used to be, around a fifth of all Japanese weddings follow the Shinto tradition and so involve the bride wearing a white kimono while her hair is covered with one of two possible very special pieces of headwear.
When she wears a watabōshi, often with her face painted white, she symbolises her purity in front of the gods. The tsunokakushi, however, has a distinctly different purpose and is meant to ensure that her mother-in-law can’t see her horns of jealously. Ego and selfishness, it is believed, are attributes that should never be displayed at a wedding and especially in front of the groom and his family.
As the celebrations continue the bride can then change into more colourful red attire before possibly adopting western clothing, but she won’t be married to the groom until they both enjoy drinking some sake. On their first sip they’re joined together for life.
Russian Bread and Salt
In Russia “Bread is the head of everything.” and “You never know a man until you have eaten a pood (about 16 kilos) of salt with him.” Or at least that’s how two famous proverbs go.
Bread is the food of life and symbolises wealth and prosperity. Salt was not only used to ward off evil spirits and preserve food, it was also incredibly expensive. Traditionally, a guest being welcomed into a Russian household would be offered both and although that custom is no longer widely practised bread and salt is still a major part of a Russian Wedding.
The happy couple are presented with a stunningly crafted karavay, which is a yeast sweetbread that’s decorated with pastry that’s shaped into a wreath of wheat that symbolises prosperity and two interlocking rings as symbols of faithfulness. They then have to tear off as large an amount of this bread as they can before dipping it in salt and then eating it. Whoever manages to fit the biggest piece in their mouth will be the head of the household.
The Jewish Glass Stomp
Jewish weddings are filled with symbolism, but none are more iconic than the moment when the groom crushes a glass under his foot to the shout of “Mazel Tov!”
This action takes place beneath the canopy of the chupah, which represents the new home the couple will share. Importantly, it’s commonly seen as a commemoration of when the Romans destroyed the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70AD, but it also thought to have many other meanings.
Before they were born, for example, the bride and groom are thought to have existed together as one entity that was broken when they entered the world. Once married, they are joined back together again as one and so the breaking of the glass symbolises original separation and eventual unification of their souls.
Another explanation is that the marriage is hoped to last as long as the glass remains broken, which will be a very, very long time if nobody gets creative with glue.
Indian Processions and Cursed Trees
Generally speaking, Indian weddings take place at the bride’s home or a wedding hall and can still involve the groom and best man travelling to the venue on a colourfully decorated horse or, if they’re really looking to impress, a beautifully attired elephant. Of course, a luxury car is by far the preferred and cleaner option for a contemporary celebration.
In Northern India they’ll often be trailed by a lively procession of family and friends, known as a Baraat, that’s backed by music and features dancing and even fireworks. On arrival, the bride and groom place garlands (called Jaimala) around each other and whoever is the first to place the flowers on their partner is said to have the upper hand.
Although far less common, another tradition has it that brides born when Mars and Saturn are under the seventh house are thought to be cursed, and to save their husband from an early death they’re first married to a tree. The tree is then ceremoniously destroyed, and the curse is lifted.
The German Wedding Log
Noisy (though car-based) wedding processions around town are popular in Germany too, as is the ancient custom of destroying a tree, or at least the cutting of a log in half.
The log represents all the obstacles that the happy couple will encounter during their lifetime, and so they each take one of a large saw’s two handles and cooperate in its bisection in a display of togetherness. Problems can arise when a fresh and overly large piece of wood is chosen, which is why old, reasonably small and very dry pieces are favoured, or they’d never get to fully enjoy their wedding reception. A slow and laborious sawing certainly doesn’t bode well for their future.
Not unlike the Greeks, Germans can also engage in the destruction of crockery because, as the adage has it, “Scherben bringen Glück” – shards bring luck. This practice is known as Polterabend and takes place the night before the wedding when porcelain is smashed in front of the house of the family of the bride.
The Chinese Cupid
The Yugur are a small ethic and nomadic group of only around 15,000 people who live in the Northwest of China’s Gansu Province, and they really know how to celebrate a wedding in unique style.
Typically lasting two days, the wedding begins at the bride’s house where she is presented with gifts and enjoys a ceremony in which her mother performs hairdressing duties while singing the traditional “wearing of the headdress” song. Then, while riding a white horse, she’s escorted by her brother to the groom’s home. A special bridal chamber in the form of a tent will have been erected, which the bride’s relatives then pretend to trample as the groom’s family pretends to act as its defenders.
Once the fake battle is over, toasts have been made, rice has been scattered, and one of the bride’s uncles has recited the story of the creation of the world and the origin of marriage, ghee is thumbed onto groom’s forehead before he takes his bow and arrows and proceeds to shoot his intended wife three times.
Thankfully these arrows are soft and don’t include arrow heads and so don’t do any harm. Once the mock-shooting has ended they, and the bow, are broken and so can never be used ever again.
The Scottish Blackening
Traditionally taking place the day before the wedding, though normally quite a few days prior for reasons that will become apparent, this rare ritual begins gently enough with bride and groom-to-be being pounced upon and abducted. Then it gets crazy.
Once taken to a designated location the couple are utterly drenched with as much molasses as can be found. If none can then any treacly, oily black liquid is used. When thoroughly blackened they’re bombarded with eggs, feathers, flour, porridge, soup or anything else that’s up to the job of sticking to someone’s body and making them look ridiculous. They’re then placed in the back of a truck and driven around for all to see as the vehicle is struck with wooden spoons by jeering spectators. Driven between pubs or other such drinking establishments, the couple are forced to drink, and so on they go until they’re drunk and, ideally, thoroughly humiliated as humiliation is actually key the entire spectacle.
The idea is that a couple who can stand such treatment will have a marriage that will stand anything, or at least anything involving molasses and alcohol.
Big Smashed Greek Weddings
Imagine a Greek wedding and you’ll quite probably picture happy revellers smashing a lot of plates, but why?
One story suggests the celebratory destruction began when a wealthy family invited a poorer one to a meal and broke plates to show that the occasion was about friendship, not money. There’s also the ancient practice of breaking plates at funerals as a way of dealing with loss, which could have been so popular it made its way into happier occasions.
A broken plate can also be seen symbolize new beginnings, and the noise of them breaking could make evil spirits believe that guests are angry and so are in no need of being put into a bad mood.
Then there’s the fact that breaking things is fun. In all honesty, no one knows exactly why plates are smashed, but since plate smashing is becoming less and less common at Greek weddings don’t attend one and start destroying things. It might not be appreciated.