Every culture has their own special traditions, and weddings are no different. In fact, in many countries, weddings seem to be an opportunity to really cut loose… and not just at the reception.
Starting close to home, have you ever wondered why the bride in many western countries will typically wear white? Maybe you’ve heard it’s supposed to signify purity or virginity. Well, that may not be the case. In most other countries, the bride will be dressed in bright, festive colors. But Queen Victoria broke ranks with tradition in 1840 when she appeared in a white wedding gown to marry Prince Albert. At the time, white was the color of mourning, so her choice raised a lot of eyebrows. Could she have been less than enthusiastic about spending the rest of her days with Albert?
Heading south to a Guatemalan wedding reception, if you’re lucky enough to arrive before the newlyweds, you may get to see the groom’s mother shatter a white pottery bell when they arrive. The bell contains flour, grains and rice, and signifies good luck and prosperity for the couple.
Now let’s take a trip around Africa and see what sort of customs we find there. Stop by a Massai wedding ceremony in Kenya and you may be surprised to see the father of the bride spitting on his daughter’s face and breasts as the newlyweds are leaving the village. Whatever happened to wishing the couple good luck? Actually, old Dad is just showing contempt for her, so as not to jinx their good fortune. Gee, thanks, Dad!
While this one is a little less disrespectful to the bride, it may still be disconcerting to the new couple. Apparently, in some African villages, following the theory that the bride might need someone to show her the ropes, newlyweds are joined in the bedroom their first night by the bride’s mother or a village elder. Good grief, Mom. I’ve got this, okay?
If a fellow in Niger fancies a girl, there’s just one thing to do: sneak up to her home and tickle her ear! Presumably, fathers aren’t quite as trigger-happy about ear-tickling suitors there. If she and her parents are okay with the lad, then the wedding date is set for a full moon. First, though, they’ll sacrifice a goat to ensure the wedding site is purified. And the bride’s face will be decorated with red crosses, with dots on her cheeks. The real fun starts after the wedding, though, when they bring out the dancing camel and drums. Whoopee!
Mauritania has cast aside the pre-wedding panic of crash diets and exercise binges. Rather than stressing about getting slim for their groom to be, the young women go to fat farms.. well, fatten up. It seems that skinny brides aren’t in great demand… young Mauritanian men like their gals plump. So if a girl expects to get married, she needs to visit a fat farm and pack on some pounds.
In Sudan, they’ve found a way to put women that are unable to have children to a new use: they marry them off to other women. Those women, in turn, are put in a family way by clandestine lovers. The barren woman is seen as the husband of the household and is the recognized father of the children. This allows the barren woman’s father to see his family line carried on.
In South Africa, they have a heartwarming tradition… well, maybe hearth-warming is more accurate. The parents of both the bride and groom bring live coals from their own homes, so the newlyweds’ new home will be warmed by the same fire they each grew up with.
Moving down to Northern Borneo, things can get a bit difficult for the bride and groom. The Tidong tribe shuts the couple in for three days and nights after they marry. Sound great, right? There’s just one hitch: their families stand guard, and no leaving the house is permitted – for any reason, including “personal needs”. So the couple must “hold it” for three days straight. The theory must be that if they can stand that, they can stand anything – even each other.
In some parts of Papua New Guinea, choosing a bride is very much a commercial endeavor. The currency of the transaction with the woman’s family is pigs and shells. The groom’s parents will negotiate the best deal they can, with a less desirable bride selling for just one or two pigs, while a prime candidate could fetch 30 or more. It’s generally safe to bet there’ll be some pork served at the wedding feast.
In Australia, it’s common for wedding guests to each be given a stone upon arrival, which they’ll hold throughout the ceremony. Afterward, the stones are deposited in a decorative bowl and the couple will keep them as a remembrance of their friends and family that attended. This is fittingly called a unity bowl. Just what every bride hopes for as a wedding gift… a bowl of rocks.
Heading east to Fiji, taking a bride can get pretty challenging. While a penguin will present his mate-to-be with a pebble, young men in Fiji must present their girlfriend’s father with a – are you ready for this? A whale’s tooth. I’m guessing this means that marriages there are based on true love. How in the world does a suitor go about getting a whale’s tooth?
A little further east, we come to the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia. I’m not sure of the symbolism involved there, but I suppose there’s a reason for the bride’s relatives to all lay face-down in the dirt so the couple can walk across them.
Turning back to Asia, we need to visit China. They have an ancient culture, and a few of their customs must be long-standing.
The Daur, in Inner Mongolia, don’t consider a wedding complete until the bride and groom have killed a chick, while holding the knife together, much as a couple might slice a wedding cake in the West. They then cut the chick open and examine its liver to see if it looks healthy, If it doesn’t, they grab another chick and try again… until they find one they like.
There’s a Chinese ethnic minority called the Yugur, in which the groom is expected to shoot his bride-to-be three times with a bow and arrow. The arrows have no points, but still… that’s got to hurt. Afterward, presuming he isn’t rushing his bride to the hospital, he gathers the arrows and snaps them in two, which is supposed to keep their love alive forever.
Many men are impressed by a girl’s beautiful hair and Chinese men are no different. But they had better enjoy it while it lasts, because they’ll never see it again after the wedding. Women in their culture are expected to shave their head, with the exception of a small lock. This is considered to be a sign of cleanliness and beauty.
In Korea, after the wedding, the groom’s friends manhandle him, tie his ankles together and hold him down while someone beats the bottom of his feet with a fish. Yes, you read that right… a fish! If you’ve ever had the soles of your feet beaten, you know it smarts. I doubt that using a fish improves the experience much. The groom is supposedly assured of not disappointing his bride on their wedding night by this custom. The fish probably gains nothing from it.
Meanwhile, in Russia, those that observe the dowry system have a convincing way of upping the ante. The groom’s family will visit the bride’s family and pay a dowry. But if the amount is deemed to be too little, then they shouldn’t be surprised to see a substitute bride appear. Since the substitute is often a cross-dressing friend, though, the groom is generally the most surprised. Strangely enough, this usually results in an increase in the dowry offered. Big shock, huh?
Not far away, in Romania, many brides are kidnapped just before the wedding ceremony. It’s usually friends or family performing the faux-kidnapping, from which she can be rescued by the groom, via money, purchased drinks or romantic behavior. What could be more romantic than rescuing your bride from kidnappers? Maybe from a dragon…
Continuing on our journey, we find ourselves in India, where women that are born Manglik (when Mars and Saturn are both in the 7th house) are believed to be cursed. The curse doesn’t threaten them, though… it only results in an early death for their husband. As you might expect, these women aren’t highly sought after as brides. At least, not unless they’ve married a tree. Yes, a tree. After that symbolic marriage, the tree is the supposed recipient of the curse. And to be certain, they kill it, thus breaking the curse and freeing the woman for a happy marriage. And how many guys wouldn’t come out ahead in a comparison with a tree?
Mangliks aren’t the only Indian women that can be plagued with bad luck, of course, and trees aren’t their only option. Bad spirits can be driven away by a marriage to an animal, for instance. A dog, a horse, any number of animals can be taken in wedlock, if bad spirits warrant it. The marriage won’t be legally recognized, of course, so technically, she’d still be single. If a technicality is enough to make you feel better about being #2 after some donkey, then you’re in luck.
In parts of India, it’s customary for the groom to remove his shoes prior to the wedding ceremony. Unfortunately, as soon as he does, the entire bride’s family tries to steal them. In the melee that follows, the groom’s family tries valiantly to protect them, but if they’re unsuccessful, the shoes are held for ransom.
Now we head across the Atlantic, where we encounter an Icelandic custom that might interest you. Engagements in Iceland are typically lengthy… 4 – 5 years isn’t uncommon. So when they finally get around to the wedding, they’re not inclined to waste any time. The bride is taken to the bridal chamber by her bridesmaids and stripped down to nothing but her headdress. Then the groom is brought in and he undresses and they jump in the bed. After a quick exchange of gifts, the priest comes in and blesses the union.
Irish weddings are grand, but one thing you might notice when the newlyweds are dancing is that the bride never lifts her feet off the floor. Folklore says that fairies love to steal away beautiful brides, but they can only get at her if she lifts her feet. So don’t be surprised to see a bit of shuffling.
Arriving in Scotland, we might be shocked to find a bride covered in every gross thing you can imagine, tied to a tree. Sour milk, rotten fish, tar… you name it, she might be wearing it. This is how friends and family treat each other on such a joyous occasion in some parts of the country. They save all sorts of garbage in a bucket, get the bride half drunk and douse her with the contents. The prevailing thought is that if you can deal with this, nothing your new husband can do will be hard to handle.
The French are an imaginative people when it comes to wedding traditions. We know they enjoy good wine and fine food. But how many of us would want to get married in France, after learning of this custom?
The friends and family on both sides collect all the leftovers after the wedding dinner and combine them in a delectable “soup”. That might not seem so bad, until you learn they serve it in a toilet bowl. And the bride and groom are forced to consume it.
“Uh, honey, I know you want to get married, but maybe we should just be friends?”
The French gave birth to another custom, one which is still popular in many southern states in the U.S. Charivari (or chivaree, in the U.S.) is a loud, boisterous gathering outside the newlywed’s home on their wedding night. It’s enough to take the glow off an otherwise romantic moment, but the worst part is, they won’t stop hollering and beating on pots and pans until the couple goes out and attends to them with snacks and drinks.
Newlywed couples in many countries receive new dishes as wedding presents and Germany is no exception. They do introduce a new twist, though, in a custom called Polterabend (roughly translated: ghost evening). The guests bring new dishes as gifts, then they smash them outside the newlyweds’ home. The racket is intended to drive away evil spirits and bring good luck. Some families do get a little carried away though.
Another long-standing custom in Germany is for the couple to demonstrate their teamwork by sawing a log in half with a long crosscut saw. The guests enjoy this, cheering and jeering, while the couple works up a sweat.
There are 29 wedding customs from around the world, some of which you’ve probably never heard of. So next time you’re invited to a weeding, no matter where you are, you shouldn’t be caught by surprise.