Saturday, June 11, 2011

Wedding Rituals From Around the World

Humans are not the only creature on Earth to prefer a “pair bond” mating style. Penguins choose a single mate for their entire lives. While many anthropologists argue that most human societies and cultures follow “serial monogamy” whereby they choose a single mate to be faithful to until something happens to make them find another, the fact remains the same that most civilizations like to honor the idea of a single man and a single woman being bound to each other when forming the next generation of children and their own nuclear family unit. Generally, this binding of a couple is known as marriage. A community joins together to witness the promises of the couple to be true to each other when they form their own legitimate family, usually with the blessing of a religious higher power in some type of ritual as well. The ceremony and specifics of these bonding rituals vary all over the world from country to country and culture to culture.

1.South Africa

The twelve symbols important to the native South African cultures play a vital role in wedding ceremonies—wheat, wine, salt, pepper, water, bitter herbs, broom, pot and spoon, honey, shield, spear, and a copy of either the Koran or Bible depending on the individual religion of the families. They are used and administered different ways during the ritual ceremony itself in order to represent various aspects of the strength and love in this new tie that unites the two families. Weddings in South Africa focus not only on the joining of the man and woman as a pair bond but on the binding of the families as a very important aspect of the ceremony. Traditionally, the parents of both the bride and the groom would carry a fire from both of their hearths to the home of the new couple where they would use the two flames to kindle a new fire, representative of the new life of the couple.

2. Germany

A pre-wedding custom unique to Germany is the production of a type of “wedding newspaper.” The family and friends of both the bride and groom get together to create a booklet filled with special articles, pictures, and stories of the engaged couple. These are then sold at the wedding reception to help offset the cost of the couple’s honeymoon. The wedding itself generally is three days long with three separate major events if the traditional method is followed. The first day is for a civil ceremony that takes place at the city center which is attended only by family and very close friends. The second night hosts a huge wedding party where family, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances are invited to eat, drink, and cheerfully break old dishes. The religious wedding ceremony is saved for the third day. Usually the bride and groom are the only ones at the altar with the priest or preacher as attendants are not common in these religious ceremonies other than perhaps a flower girl to lead the bride down the aisle. After the ceremony, the bride and groom then attempt to break a log together to represent the tackling of a difficult task as a couple for the first time.

3. Philippine Islands

Filipino engagements are just as important as the wedding ceremonies as they tend to have a strong history of tradition linked with the practice of engagement. At one point in history, a man would throw a spear at the front of the home of the woman he wished to marry as a preliminary proposal. The marking of a spear in front of the girl’s home would signify her unavailability and act as the beginning of the engagement process where the groom and his family would then go to the girl’s house to officially ask her family for the woman’s hand in marriage. The wedding itself is strongly steeped in tradition. Several of the wedding witnesses have actual responsibilities in the ceremony. The first chosen witnesses pin the bride’s veil to the grooms shoulder, symbolizing the pair being clothed as one. Then, the witnesses hang a white cord around the necks of the couple to represent the bond now between them.

4. Yemen

Wedding ceremonies in Yemen are huge affairs for the entire community. All of the guests as well as hired professional musicians participate in what is called “gladdening the bride with music” whereby singing and instrument playing sound all over the community. The feast following the ceremony is also important. The bride’s family is generally responsible for its preparation, making sure to include donuts and sweet fritters to represent the sweet life the couple will hopefully have.

5. Armenia

Wedding traditions in Armenia focus strongly on symbolism and beautiful ritual. While modern Western civilizations like brides to wear a tried and true white dress to symbolize the purity of the bride, Armenian brides prefer to wear a red silk dress or gown on her wedding day. Again going against Western standards, the bride’s headpiece of far more unique than a simple shimmering tiara. The headpiece is usually constructed from cardboard or some other sturdy but shapeable material to resemble a set of wings, flowing from her head atop of her styled hair. The wing shapes are even covered with white feathers once the configuration is complete. After the ceremony itself, the releasing of a pair of doves to symbolize happiness and love is very favored. The bride and groom enter the reception to great fanfare as the wedding party (both bridesmaids and groomsmen) line up with each other and hold tall floral arrangements aloft to create a type of arch of beautiful flowers and favored people that the couple walks though. To signify wealth for the couple, guests at the wedding throw coins at the bride during the reception as well.

6. Venezuela

The South American country of Venezuela has its own special wedding traditions. Family is a very important in these bonding ceremonies as it is believed that the bride and groom are being united in addition to the families forming deep ties themselves through the union. The groom must ask the permission of his beloved’s father before proposing to her if he is to have the blessing of her family. The couple usually will have two ceremonies for a complete wedding—a civil ceremony and a religious ceremony. Generally, the civil ceremony will take place first at roughly two weeks before the religious one. A party feast and reception follows both of the ceremonies, but the religious wedding seems to be bigger in terms of the celebrations. During the ceremony itself, to show the strong bonds being formed by the families in addition to the bride and groom, the families of the couple with exchange thirteen gold coins called arras as a way to symbolize good fortune and prosperity to both of the families through the union of the bride and groom. The coins may also be exchanged by the couple themselves during the ceremony. For good luck during the final reception though, the newlyweds will sneak away without saying goodbye to their guests as a way to bless their union.

7. Iceland

Marriage is a very serious endeavor in Iceland. Long engagements of three to four years are considered to be normal as the couple is not rushed into the union. Modern Icelanders have adopted the Western wedding traditions, but the traditional rituals can still be seen by some couples who wish to honor their heritage. A unique ritual is the announcement of the couple’s engagement three times—once at the groom’s church, once at the bride’s, and then once at the church in which they were to be married. Toastmasters were vital to these elaborate wedding ceremonies though as the wedding festivities would usually begin a day before the actual ceremony with feasting, drinking, and plenty of toasts representative of blessings, poems, and stories of the couple.

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