MARRIAGE IS universally considered as one of the most important events in one’s life. In fact in Korea, it has become the norm that marriages be prepared for a long time and celebrated lavishly in big halls with many guests. Contrary to such norms of our culture and also what Hollywood movies show us, some cultures retain unique wedding traditions that may be quite unfamiliar to us. “What would your wedding be like?” Although this may easily be deemed a question with predictable answers, it may actually produce countless exotic ones from couples all around the world.
India, abundant in intricate rituals
Traditional Indian weddings consist of a long list of procedures to go through even before the date of the wedding. The whole wedding process, including pre-wedding ceremonies, lasts for a week. One of the most striking features of Indian pre-wedding ceremonies is the Mehndi ceremony, held on the night before the wedding. During this ceremony, the bride and other women in her family get their hands and feet covered with intricate decorations by applying henna*. As time goes by, the color of the decorations grows deeper and darker. It is believed that the deeper the color is, the better the marriage will be, as these patterns symbolize the bond between the bride and groom. The women and bride then take time to party and enjoy the night with music and dancing.
On the date of the wedding, there are still many rituals to be carried out. One of them is called Jaimala, where the bride and groom exchange garlands as a token of respect for each other. Another ritual is called Kanyadaan, which is the “giving away of the bride.” Here, the bride’s father officially gives his daughter away to the groom by placing the bride’s hand in the groom’s. Then the “sacred fire,” symbolizing Agni, the god of fire, is ignited as a divine witness to the couple’s commitments. The bride and groom walk around the sacred fire after the ignition, representing their vows and duties to be carried out in their marriage. Even after that, several other rituals remain to fulfill the couple’s bonding for life.
Having “fun” at a Russian wedding
In Russia, couples go to the registry office on the wedding day to officially register themselves as husband and wife. However, the groom must first visit the house of his future wife, where friends, relatives and guests of his bride are keeping her captive, and pay a ransom in order to win her back. Usually, the bride’s friends demand the groom to fulfill certain challenges, such as singing, dancing, solving ridiculous puzzles and riddles, and many other hilarious tasks. When he has successfully completed all of their demanded tasks, he must give a ransom in the form of money, sweets or such like in order to finally meet his bride. Such a tradition is still enjoyed among Russians today, mainly for fun and amusement.
Sometimes, newlywed couples follow the tradition of ‘bread and salt.’ Couples take turns biting off from a big lump of bread given to them, often without using their hands; the one who takes the biggest bite is said to be the head of the household. Afterwards, at the start of the reception party, guests drink a toast to the bride and groom. Following the toast, they all cry “gor'ko,” meaning “bitter.” It is a point where the bride and groom must kiss as long as they can, in order to turn “bitter” to sweet. With this kissing ceremony begins a party full of drinks, dancing, and fun.
Unique ceremonies of the Yoruba
The Yoruba people make up one of the largest ethnic groups in Africa, mainly living in southwestern Nigeria. They share a distinctive traditional wedding ceremony, which is characterized principally by the existence of the Alaga Iduro and the Alaga Ijoko. The Alaga Iduro could be described as a “standing MC” who represents the groom’s family, whereas the Alaga Ijoko is a “sitting MC,” representing the bride’s family. When the groom’s family, without the groom, arrives at the venue of the wedding, where the bride’s family is waiting, also without the bride, the Alaga Ijoko welcomes them and introduces them to the bride’s family. On the other hand, the Alaga Iduro presents the proposal letter to the Alaga Ijoko on behalf of the groom’s family, which is then read aloud by one of the young females of the bride’s family.
The traditional wedding of the Yoruba has another distinctive trait, which is the act of prostration performed by the groom’s family and the groom. Before the Alaga Iduro presents the proposal letter, the groom’s family all kneel and lay on their stomachs before the bride’s family as a greeting. After the proposal letter has been presented and some prayers have been said, the groom enters dancing with his friends and prostrates himself four times - twice with his friends and twice alone, the last one performed before his own family. After all these procedures have taken place, the bride finally arrives.
Brazilian customs amid the extravagance
Weddings in Brazil are well-known for being very expensive, but they also have a variety of little rituals that fill the weddings with enjoyment. Prior to the wedding, the bride has a gathering with her female friends and relatives, referred to as the “kitchen shower.” It is differentiated from other kinds of bridal shower in that friends and relatives bring gifts for the bride to use in the kitchen.
On the big day, the bride traditionally arrives late at the venue, at least ten minutes after the groom. Some other notable customs of the Brazilian wedding include placing the bride’s shoe on the middle of the dance floor for guests to put in money as a sign of wishing for the couple’s prosperity. Also, a Brazilian couple gives a traditional sweet named “bem casado,” meaning “well married” to their guests as a gift, and also as a symbol of their wishing good luck for their own marriage. Interestingly in some parts of Brazil, the groom is required to tame a donkey, in order to prove his capability as a worthy husband.
Box 1: Other unique wedding customs
Peru: As a tradition that could be compared with the bouquet toss in a U.S. wedding, little charms attached to ribbons are hidden in between layers of the wedding cake, with the other end of the ribbons hanging out. Before cutting the cake, female guests each pull a ribbon. The one guest that pulls the ribbon with a fake wedding ring attached to it will be the next in line to get married.
Denmark: At a Danish wedding reception, guests gather around the groom to cut off the toes of his socks. It is said that this is done so no other woman will be attracted to him.
Lebanon: A Lebanese wedding kicks off with a tradition called “zaffe,” in which friends, family, and often professional dancers and performers escort the groom to the bride with music and dancing. The crowd of escorts sends off the groom with shouted blessings and a shower of flower petals.
U.K. royal weddings: The bridesmaids at royal weddings in the United Kingdom usually consist of young girls. At the wedding of Princess Diana and Charles, Prince of Wales in 1981, the youngest bridesmaid was 5 years old. At the wedding of Kate Middleton with Prince William, Duke of Cambridge in 2011, the youngest bridesmaid was only 3.
*Henna: A reddish-brown dye obtained from leaves of the henna plant and used especially for coloring hair or skin