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International Wedding Customs
. . . Different Strokes for Different Folks

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Most of us are familiar with the traditions and customs that are "typically American." What can make a wedding especially enchanting is brides and grooms incorporating American customs with those of their families' countries of origin. We may think we have the market cornered on interesting wedding moments, as our brides throw their bouquets or are showered with rice, but out in the world there are brides and grooms of many other countries celebrating in their own unique ways. When international customs are added to American customs, the combination can prove absolutely delightful.

What follows are several examples of such customs.

Africa: Jumping the Broom: During the period of slavery this country, African American couples were not allowed to legally marry. As a public statement of their love and commitment, with drums beating in the background, a man and woman jumped over a broom "into matrimony." The broom has long held significant meaning for many Africans because it symbolizes the start of homemaking for the newlywed couple. Some African-American couples today are choosing to include this symbolic rite in their wedding ceremony, directly before the recession. Smooth cowrie shells, which are believed to encourage fertility, are worn in bridal necklaces and used as decorative accents to trim gowns, jackets, and headpieces. The shells, found off the coast of West Africa, were once used as money. Today they are used for purification and as a symbol of beauty and power.

In South Africa, the parents of both bride and groom traditionally carried fire from their hearths to light a new fire in the newlyweds' hearth.

The art of braiding is common all over Africa, where men and women have their hair finely braided in honor of their wedding day. To "set" the braiding, the hairdo is often covered with a mixture of ochre and animal fat. Today's African-American brides may choose braids and hair extensions, but omit the clay mixture.

Belgium: The handkerchief tradition is perhaps the most unique of Belgium's customs. The family of the bride takes a handkerchief embroidered with the bride's name to the wedding. After the event, the handkerchief is displayed proudly in the family's home. As subsequent daughters in the family marry, their names are added and then displayed.

Bermuda: Islanders top their wedding cakes with a tiny sapling. The newlyweds then plant the tree in their garden at home, where they can watch it grow along with their marriage.

Czechoslovakia: Peas are thrown at Czech newlyweds instead of rice.

China: Chinese brides are given pocketbooks filled with gold jewelry by their female relatives. These gifts are a status symbol for the bride. In ancient China, red was the color of love and joy. Red has been maintained as the favorite color choice for the bride's dress, candles, gift boxes, and the money envelopes that are presented to her.
In keeping with the color of joy, red, which runs as a theme through a Chinese wedding, after the ceremony, the bride and groom are given goblets of wine and honey. The glasses are tied togther with red string.
Click here for more information about Chinese Wedding Traditons.

Denmark: The traditional Danish wedding cake is the cornucopia cake (Danish marzipan ring cake) that is made of almond cake, pastilage, and marzipan and beautifully decorated with sugarwork. It is filled with lots of life's "goodies" such as candies, almond cakes, fresh fruit and sorbet. The cake sometimes is decorated with marzipan medallions bearing portraits of the bride and groom. Brides and grooms traditionally "cross dress" to confuse evil spirits.

Egypt: Egyptian women pinch the bride on her wedding day for good luck. The bride's family traditionally does all the cooking for a week after the wedding, so the newlywed couple can relax.

England: The English believe that a spider found in the wedding dress brings good luck.
Wednesday is believed to be the best day to marry; Monday is for wealth and Tuesday for health. Saturday is considered the unluckiest day to marry, but is also the most popular day for weddings!

Every traditonal English wedding is "announced" the playing bells in the church. As the couple enter the sanctuary, the bells are played to fend off evil. The bells play again when the couple exits the church.
Traditionally petals are placed on the path of the bride and her attendants as they walk to the church.

Fiji: The groom ceremoniously presents the bride's father with a tabua (whale's tooth) as a symbol of status and wealth.

Finland: Brides wear golden crowns. After the wedding, the single guests form a circle and dance around the bride, who is blindfolded. They wait for her to place her crown on one of their heads, because tradition holds that whomever she crowns will be the next to wed. The bride and groom are given seats of honor at the reception There the bride holds a sieve, covered with a silk shawl. Guests come by to slip money into the sieve. Their names and the amounts of their gifts are announced publicly by a groomsman. Traditionally, Finnish brides are accompanied by an older married man who represents long marriage. They go door-to-door collecting gifts in a pillowcase.

France: Guests at a traditional French wedding, bring the flowers and floral decorations with them to the ceremony.
During the ceremony, the wedding couple drink from the "coupe de marriage," (wedding cup). This speical silver cup is passed from generation to generation in many French families.
Contrary to the American custom of throwing rice (and birdseed and confetti . . .) at the bride, in France, the custom was to throw wheat.
In lieu of a "traditional" wedding cake, the French choose a tall cone of caramel-coated cream puffs called croque-en-bouche (crisp in the mouth).

Germany: To mark their engagement couples give one another gold bands which they wear on their left hands. At the ceremony, when the couple kneels, the groom may put his knee on the bride's hem as a sign that he plans to "keep her in line." The bride, in turn, may step on his foot as she rises, as a sign that she is reasserting herself.

This article was read by one of the site's visitors, who kindly, submitted some additional information about weddings today, in Germany. This is what Silke Pflüger from Berlin, Germany wrote:

"We don't practice honorary positions as best man or Maid of honor. In Germany many couples have two ceremonies. The first one is the official led by a representative of the state, a Standesbeamter, registrar in English. You have to bring two witnesses with you, usually these are the best friends of the couple or relatives. After this civil wedding you are officially married.

If the couple is religious, or just like the tradition, they have a second ceremony in the church led by a priest. Sometimes good friends prepare some tasks for the newlywed, when they leave the town hall (or the church). This way the couple can show that they are willing and able to master the difficulties they might face during their marriage. In one example, the couple gets a large long saw with handles on both sides so that two people saw at the same time and they have to saw a tree-trunk. My cousin had to do that. Or, if they are members of a club, the friends will form a guard of honor holding something connected with their hobby. A funny example of this which I have seen was that the friends of the scuba diving club held their fins above the heads of the couple.

Before the wedding we don't have a bachelor party nor a bridal shower. In Germany we celebrate the Polterabend, usually on the eve before the wedding. Guests bring old dishes and throw it in front of the house so that it breaks into bits and pieces. There is a German proverb "Scherben bringen Glueck," broken crockery brings you luck. The more bits and pieces, the more luck the couple will have. The bride and groom-to-be have to sweep the pieces. My husband was back then, ten years ago, very careful putting the pieces away, because some guests love to tip these out again, and then the couple has to sweep again. Originally, guests are not invited, but come if they want to. Especially in the city, the couple usually invite guests. "Polterabend" is a lot of fun; it's rather informal. I'm from Berlin. There are probably other traditions in the other parts of Germany."

Greece: The koumbaros, traditionally the groom's godfather, is an honored guest who participates in the wedding ceremony. Today, the koumbaros is usually the best man. It is his responsibility to help crown the couple. The crowns generally are white or gold, or made of long-lasting flowers such as orange blossoms, or of "twigs of love and vine" wrapped in silver and gold paper. He also participates in circling the altar three times. Other attendants may read Scripture, hold candles, and help by packing the crowns in a special box after the ceremony. To ensure a sweet life, the bride may carry a lump of sugar in her glove.
The Bachelor Party probably originated in Sparta. There, the bridegroom is believed to have entertained his friends at a special supper for them on the evening before his marriage. Aptly so, the event was called "the men's mess."

The symbolic crowns which a Greek bride and groom wear are, during the ceremony, often attached by ribbons. This outward sign symbolizes the ties between a husband and wife.
At the altar, Greek couple sip wine three times to symbolize the Trinity.

Holland: Dutch families seat the bride and groom on thrones beneath a canopy of fragrant evergreens. Each guest comes up to offer good wishes. Dutch wedding meals traditionally include a sweetmeat called "bridal sugar" and a spiced wine called "bride's tears." A pine tree is planted outside the newlyweds' home as a symbol of fertility and luck.

India: At the close of the wedding ceremony, the groom's brother sprinkles flower petals on the bridal couple. These are believed to ward off evil spirits. A coconut may be held over the couple's heads, as they are circled three times. This custom is another way of banishing evil spirits.

Ireland: The traditional wedding cake of the Emerald Isle is a rich fruitcake. It is generously laced with brandy or bourbon. The bride and groom are presented with a lucky horseshoe to hang in their home. Click here for mroe information about Irish wedding customs.

Italy: Ribbons symbolize tying together of two lives, so a ribbon is tied across the front of the church door to symbolize the wedding bond. Guests toss confetti (sugared almonds) at the newlyweds. The sugared almonds may also be used for decoration at each place setting. They can be placed in small porcelain boxes or tulle bags called bomboniere, which may be personalized with names and date (of the wedding couple & the wedding day). The candies symbolize both the sweet (sugar) and bitter that life may offer.

Japan: In Japan, white was always the color of choice for bridal ensembles, long before Queen Victoria popularized it in the Western world.
A Japanese bride may change her attire, as often as two or three times during her wedding day. She may begin with the traditional kimono and "end" with a Western-style, white dress. The kimono worn at a girl's wedding will traditionally be a very expensive antique and will usually be rented not bought.

Korea: Ducks, which mate for life, are a part of the wedding procession. Years ago, the groom would travel to the bride's house on a white pony. The pony would carry a gray goose and gander (they also mate for life) as a symbol of his fidelity. In Korea, brides wear bright hues of red and yellow to take their vows.

Malaysia: The groom has his gifts to his bride delivered to her home by costumed children. The procession is noisy and exuberant. They carry lavish trays of food and currency. The paper money is folded into animal or flower shapes. Traditionally, each wedding guest is given a beautifully decorated hard-boiled egg, a symbol of fertility.

Morocco: Moroccan women take a milk bath to purify themselves before their wedding ceremony.

Norway: In Norway, Brudlaupskling, a wedding cake made of bread, dates back to the days when white flour was rare on Norwegian farms, and foods containing it were greatly admired. The bread is topped with a mixture of cheese, cream, and syrup, then folded over and cut into small squares.

The traditional Norwegian folk costume, which is often worn at weddings by wedding party and guests alike, is the bunad. Different variants from the different district make the bunad indicate a home district (or that of an ancestor). Often made from a white blouse, colored wool skirt/trousers and vest, it is elaborately embroidered. Completing the costume are sterling silver jewelry and a gold and silver crown accented with small silver spoon-shaped bangles. The sound of the clinking spoons historically was believed to ward off evil spirits.

As a "final traditional touch," two small fir trees are planted on either side of the door to the couple's house until they are blessed with a child.

Philippines: The Coins, Veil and the Lasso are traditions associated with Hispanic and Filipino weddings. One of the bridal party attendants or another, honored individual, carries the coins. Following the exchange of rings, the "coin bearer" gives the coins to the groom. The groom, in turn, gives the coins his bride. The bride then gives them to her Maid of Honor. The symbolism is a basic one. It marks the acceptance by the groom of his responsibility to provide for to support his bride.
The Filipino custom is for the bride and her wedding party all to be dressed in the same color. In that way, it is believed, that the evil spirits which may be lurking cannot pick out the bride and steal her away before the ceremony.

The Veil and the Lasso respectively are incorporated into a special wedding prayer which takes place during the ceremony. Members of the wedding party are designated to be in charge of "lassoing" the bride and groom. This binding of the couple, takes place while they kneel for the wedding prayer. A white satin circle of cord is subsequently draped around the (head and) shoulders of the kneeling couple.

Once the couple has been "lassoed," a Veil is placed over their shoulders. The veil, which may need some fastening so it will stay in place, symbolically unites the couple, who remain kneeling for the prayer. When the kneeling prayer is over, the attendants remove the lasso and the veil.

Russia: Being a guest at a Russian wedding really pays. Contrary to American weddings customs, instead of the guests bringing gifts to the new bride and groom, at a Russian wedding the newlyweds provide a gift to each guest, as an expression gratitude.

Scotland: The traditional Scottish wedding cake consists of two tiers of brandy-flavored fruitcake. The cake is baked at the time of the couple's engagement. Only one tier is eaten at the wedding celebration, while the other is saved to celebrate the birth of the couple's first born.

Spain: The groom presents thirteen coins to the bride, as a symbol of his ability to support and care for her. This custom is called the giving of monedas or arras. During the ceremony, either the bride carries the coins in a special purse, or a young girl carries them on a pillow or handkerchief. Wedding guests participate in dancing a sequidillas manchegas at the reception, at which occasion each guest presents the bride with a gift.

Sweden: A Swedish bride puts a silver coin from her father and a gold coin from her mother in each shoe to ensure she never has to go without.

Switzerland: Junior bridesmaids in the Swiss tradition carry colored hankies. Guests may "buy" one of the handkerchiefs by contributing a dollar to the couples "nest egg."

United States: Bundling was a custom that originated long ago in New England. It was introduced by the Dutch and the English and allowed engaged couples to lie in bed together (fully clothed, of course) to keep away the chill of long, cold Northern winters.

Wales: In Wales, a man would often carve a spoon from a piece of wood with his pocket knife. This would be attached to a ribbon and worn by a girl around her neck as a sign of their engagement.

The somewhat antiquated term "spooning," came to mean to court or go steady, and originated from this custom.

This introduction is just a sample of some of the many wonderful, beautiful customs which brides and grooms follow worldwide. The customs have something in common with one another and with American traditions. Many have an element of superstition, a "why take a chance?" approach. Many are a way of honoring the bride and groom and most, have at their core, ways of wishing the new couple well in their marriage.

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