Moroccan wedding henna tattoos.

Anthropology: Different Marriage Traditions and Rituals Around the World

In Western culture, when thinking of a wedding, it is very normal to picture a bride in an extravagant white gown, all the men in polished tuxedoes, a large cake, and great food. Even if there are additions to make a ceremony unique, there is this typical formula for weddings in the United States. Many cultures around the world have other marriage customs and traditions that stray from the norm of the Western culture wedding. Even if they look similar in style to traditional Western weddings, some of these countries have traditions or rituals that set them apart.

Mexico

Wedding customs and traditions could vary greatly depending on what area of Mexico an individual is from and the type of upbringing an individual received. Las arras matrimoniales is ritual rooted in the Catholic faith and is usually performed at Catholic weddings in Spain and Latin America. It is a ceremony in which the priest blesses the thirteen gold coins that bride and groom received from the wedding godparents. The coins symbolize Jesus and his twelve disciples. Another tradition in Mexican culture is after the vows are read, a flower band or rope is wrapped around the necks of the couple getting married. This is to represent the eternity of their marriage and every marriage. A common tradition in Mexican weddings is the selection of the los padrinos y madrinas. The couple choose these people and they are like godparents. They sponsor portions of the wedding and it is considered a privilege to be selected for this duty. After the wedding ceremony is completed there is a common tradition performed by the couple. They present the bride’s bouquet to the Virgin Mary and ask for her blessing. The bride typically has two bouquets prepared for the wedding day so she can have a bouquet for the photos and reception.

Coins for the las arras matrimoniales.
https://www.brides.com/wedding-coins-5077506 

Sweden

An old tradition for Swedish brides is instead of wearing a modern veil or tiara, they wear a garland of myrtle leaves. This crown of leaves is a symbol of the bride’s innocence or virginity. Another tradition is on her wedding day the bride will have coins in her shoes. Her left shoe will contain a silver coin from her father and her right shoe will contain a gold coin from her mother. The coins are to ensure that she will never go hungry or lacked anything. One another tradition for the bride is that she will wear three wedding bands. The three bands are representative of her engagement, the marriage, and for motherhood. The kissing tradition is another unique Swedish wedding tradition. This is when either the bride or groom leaves the room all the people of the opposite sex of the remaining member of the couple have the opportunity to go kiss the bride or groom. For example, if the groom left the room all the men at the wedding have the chance to go and kiss the bride. Some couples now have a bell they ring instead. So, if the bride rings the bell all the women at the wedding get ready to kiss the groom.

An example of a myrtle leaf crown.
https://junebugweddings.com/wedding-blog/unique-wedding-in-swedish-ruins-at-rytterne-kyrka/ 

China

Chinese weddings are typically full of wedding color schemes and energy. It is a lavish celebration full of traditions and symbols that are to bring the new couple blessing and prosperity. When choosing a wedding date, the couple will usually consult a fortune teller, Chinese monk, or Feng Shui master. The couple’s zodiac signs’ and birthday details are taken into account when choosing a date to ensure the date brings success to their marriage. The colors red and gold play a huge role in Chinese weddings. Not only are Chinese wedding invitations red with gold writing but the whole wedding itself is adorned in those special colors. The colors red and gold are linked to things like love, success, happiness, fertility, and prosperity. These colors are also a symbol of wealth. It is also tradition for the bride to wear a red dress called a qipao. Another tradition is called the Hair Combing Ceremony and it is performed the night before the wedding. The ceremony is a symbol of the couple entering adulthood. First both the bride and groom shower with pomelo leaves and change into new red clothes with red slippers. Then the bride will sit in front of a mirror and the groom will sit facing the interior of the house. Next the parents of the bride and groom will prepare the objects necessary for the ceremony. After this is done a woman with good fortune will start the hair combing ceremony. While she combs their hair, she will recite blessings to whichever member of the couple she is with. After their hair is combed four times, the woman will clip red yarn and cypress leaves into their hair to complete the ceremony.

An example of a Chinese wedding dress.
https://eastmeetsdress.com 

Morocco

For Moroccan women the wedding celebrations start on the hammam day. The bride brings all her female family members and friends to take them to the hammam or the public bath. At the public bath the bride gets tons of spa-like treatments in preparation for her wedding night, but she specifically gets her hair washed with ghassoul which is a type of clay. The day after this is the henna ceremony. The bride receives henna tattoos on her hands and feet. To the Moroccans henna represents fertility, beauty, and optimism. The bride receives henna tattoos to wish her luck in married life.

Moroccan wedding henna tattoos.
https://ketubah.com/blog/moroccan-wedding-traditions/ 

Cuba

Typically, Cuban brides wear very elaborate dresses with lots of ruffles. During the wedding guests partake in the traditional money dance. The money dance is when each man who dances with the bride will pin money to her dress. The money is intended to go towards honeymoon expenses.

Cuban money dance.
https://www.brides.com/money-dance-tradition-5074509 

India

Hindu weddings are full of culture-rich gathering full of tradition and vibrance. Before the actual wedding there is a gathering called sangeet. This is where the families of the bride and the groom come together to sing and dance. Another tradition is the mehndi ceremony. This is a party consisting of the bride’s female family members and friends. It usually takes place the day before the actual wedding. During the party the bride is adorned in intricate henna tattoos on her hands and feet. It is a common tradition to hide the groom’s name in the bride’s henna design. It is tradition for brides to wear a red sari on their wedding day. The groom’s arrival is a ceremony called vara yatra. The groom’s guests join his parade that proceeds into the wedding ceremony. The parade group is greeted with a rice toss called akshat. The groom himself is presented with a lit lamp and a garland. The wedding ceremony is performed on a wedding mandap or a wedding altar. The mandap is usually elaborately decorated with anything from flowers and types of greenery to fabric and crystals. In the center of the mandap there is a fire. Since a Hindu marriage is a sacrament the fire is kept there as a witness. All Hindu wedding rituals start off with praying to the god of new beginnings and good fortune, Ganesha. Next both the bride and groom have their ancestral lineage revealed. This is because Hindu law does not allow marriages within the same ancestral clan. The newlywed couple exchanges flower garlands called jai mala. This exchange represents each partner welcoming each other into their families. Specifically, in North Indian Hindu weddings there is a tradition of tying the bride’s veil and groom’s sash together. This is called saptapadi and after the couple is tied together, they walk seven circles around a ceremonial fire. There is a South Indian tradition called talambralu or the ritual of happiness. During this ritual the couple showers each other with a mixture of rice, saffron, and turmeric. This ritual is supposed to represent fertility, prosperity and happiness in the couple’s future. Once the wedding ceremony is completed, the bride will have a red powder applied to the part in her hair. This represents her new status of being a married woman.

A South Indian wedding custom called the talambralu.
https://www.brides.com/hindu-wedding-ceremony-rituals-traditions-4795869

Austria

In Austria, waking the bride on her wedding day is its own tradition. Typically, a bride will wake up pretty early on her wedding day but probably not as early as this Austrian tradition intends. At dawn, friends and neighbors gather to wake the bride by gunshots or fireworks. It is believed that evil spirits are driven away by the loud noises created to wake the bride. Another popular tradition is the auction of the bride’s shoes. Wedding guests bid on the shoes of the bride and the money goes to the new couple. There is one catch to the auction, which is the bride’s father, or the groom must make the final bid. This is to uphold the honor of the bride. A highly debated but widespread tradition in Austria is the stealing of the bride. At the wedding reception, the bride and groom are both “kidnapped” by their friends. After a certain amount of time has gone by, the groom is allowed to leave and look for his bride. This tradition dates all the way back to the Middle Ages. This is because, during the Middle Ages, the reigning sovereign had the right to the first night with the bride.

Moment captured at Austrian wedding.
https://offbeatbride.com/intimate-austrian-wedding/ 

Germany

An older German wedding ritual is the log cutting tradition. In front of all the wedding guests the newlywed couple must saw a log in half. This is supposed to represent overcoming their first obstacle as a married couple. The couple uses a long saw with two handles to show all the wedding guests their teamwork, but it mainly to demonstrate their willingness to tackle the difficulties that will arise in marriage together.

German log cutting ceremony.
https://heartofncweddings.com/log-cutting-ceremony/

France

In France there is a tradition called le pot de chambre. This tradition takes place the night of the wedding. On the night of the wedding, the newlywed couple is gifted a brand-new chamber pot. Some leftovers from the wedding are put into the chamber pot and later that night the couple is supposed to eat the leftovers in the chamber pot. The meaning of this is to give the couple energy for the night and to symbolize the end of the party. By finishing the leftovers, this means the party is over and the couple’s married life begins. The newlyweds do not get to do this alone though. Close friends usually go look for the couple and cause chaos once they find them until the pot is empty.

An example of le pot de chambre.
http://histoiresetlegendesnormandes.unblog.fr/2015/09/15/le-pot-de-chambre-de-la-mariee/ 

Jamaica

In Jamaican weddings, the cake is a very important feature. The signature Jamaican Black Rum Cake is baked specifically for weddings. The cake is carried covered in white lace and during this processional ceremony everyone at the wedding is silent. The cake includes things like cinnamon, nutmeg, and dried fruits that have been soaking in rum since the couple became engaged. The cake appears black because they burn the sugar in the cake. Another Jamaican tradition comes after the wedding is over. The Sunday after the wedding, all the wedding guests are invited to the bride’s house to be involved in more celebrations. This is called Tun T’anks Sunday and can be even bigger than the wedding reception.

A Jamaican black rum cake.
https://www.alicaspepperpot.com/black-cake-caribbean-rum-soaked-fruit-cake/ 

Spain

Women in Spain wear their engagement rings on their ring finger on their left hand like most people do. The difference with Spanish women is they wear their wedding bands on the ring finger on their right hand. Typically, women stack their engagement ring and wedding band on the ring finger on their left hand, but women in Spain separate them. Many brides in Spain today wear white, but there is a tradition where the bride would wear a black dress and veil to her wedding. Wearing a black dress and veil represents the bride’s devotion and commitment to her husband. This is because it symbolizes the phrase, “until death do us part.”

A traditional black wedding dress for Spanish bride.
https://www.venuereport.com/roundups/13-beautiful-wedding-traditions-from-around-the-world/ 

Conclusion

Around the world, weddings are ceremonies that can be something very special and unique. They can vary greatly depending on country, region, religion, and personal preference. No matter how different they are, one thing that all weddings do is unite two people in love. Marriage is hard to define because of how it varies so much between cultures. It is something that in itself is complex and diverse, which makes it difficult to give it a standard definition. Marriage can be anything from a religious sacrament, a legal contract, or a social union. Any of these three variations can occur between a man and a woman, a man and a man, a woman and a woman, and multiple times in a polygamist relationship. Anthropologists study all the different types of marriage because marriage is a part of every culture. With the help of anthropologists, we can study all different types of marriages around the world.

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