a man and woman, both dressed in whitei in front of an altar and a priest

Anthropology: Wedding Practices in Various Cultures Across the Globe

All over the world, thousands of people join forces and marry daily. According to the CDC, about two million people marry a year in the United States alone. That’s about five thousand weddings daily, and only in one country. With origins coming from as early as Mesopotamia, marriage has been prominent in all societies.  Each country, each culture even has its own individual wedding practices and engagement acts. Some simple, some crazy, and some rare, there’s variety everywhere you look. Some even have multiple, and families choose which path to take as they plan to connect. Each country, region, state, or even family has its own traditions and practices when it comes down to nuptial vows. But the common thread that ties all of them together is that, at its source, all weddings happen because of the love we share for each other.

Wedding Practices in the Philippines

The exterior of a modern-day wedding in the Philippines appears similar to the customs many assume in the wedding cliche. Before the wedding can even begin, the groom reaches out to the bride’s family to ask for her hand in marriage. This shows that the groom respects his fiance’s family, and that he does not wish to go against their wishes if they do not support the marriage. If the parents say no, the groom will either try again later, or will move on to find a more suitable wife. But if the parents say yes to this wedding practice, then the couple will be cleared to get married and will begin to plan their wedding.

A bride and a groom, both lighting a candle in teh middle of them from two other candles.
An example of a unity candle ceremony at weddings. Source: Greatofficiants.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ceremony in the modern Philippines wedding is usually a church ceremony, with a banquet or celebration following. The church service can last for about an hour as the couple ties the knot. These services are initiated by priests. One of the specific wedding practices performed is the use of unity candles and candle sponsors. In this wedding practice, either the engaged or members of their family hold burning candles together. The sharing of the flame symbolizes the conjoinment of the two families, and the intensity of the flame represents the love held by the couple. While attending modern-day Philippine weddings, guests are forbidden to wear black or white. Not just are those colors saved for the bride and groom, but they also represent bad luck. Black even represents death, which doesn’t go well with the joyous celebrations.

Traditional Philippines Wedding Practices

In precolonial times, some of the wedding practices stood the test of time and carried into modern day practice. These were the ceremonies performed at the church, and the ritual of asking the wives’ parents for permission to wed. But other traditions fizzled out. A traditional wedding lasts about three days. A priest, known as a Babaylan,  performed these alongside the married couple. On the first day, the couple’s hands joined together over a bowl of uncooked rice. On the second day, the priest draws blood from the chests of the couple, and mixes it with water, which the couple then drinks. This represented the physical bond that forms between the groom and wife. On the third day, a cord is laid around the couple in a circle. Also, the hair of the couple may be braided together. This step concludes the ceremony and signifies connection.

Wedding Practices in Africa

Although wedding practices in Africa vary from country to country, most follow three standards from tradition. These practices originate from older traditions, but as time continues, those traditions shape to fit modern day. While many of these wedding practices originate from problematic acts, in many modern-day uses , couples shift the meanings to something more appropriate. But controversy still exists about whether or not these practices should be celebrated in any form.

Wedding Practice 1: Marriage by ‘Capture’

As the name suggests, in older times, this wedding practice meant literally stealing women for brides. Violence often ensured, and many times the groom’s entire family would be in on the act, helping kidnap the woman. Now in modern times, some couples choose to include a like-wise event during their receptions. During the reception, members of the groom’s family will ‘kidnap’ the wife, and have the groom find and rescue her. This sometimes leads to a less common practice, in which the two families meet up and exchange ‘ransom’, or wedding gifts. Some families can also choose to perform a mock battle over the rescuing of the wife. Although this act has been molded to fit with the times, some critics worry that the implications of fake-kidnapping do not fit the standards of a wedding.

Wedding Practice 2: Marriage by “Purchase”

A photograph of an African American couple in traditional colorful wedding clothes
One example of the diverse fashions alongside African wedding practices. Source: theculturetrip.com

When tracing back to the origins of this practice, purchase meant literally using money to buy a wife in this wedding practice. Men paid money for their wives, and women had no say in the choice. Like marriage by capture,this tradition, once deeply problematic in its roots, has now changed to fit the times. Similar to the Philippine tradition, this African wedding practice advocates that men ask their fiancees’ parents for permission. But instead of just asking, men often bring gifts for the parents to accept in place of their daughter. In one traditional practice in the republic state of Zaire , men give the parents of the wife two copper rings or an arrow. These can represent the bond between the couple ,or even the two families as a whole.

Another practice in Zaire is bringing a knife to the parents, which stands for the man’s willingness to protect the wife and her family. Other practices treat this exchange as a form of insurance. That way, the woman and her family can live without the help of the man if they divorce. One instance of this originates from Zulu culture, in which the groom offers cows to the bride’s family. If the marriage fails, then the wife’s family uses the cows to create an income to survive off of . Afterall, marriages represent not just a bonding of individuals, but families as well. Even if the wedding stops working, neither side wants the other to suffer too harshly.

Wedding Practice 3: Marriage by Choice

Marrying by choice  had little existence in historical contexts, but has grown popular in modern times has been wedding-practices. With other senses of freedom and rights being bought for women, the right to choose and mutually respect your chosen partner came along. In this practice, with its origins in modern times, people select who they’d like to marry based off relationships and qualities that they favor in others.

Marriage Practices in the United States of America

America’s practices of marriage are some of the traditions that change most over time and from person to person. The idea of an engagement and weddings are often individualized, in which the couple chooses what practices they want to include. But often these still follow trends, history, and traditions. But what we consider to be some traditions, or cliches, of modern day marriage, are more recent and less traditional than we think.

The  Colonial Marriage

In the early settlement of America, traditional wedding practices promoted marriage as a land grab for the groom. Marriage tore away women’s rights and freedom. In her eyes, her only role is to follow God and her husband’s will. The wedding, in the eyes of a man in colonial America, provided him with more land and materials as well, as the groom took whatever the bride owned for himself. The wife appeared  just as a plus. One misconception of the colonial wedding practices focused on the location. Many assume that churches hosted the most weddings at this time, but the truth is that churches weren’t used for ordinary working-class marriages until later. It seems odd that, because of the height of religious wedding practices in America, churches weren’t commonly used in wedding traditions.

Modern day Wedding Practices in America

an image of bedazzled shows, a pearl bracelet, a clutch and hariband. and a blue perfume bottle.
An example of what a bride may take with her to fulfill all of the requirements of this tradition. Source: Svenstudios.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In modern times, couples have many choices and freedoms when it comes to marriage. Couples choose exactly what they want for a dream wedding, including venues, food, guests, and level of formality. A wedding no longer requires a ceremony, and some couples opt not to celebrate it altogether. Instead, they obtain a legal marriage certificate, and then call it a day. But those who choose to hold a ceremony have many options and traditions to participate in. One of the most common is the bride’s ‘something borrowed, something new, something old, and something blue’. This tradition states that if the bride wears one item that fits each of the requirements, then she’ll be lucky both at the wedding and the marriage.

The something borrowed reflects the tradition of marriage, particularly in the bride’s family. Something new stands for the new journey her and her husband have in marriage.  The ‘old’ represents the family and friends the bride has, and also promises to give her luck in family life. The blue line refers to the bride’s purity or virginity. All of these symbols represent fortune and well-being for the bride as she continues into the next stage of her life.

Wedding Practices in China: Past and Present

Similar to America, modern-day weddings in China gather inspiration from the origins of the earliest weddings. But also similar to the American type, modern day Chinese weddings begin to drift from strict old traditions, and focus on current day superstitions and practices. As time continues on, people stray further from what has always been, and begin to investigate how to celebrate in the way they want to.

Deep Traditions in Chinese Wedding Practices

a photo of two woman dressed in tradtional red marriage dresses
An example of a Qipao wedding dress. Source:Qipology

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the most prominent themes in a traditional Chinese wedding is the color red’s presence. Red stands for good luck and wealth, which are both beneficial for the couple. The bride even wears a qipao, a red dress, to bring good luck and happiness at the wedding. Invitations are sent out in red envelopes, and gifts are given in other red envelopes .The color red stands to be very important in traditional  Chinese culture, and its prominence in wedding practices proves that.

Before any official ceremony starts, the groom leads a procession of his family towards his fiance’s house. The wife’s family tries to block the groom from entering, representing the protection they have over their family. Before the wedding, a Chinese tea ceremony takes place, in which both families are formally introduced to each other before their members wed. A specific tea, Tsao Chun, is drunk, and then the families present gifts in red envelopes to the couple.

On the night after the ceremony, the couple will be brought to a room lit with a phoenix and dragon candle. It’s important to note that this is their room, to make the night extra special. They drink wine from glasses connected together by a red string. This string represents the connection formed, and acts as a way to illustrate how the couple connect after marriage. The day after, the wife will cook a meal for both families. After the third day, the wife is no longer considered a member of her own family, but is still welcomed with open arms as an esteemed visitor. In ancient tradition, marriages were arranged, and many of the traditions listed had to be performed for it to be a wedding.

Modern day wedding Practices in China

In modern-day China, people marry who they want.  Tradition does not need to be followed closely either. The bride wears a red dress, a white dress, and usually one more gown. Most ceremonies occur in a public office, but a celebration follows after in a separate location. Guests give red envelopes with money to the bride and groom, and the reception lasts for a few hours. Then the bride and groom enter, followed by speeches given by family and friends. One newer tradition is alongside drinking wine together that night, the couple both cut a lock of hair for good luck.

Conclusion:

Despite the many differences that pull these wedding practices apart, the thread that spurs weddings keeps them together. No matter where, weddings represent the connection between two individuals, and their families. From using old ceremonies to creating new individual practices, weddings all represent the true connection of love. In the end, it doesn’t matter how the marriage goes about. It doesn’t matter how much money is spent, how fancy the traditions are, or how expensive the dress is(that alone is a topic worth another blog). Marriage represents something so simple and heartfelt, yet stands for the deepest connection that people form together. From all comers of the world, love brings us together, and allows us all to witness and be part of something special to us. For this, we must appreciate and respect the variety that everyone can love and be loved by, as nothing is more human than that.

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