Published by Buffalo Spree Magazine.
One hundred years ago, Buffalo was an enticing new home to many immigrants, and the Queen City became—and still is—a beautiful tapestry of cultural diversity. These rich cultures are often on display in the traditional wedding festivities that take place in myriad venues from historic churches, mosques, and temples to social halls, family homes, and gorgeous green spaces.
As The Emily Post Institute says in “Religious wedding traditions around the world,” “That so many contemporary brides and grooms turn to these traditions is proof of their lasting power and significance—and attests to the desire of modern couples to invest their ceremonies with meaning and personal and historical context. It’s a way not only to personalize their ceremony, but to honor their heritage”
German “Hochzeits” (weddings)
According to germanculture.com.ua, lively German marital traditions include honking horns and breaking glass. The “Junggesellenabschied”—which sounds a lot like a cross-cultural bachelor party—is when “a few days before the wedding, the groom and his male friends go to a pub or sometimes other places to drink and have fun.” This may happen separately or in conjunction with something like a bachelorette party, with a twist.
“In some areas, (mostly in small villages), friends kidnap the bride, and the groom has to find her,” the website reads. “Normally, he has to search in a lot of pubs and invite all the people in (the pubs along).” And if he doesn’t invite those new friends? He gets stuck with the bill. Concedes the website, “Sometimes this ritual ends badly.”
Another pre-wedding tradition is the “Polterabend,” an “informal party the evening before the wedding, where plates and dishes (porcelain, not glass) are smashed.” Because “Scherben bringen Glück”; shards bring luck. Therefore, the bride and groom must sweep up every little piece, so as not to leave any good fortune lying on the floor.
On the wedding day, flowers are carried or worn by the wedding party, and also placed in the church. A large bouquet is also affixed to the hood of the wedding car, and a long car procession forms behind the new couple’s vehicle when they leave the church. The wedding guests all honk their horns at oncoming traffic, and folks honk back to wish the couple good luck. Think happy traffic jam, with everyone smiling and waving.
Among other traditions, one has the bride tie white ribbons into her bouquet, then give them to guests as they leave the church. The guests tie them onto their cars—it used to be on their antennas; on newer cars, maybe it’s rearview mirrors?—to mark them as part of the wedding procession. Another custom is for the bride’s family to save their pennies to buy her wedding shoes.
Celtic weddings often have a strong religious element, but there are also secular traditions couples enjoy. These include following the classic wedding calendar, “handfasting,” and wearing a special style of wedding band.
According to ireland-information.com, traditional beliefs about when one should get married are summed up in this old wedding song
“Marry when the year is new, always loving, kind, and true. / When February birds do mate, you may wed, nor dread your fate. / If you wed when March winds blow, joy and sorrow both you’ll know. / Marry in April when you can, joy for maiden and for man. / Marry in the month of May, you will surely rue the day. / Marry when June roses blow, over land and sea you’ll go. / They who in July do wed, must labor always for their bread. / Whoever wed in August be, many a change are sure to see. / Marry in September’s shine, your living will be rich and fine. / If in October you do marry, love will come but riches tarry. / If you wed in bleak November, only joy will come, remember. / When December’s rain fall fast, marry and true love will last.” (One wonders if discounts are available in March, May, July, and October.)
“Handfasting” is an ancient Celtic tradition that literally binds the couple’s hands, and is likely where we get the term “tying the knot.” “It is similar to an engagement, a time when both parties decide if they really wish to commit. In modern times, the tradition occurs on the actual wedding day, although in centuries past, the ceremony acted as a kind of temporary marriage,” says the website.
During the Middle Ages, Ireland was ruled by “Brehon Law,” and handfasting was a “proper form of marriage.” Later, when the act of marriage became more formal, handfasting transitioned to a symbolic ceremony.
Claddagh rings—depicting two hands holding a heart topped by a crown, and meant to represent the friendship, love, and loyalty that make a happy union—are often recognized even by those not familiar with Celtic traditions. The crown points outward prior to the wedding and is reversed after the wedding, indicating that the wearer is taken. Says the website, “the Claddagh ring is one of the most widespread symbols of Ireland and is very much associated with marriage and romance.”
Other Celtic wedding traditions include the bride walking down the aisle with a lucky horseshoe, which her new spouse will affix above the door of their new home; serving traditional drinks like mead or “poteen” (potato whiskey); and of course, Irish or Scottish dancers at the reception.
According to The Emily Post Institute, “The Islamic faith is the second largest religion, and while it is not specific to the Arab culture, the traditions are seen most prominently in the Middle East and in Indonesia. Traditions will differ depending on culture, Islamic sect, and observations of gender separation rules.”
Leading up to a wedding, traditions are meant to bring good fortune to the couple and to show thanks for the good fortune they’ve already found. For example, “male friends and family of both the bride and groom will meet at the mosque on the Friday after the proposal. A ceremony called a ‘Fatha’ is then held, and prayers are spoken and arms are outstretched to thank God and to bless the fathers of the bride and groom.”
Women may have henna parties, “held a few days before the ceremony with the bride and her closest female friends and family members. Henna is meant to not only adorn the bride, but to protect her as well,” shares The Emily Post Institute, which explains that various sects celebrate differently and no generalizations should be made about Muslim weddings. Some sects require men and women to stay separate during the ceremony, while others encourage men and women to mingle freely.
Some Muslim weddings include formal contracts, with accompanying ceremonies that can last for days. “There is a contract called the ‘Meher’ that is signed and read at the ceremony stating the monetary amount that the groom will give to the bride,” says The Emily Post Institute. “There are two separate parts to the contract: an amount that is given to the bride prior to the marriage and an amount that is given throughout the bride’s life. The Meher is considered the bride’s security and can be used in any way she chooses.”
The contract is signed during the Nikah (or Nikkah) when the groom states the details of the Meher in front of at least two male witnesses, who are both required to sign the contract. The bride and groom may then share a piece of sweet fruit.
Additional traditions include reading from the Qur’an, eating traditional foods, and congratulating the new couple with symbolic gifts.
Jewish weddings are known for being vibrant and joyous, with guests participating instead of just watching. Some Jewish wedding customs are breaking a glass, getting married under a chuppah, and dancing the Hora.
Breaking glass can happen twice, first by the mothers of the bride and groom, to symbolize the seriousness of the relationship, then by the groom to signal the end of the ceremony (modern couples often choose to stomp on the glass together). Then everyone yells “Mazel tov” and the party starts!
“The chuppah, or bridal canopy, is one of the most symbolic and important (of the traditions that define a Jewish wedding ceremony),” says rabbibarbara.com. “The canopy itself is a symbol of God’s love above the married couple as well as the home that they will now share as husband and wife. The traditional chuppah (dating back to the 1300s) features open sky above to acknowledge God as Creator, who infuses marriage with deep spirituality and cosmic significance, while the chuppah’s four open sides symbolize the open horizons that the couple will share in married life together. For all of these reasons, it is most meaningful for Jewish weddings to be held outdoors with blue sky above, and below, a surrounding panorama of natural creation.”
Dancing the Hora is one of the most iconic parts of many Jewish weddings. “For me, one of the most fun customs is dancing the Hora,” says recent bride Sarah Einstein. “It’s a simple dance and easy to teach to anyone at the wedding who doesn’t already know it. It’s also joyful, and there is something lovely about having almost everyone dancing together.”
During the Hora, the wedding party and guests lift the bride and groom, in chairs, and everyone dances. The couple stays connected by holding a handkerchief together, symbolizing their bond. The tricks to safety here are strong chair-lifters and sturdy furniture!
Jewish weddings might also include the recitation of seven blessings, the drinking of ceremonial wine, and the reading of the Ketubah, which outlines what the groom’s responsibilities are to his new partner.
Latin American weddings
Again, The Emily Post Institute warns, we can’t assume anything about Latin American weddings (or any wedding really), because practices differ by country, region, and family. “A Latin American wedding will differ greatly depending on which Spanish-speaking country the traditions are based in, but in general the day is colorful and very festive,” the article says. “Depending on the couple’s religious views, weddings (may) have a heavy Catholic influence.”
In one tradition, a lazo, often a rosary or silk cord, is symbolically draped around the necks of the bride and groom, and “the couple will wear it for the remainder of the ceremony which affirms their unity and commitment. It is removed at the end of the ceremony.” This rosary may be a borrowed family heirloom, or something ornate that the couple keeps and displays in their home.
Another custom, according to The Emily Post Institute, is for the groom to give his partner thirteen gold coins, las arras, that have been blessed by the priest. This represents Jesus Christ and his twelve apostles. In less religious ceremonies, they can represent a groom’s promise to provide for his wife and future children. Often, these coins are saved by the bride and kept in a special place.
In many Mexican weddings, mariachis play a very special role. Mariachi bands serenade the couple, then play lively music during the reception to get everyone dancing.
In Argentinian weddings, a fun custom replaces the bouquet toss, according to “Eight unique Latin American wedding traditions” (latina.com). The single women crowd around the large, tiered wedding cake, from which dangles many ribbons. Each lady pulls a ribbon, and the one with a ring tied to her ribbon will be the next to get married.
The article also mentions the “White Bell” in Guatemalan weddings. Placed at the entrance of the church, “The bell is filled with rice, flour, and other grains, which symbolize abundance and prosperity. When the couple enters the church, the mother (of the bride or groom) breaks the bell as a sign of good wishes for the couple.”
The Emily Post Institute also notes the “Money Dance,” which is popular at Latin American weddings, as well as in other cultures. Sometimes called the dollar dance in the United States, this is when guests pay money to dance with the bride or groom. Like wedding or bridal shower gifts, this money helps the couple set up their new life.
Buddhist weddings vary, since “the wedding has long been believed to be a secular affair in the eyes of many Buddhist communities,” according to The Emily Post Institute. Without religious ceremony, couples were free to design their own events. Now, though, “(the wedding) has been blessed by the monks and allows couples to hold a small affair, (but each) ceremony will differ depending on the couple’s focus.”
This focus could be on Buddha, Dharma, nature, God, or creation itself. “The ceremony is not focused on religion (itself),” continues the article, “but rather on the couple’s promise to each other to live a harmonious and spiritual life.”
Before the ceremony, the engaged couple may visit a Buddhist monk “to make sure their horoscopes are aligned and show that they are a compatible couple.” A traditional betrothal ceremony, the “Chessian,” may be held to celebrate the coming wedding event.
A Buddhist wedding ceremony might include meditation and moments of silence to create inner peace for the couple and their guests; a shrine to Buddha surrounded by offerings of candles and flowers; and poems or songs recited or performed by the bride and groom to show their love for one another. These may be old favorites or something composed by the bride and groom, similar to how couples write their own vows.
Also, mentions The Emily Post Institute, “Buddhist wedding vows are (often) repeated out of the “Sigalovada Sutta,” an important text from Buddhist scripture, in which Buddha discusses ethics and important practices, also considered a Buddhist code of discipline or ethics.
The Emily Post Institute says that “The Indian culture celebrates marriage as a sacrament or a ‘sanskara,’ a ritual (that) enables two individuals to start their journey together, as one. The Hindu wedding emphasizes three essential values: happiness, harmony and growth.”
A “Mangi” is an engagement party where the couple is blessed and given gifts. A “Mehndi,” held the day before the wedding, has the bride’s friends covering her in henna designs.
The Emily Post Institute goes on to say that Hindu ceremonies are typically held on a day in “the bright half” of the northern course of the sun, and that a wedding can last multiple days. The ceremony often takes place outside “under a canopy called a ‘mandap,’ with a sacred fire.”
The ceremony itself has multiple elements, and includes extended family. One of these is the arrival of the “Vara Yatra,” when the groom and his family show up with singing and dancing, and are greeted by the bride and her family. Another element of the ceremony may be the “Hastamilap;” like handfasting, it is when the couple’s hands are tied together, here with cotton thread. “The multiple layers make it strong, symbolizing a strong marriage and an unbreakable bond,” says The Emily Post Institute.
According to culturalindia.net, the elaborate customs do not stop with the ceremony. Post-wedding, “in the ‘Vidaai ceremony,’ the family of the bride gives her a sobbing farewell. Before leaving, the bride throws back three handfuls of rice and coins over her shoulders, toward her parental home,” says the website. “This is done to ensure wealth and prosperity remain in her home forever. On the arrival at the groom’s house, the new couple is welcomed by the groom’s mother, with a traditional aarti” (the lighting of a special lamp or candle). After that, there may be games and a lavish reception.
Weddings vary because of cultural and religious backgrounds, but also because every couple is unique. However they mark the day, the goal is always to celebrate with friends and family. Whatever the customs at the next wedding you attend, join in and raise a toast, say a prayer, offer a blessing, or wish good luck for the happy couple.