"To have and to hold from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish to death do us part."- Book of Common Prayer
Does this sound familiar? I'm sure it does for all those who have already walked down the aisle and who are intently waiting for that day to come. I know how it feels when you are about to get married or already tie the knot; women especially remember their wedding day and vows of remaining by each other's side always. Weddings are special events, not only because they mark the union of two lives and two souls but also because it is a day of immense happiness wherein you have your near and dear ones beside you, the Almighty God and the elements of nature to wish you good luck.
Wedding traditions of all cultures have rituals, which make sure that the universe approves and participates in the auspicious occasion of marriage. Here I will write about these, which are deeply rooted in the culture, beliefs and superstitions of a certain community. Since we are talking about traditional weddings, I would like to take the liberty of discussing the traditions and not the contemporary customs, which might be a modified form of the customs.
Chinese Wedding Traditions
The traditions of the Chinese are quite interesting, where all the rituals have a deeper significance related to honor of the family and fertility of the bride. After the initial rituals of approaching the bride's family by the groom's family and exchange of the bride's and groom's birth calendar and respective approval of both, the boy's family presents the girl's family with betrothal gifts like tea, Dragon (male), Phoenix (female), sweetmeats, tobacco and wine as an acknowledgment of the efforts and the pains that they took to raise the girl.
After receiving these gifts, the girl's family also reciprocates with various gifts for the groom's family. The bridal cake that comes to the girl's house from the groom's family is distributed amongst the friends and relatives of the girl's parents to announce the marriage and an invitation to the wedding feast. The friends and relatives then present the bride with congratulatory gifts and this exchange of gifts is considered to be binding though the girl and boy have not seen each other.
Now the actual marriage may or may not take place within a few days of the betrothal ceremony because previously betrothal happened before the bride and the groom were adults but now the marriage can be held within a year of the betrothal ceremony. Few days before the marriage, the bride retreats to the cock loft of the house with her friends to spend the last few days with them who sing mourning songs for her and curse the middleman, the parents of the bride and the groom.
After this the bride comes out on the wedding day so that the "hair dressing ritual" can take place. In this hair dressing ritual the bride is bathed in water mixed with pumelo, which is a kind of grape so that the girl can be washed off all her evil influences. From now on a good luck woman (a woman who is married and has children) accompanies the bride and she is the one who dresses the bride's hair after which the bride is dressed in a jacket and skirt and in a pair of red shoes as the color supposedly brings good luck.
The bride's face is covered with a silk veil after which she waits for the groom to come. On the other hand the groom is also dressed in a gown, red sash and red shoes with a red ball on his shoulders. The groom kneels in front of the family altar and takes blessing from the deities of the family during which his father places a cap on his head decorated with cypress leaves. Now after taking blessings from all the ancestors of the family and deities, the groom starts for the house of the bride.
A small boy as a sign of his future sons accompanies the groom on the way to the bride's house. Now when the groom reaches the bride's house the friends of the bride stops the groom's party and demand for a price for surrendering the bride. At times the groom has to give red packets of money and at times the groom has to have dinner with the bride's family who give him wine goblets wrapped in red paper as a symbol of him receiving one of the most precious parts of the family. Then when the bride and the groom start from the former's house, she is seated in a sedan chair which has a metal mirror hanging at the back so that light reflects and the bride is protected from all the evil influences and a sieve which is there to strain out the evil.
Fire crackers are set off to keep away all the evil spirits then when the bride reaches the groom's house, she is asked to step over a lit stove as a symbol of destroying all evil. In the nuptial chamber the nuptial bed is strewn all over with dates, oranges and pomegranates and then the children are invited to scramble over for the edibles. This act of inviting children is to symbolize fertility. After three days of the wedding the groom takes the bride to her parents' house where she is received as a guest now.
German Wedding Traditions
Germans have Christian weddings except for the fact that the rituals before and after the wedding is quite unique. The bride and the groom drive across the place and honk their cars as a form of announcement of their marriage, the other people also honk back to convey their good wishes. In traditional German marriages there are some rituals, which are still followed in the countryside, one of them is called "Junggesellenabschied"- the groom after marriage goes out with his friends to a pub symbolically for the one last time. Friends at times also abduct the wife and hop from one pub to the other and the groom has to find her and then treat the friends to drinks.
Germans also have a ritual called "Polterabend" where on the eve of the wedding there is an informal party thrown for friends and close relatives and these people bring china ware and porcelain with them to break, which is to be cleaned by the bride and groom. The more the broken pieces are, the more luck it is considered to bring.
The other ritual that is observed is the showering of rice as a symbol of fertility when the bride and the groom come out of the church. Germans wear wedding bands and not rings and they get married at a church, which is special to both the families, and not necessarily the bride's family church. In the wedding party the guests pay money to dance with the bride and the groom. Another remarkable tradition in a German wedding is "log-sawing" wherein the bride and the groom take up the task of accomplishing their first task together, this task stands as the symbol of their partnership in accomplishing far more difficult tasks.
Arab Wedding Traditions
Muslims have conservation rituals and do not have believe in "love marriages". The young men and women certainly like each other but in order to tie the knot, they need to do it the old traditional way. The groom tells his mother about his feelings and then she proceeds further with the discussions after investigating about the girl's background and family. Muslims also marry within the family - that is their cousins and nephews. In these weddings there is always a different group for men and a different one for women, as the Muslim norms do not consider the mingling of both sexes necessary.
So in these occasions too, both the sexes maintain a distance. The bride and the groom sign a deal according to which the bride is entitled to a compensation from the groom if he divorces her or if he dies. There is also a custom of the groom's family giving a dowry to the bride's family after the couple discusses beforehand on what is to be given or how much of it, in terms of money.
The wedding dress is primarily green in color and the Muslim brides have to wear traditional decorative mehendi, which is done with the paste of "henna" herbs. In Arab weddings, the face of the bride is covered with a veil and the groom cannot see her face until he takes her as his wife. The characteristic of Arab weddings is that when the groom sees the bride and deflowers her, relatives and friends wait outside for him to come out and express his approval of the girl and then they continue with their celebrations. After the wedding day the blood stained bed sheet is also paraded across the city and is finally given to the bride's parents so that in the future the groom doesn't complain about her not being a virgin.
All the cultures have their characteristic traditions which are based on some kind of prior experience, mythology or belief, some are superstitious and prejudicial - nonetheless all are quite interesting.