In the UK, we’re most familiar with the idea of a big white wedding, but each country, each religion and each culture has their own way of celebrating marriage. I am getting married in a few weeks, so it was about time for me share some of things I learned on my (at times stressful!) journey.I am Italian/Brazilian and my husband to be is English; organising our celebration was hard, and we found there were many obstacles to overcome, like the language barrier and the different traditions to follow, which are important to respect for family and respect’s sake.
Beyond the ‘something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue’, here are some different traditions for the most important party in an early couple’s life.
There are shared cultural habits in many western cultures, despite the religious discrepancies, all of which are related to protection from evil spirits and envy, but also and mainly to encourage and wish happiness, a long life, wealth and fertility to the newly wedded couple:
• Western brides traditionally wear floor length white dresses with a full skirt; however more recently, ivory has become the colour of choice. Whereas before bridesmaids had to have similar dresses to the bride’s to protect the bride and her identity in case of danger, there are now less precise rules regarding dress traditions and people tend to follow their own tastes and budgets.
• If once the brides’ family had to pay for the wedding and provide a dowry to add value to the bride, almost like a transaction, these days, depending on the age of the bridal couple, while it may still be the bride’s family, it may also be shared evenly amongst both families, or indeed funded solely by the betrothed couple.
• Across various cultures white has different meanings. It is the classic wedding colour; it stands for purity and virginity although in other cultures it’s the colour to wear at funerals and is the colour of the spiritual world and death. For example, Japanese bride-to-be’s may be painted pure white from head to toe, visibly declaring her maiden status to the gods. While Indian menhdi and brides always wear red, as white symbolises death.
• Throwing the bouquet: whoever catches it will be the next to get wed, thanks to the lucky touch of the bride.
• Confetti and rice throwing to the bridal couple in tradition is symbol of fertility and happiness. (Rice isn’t allowed anymore in many places, due to the fact that it can harm birds).
• On the big day the groom shouldn’t be allowed to see the bride. Historically speaking, weddings were arranged and so to avoid the groom (who as the man was the one who could prevent the marriage proceeding) from being disappointed with the brides features. That’s why brides wear long dresses and the veil, which would also protect their virginal status, and preventing them from attracting other men’s interest. This is also why brides stay on the left side of the groom, so he is allowed to reach the sword to protect his bride and her honour from others.
• Finally carrying the bride over the threshold of a house means starting a new life together where the man will protect the woman and avoid her fighting against evil spirits or dangers that might be waiting in the house.
• The breaking of objects, glasses, plates is usually done to get rid of evil spirits or envy. The more pieces things are broken into, the better.
• Loud noises help couples enter their new life scaring evil presences and congratulate them for finding each other. It’s common in Italy to hear car horns going on for hours after the wedding ceremony is over, which also announces happiness amongst the village and town, for whoever couldn’t be there (traditionally an old person from the family stuck in bed or nearby villages and rivals).
In Eastern Europe these and other similar traditions are observed within wedding celebrations, which also involve many colourful and enjoyable artistic demonstrations:
• In Czechoslovakia, bride’s friends would plant a tree in her yard and will decorate it with ribbons, with the belief that the bride will live as long as the tree. Also an infant would be laid on the couple’s bed as symbol of fertility.
• In Hungary brides will be presented with an egg, smashing it will ensure her future children health; also a gift of 7 scarves to her husband from her would wish a happy marriage, 7 being a lucky number.
• In Poland the parents of the couple should give them bread, wine and salt as gifts. Bread for wishing them health and not to starve, salt to remind them that life is hard and wine as a blessing for happiness.
• In Bulgaria, entering the church with the right foot is good luck and flowers on the path mean fertility, purity and health.
• In Croatia, after the wedding ceremony, all guests circle the well around the church three times which stands for Holy trinity and throw an apple into the well to wish the couple fertility.