From India to Africa to the American South, wedding traditions are as unique as the couples who celebrate them.
This story first appeared in the Fall/Winter 2018 issue of Columbus Weddings, published in June 2018.
Weddings center on tradition, and while many couples are throwing the rulebook out the window, those who incorporate cultural or societal traditions often look back on those classic moments as the most special. In weddings especially, the rituals the newly married couple perform can take on an even deeper meaning, connecting them to their heritage or creating a new memory to cherish.
Navya Parsa always knew she would incorporate the major aspects of a Hindu wedding into her ceremony.
“The most common thing we think of when it comes to American or Christian weddings is exchanging rings,” she says. “In India and most Hindu cultures, they didn't exchange rings—although they do now because of the more modern Western convention. Our version of exchanging rings is when the groom ties a necklace on the bride's neck.”
Parsa is describing the mangalsutra, a necklace that is traditionally tied with three knots by the groom. She cites this part of the ceremony as one of the highlights of her wedding to Navin Muni on Aug. 5, 2017.
“Each Indian culture is a little different and has their own version,” she says. Typically, the bride's and groom's families each have a pendant that the officiant puts on a special thread. “It's a really simple cotton thread that he's blessed and rubbed in turmeric and some vermillion paste, so it's yellow,” she explains. “During the wedding ceremony, the groom will tie the string on the bride's neck, and after the ceremony the priest sanctifies the thread and will switch it out with a gold chain. Traditional Indian women who are married will wear a mangalsutra rather than a wedding band.”
Parsa says another important part of Hindu weddings is the time the couple is officially married, and it's incorporated throughout the ceremony in various ways. The priest looks up each person's horoscope to determine what specific time they should be officially wed. Parsa says another of her favorite moments during the wedding was a ritual that takes place during this specific time.
“What we do to signify that is, we both have to place our hands on each other's hands and make a vow or promise to each other,” she says. “Typically the bride and groom cannot see each other before that moment and they hold a curtain in front of the groom, who's sitting at the altar. When the bride walks in, she sits on the other side of the veil and the priest asks each of them to put their hand on each other's heads from underneath the veil. When the priest has decided it's time, he drops the veil. I remember thinking ‘Oh my gosh, we're actually married right now.'”
Most of Parsa's guests were Indian and understood the rituals being performed, but to help those who might be less familiar with the Hindu wedding traditions, she created a program and timeline cards to map out everything that was happening and what it meant during their multiday ceremony.
Other Hindu traditions during the wedding included the groom placing toe rings on the bride, another signifier of a married woman, and walking together around a fire seven times, making seven different vows for each circle around the fire. With each circle, the bride and groom alternate who is leading the other—an indication that they're equal within the bonds of marriage. (You can learn more about what takes place during a traditional Hindu wedding weekend in our photo essay here.)
For their September 2017 wedding, Ashley and Albert Watson considered many different rituals to symbolize their new union during the ceremony. One of the traditions they ultimately decided on was one they had seen others do for years growing up: the African ritual of jumping the broom.
“I always wanted to jump the broom at my wedding,” Ashley says.
During the tradition, the couple holds hands and jumps together over a broom, which might be elaborately decorated and is placed on the floor or held slightly above it.
Ashley says the tradition is a way of symbolizing coming together in their marriage, where the bride and groom are “jumping out” of being single and entering into a new phase of life together. It can also symbolize “sweeping away” a couple's former, single life and all the problems that come with it.
“It played out exactly as I had hoped,” Ashley says. “It was wonderful.”
And though cultural traditions passed down generations can be significant, embracing new ones can be just as meaningful. For their June 2016 wedding, Elizabeth Fiorile and Colin Kindgren chose a tradition that highlighted the spirit of their day.
“It's a southern tradition, and we loved the idea that [to have] good weather on your wedding day, you have to bury a bottle of bourbon upside down in the ground that you'll be married [on],” Fiorile says.
This tradition isn't feasible for many—an indoor wedding is obviously problematic, and even outdoor venues require staff permission to dig up the grass. But for Fiorile and Kindgren, having the reception in the expansive front yard of their own home provided a workaround. (Their actual ceremony took place at the chapel at St. Charles Preparatory School.)
“There were so many fun elements of being married at home, this being one of them,” Fiorile says. “We were totally in control in whatever we wanted to do and it was really important to us to that the whole day feel like a big party, like an extension of ourselves.”
In another nod to tradition, Fiorile says they chose to serve Italian wedding cookies in lieu of cake, along with limoncello drinks, because it's something her Italian family enjoys frequently after dinners, especially during the holidays.
As for the bourbon bottle, they dug it back up later and had a celebratory shot with their guests. The tradition seems to have worked: Fiorile notes that the weather was, indeed, beautiful.