From India to Italy – wedding traditions from around the world
With marriage comes a new name and a dress, and, depending on where you live in the world, a whole lot more to boot.
From being smothered in ash, to sawing tree logs in half or releasing white doves with your new spouse, the universal act of tying the knot can be so much more than it's cracked up to be. With the Royal Wedding just around the corner, we're all caught up in the age-old traditions that make an occasion such as this so very unique. We thought it would be fun to look at a handful of the hundreds of different wedding traditions observed around the world. There are so many, we could a fill a book. These ones caught our eye because of their theatrics, romance, and sheer originality.
Who needs hand jewellery? In India, there's something far more interesting -'Mehndikiraat', an ancient pre-wedding ceremony, during which family and friends will painstakingly paint eye-wateringly intricate motifs onto the bride's hands and feet, with henna dye. It's one of the most important wedding rituals that any Indian bride-to-be will experience and it's a lengthy affair too, taking several hours to be applied. They say that the longer the dye lasts, the better it is for the newlyweds - and it's a symbol of fertility.
The significance of it all is culturally deep-rooted. There are in fact soothing medicinal properties associated with the mehendi herb. For centuries, mehendi has been thought to keep pre-wedding nerves at bay, as well as protect the couple from diseases. What's more, the darker the mehendi colour, the deeper the bond between the would-be-couple.
The Christian Filipino population observes a series of ancient wedding rituals that celebrate a harmonious conjugal life. The groom will present his bride with 13 pieces of gold or silver coins, which have been blessed by the priest. The collective of coins, known as the wedding 'arrhae', symbolises the groom's pledge to take care of his wife and family's future material needs. Two symbolic candles are placed on either side of the couple, to represent unity and the guiding light of Christ, after which the couple are drawn together under a veil as 'one' and loosely bound by a silk cord, tied around their shoulders in a figure of eight. This is a powerful symbol of their eternal fidelity. Our favourite bit? The newlyweds get to release a pair of white doves from a bell-shaped cage at the wedding reception. The ultimate nod to peace and goodwill.
Many Japanese couples will wear their traditional kimono and perform a binding ceremony dating back to the early 17th century, known as San SanKudo. It's a family affair that comes in threes. (San SanKudo translates as "three three nine times".) The bride, groom and both sets of parents will each take three sips of sake from each of three stacked cups, for a total of nine sips. This ritual is meant to create a bond between the two families and deepen the couple's union. As three can't be divided in two, it's seen as a very lucky number for Japanese weddings.
As red is an important colour in Chinese symbolism, signifying luck, love, wealth and boldness, a bride will traditionally wear a red veil over her face on the way to her wedding, while her mother will hold a red umbrella over her daughter to protect her fertility on the big day. It's an emotional day for many a parent, but how about planned crying?
One traditional Chinese custom among the Tujiapeople, demands that a month before the wedding, the bride must deliberately cry for an hour each day. One week in, she is joined by her mother, then her grandmother a week later, and finally any sisters she may have. This lachrymal ritual illustrates everyone's extreme happiness about the upcoming nuptials, and on the wedding day, a 'crying' marriage song is sung during which the bride is judged on how well she performs.
If you thought it was hard crying on demand every day for a month, spare a thought for the Congolese bride and groom. They aren't allowed to smile during their entire ceremony for fear of disrespecting the sanctity of marriage and showing a lack of commitment. No place for a fit of the giggles then. Gulp.
And while we're at it, one of the most unusual wedding rituals we've come across originates with the Maasai nation of Kenya. The bride's head is shaved and lamb fat and oil is applied on her head. So far, so interesting. But then, the father of the bride will bless his daughter by spitting on her head and breasts to bring her good fortune and luck. She'll promptly leave with her husband and not look back for fear of turning into stone. Her new husband won't get to live with her for another two days, but her mother-in-law will shave her own head in a show of solidarity. Determination is the name of the game.
There's a very ancient Scottish tradition of taking the bride – and sometimes the groom if he's really lucky – by catching them unawares and covering them from head to toe in flour, ash and feathers. Anything will do though – even a bit of spoiled milk or some spare tar if you've got some handy. It's a rite of passage known as 'blackening' and it's to ward off the evil spirits before marriage. Presumably the bride-to-be spends the days in the run-up to her wedding hiding in corners with a bag over her head hoping no one will notice her.
No spitting or dowsing here. Just plenty of full-on exertion as some German wedding couples still take it upon themselves to try and saw a large tree log in half with a two-handled saw - while still in wedding dress, no less - as their guests watch on. The tradition is called BaumstammSägen and is meant to represent the teamwork required when a couple is faced with life's many obstacles –the log being the first one obviously. Do not try this at home.
Less exertion and more jubilation here as the couple exit the church. Today we're all familiar with showering the bride and groom with puffs of pretty confetti. But back in ancient Roman times it'd be almonds you'd be pelted with, if they'd not all been handed out as gifts to the guests already. Over time, the almonds were sugared and coloured, as a sign of thanks and health, but also to underline the 'bittersweet nature' of married life. The Italian word for sugar-coated almonds? Confetti, of course.
There are so many different ways to celebrate your nuptials, and our weddings experts at Quintessentially have seen and done it, all around the world. From Russia to China; from India to Italy, and everywhere else in between, they can create and plan the most extraordinary weddings fit for a royal (with or without the traditions mentioned above). If you need some thoroughly inspiring ideas, please contact Jessica.firstname.lastname@example.org assistance.
Photography by Sapan Ahuja