Strange Customs and Taboos



Courtship and marriage

Many anthropologists and social historians have expressed their views that early humans practiced polygamy (one man with several women in the marriage union) or polyandry (several men with one woman). In either case, quite likely the women involved in the union probably had been captives before they were wives.

Although these marital circumstances may have existed for quite some time among early humans, there are a number of reasons why neither polygamy nor polyandry could have survived as universal or general practices. For one thing, some societies practiced infanticide, killing primarily female infants, and creating a scarcity of women. For another, among those tribes and nations who were constantly at war with each other, there would inevitably be a scarcity of men in proportion to the women. And even though the women of the conquered foe were usually considered among the spoils of war, more were killed in the bloody battles than were dragged off as unwilling mates of the victors. Regardless of the reasons for the disproportion between the sexes, they would lead to monogamy, the marriage of one man to one woman—marriage as it most commonly exists in modern civilized societies. In communities where men were scarce, a woman would try to hold the affections of one man to be assured of his protection and a constant supply of food. In those tribes or societies where women were in short supply, a man would want to be assured of at least one woman whom he would not have to share.

Some social historians argue that children presented the greatest incentive toward monogamy. Among many primitive tribal peoples even today, a marriage is not solemnized until the first child is born, and if no child is born the man is at liberty to leave the woman. Biologists have long noted that among the lower animals the natural instinct is to protect the young and supply food for their subsistence.

Before humankind began to gather in clans and tribes, what passed for courtship was likely a raid on a distant group of humans that resulted in the capture of a woman who was forced to participate against her will in an instant marriage. True courtship practices between the sexes did not exist to any great extent, and feelings of fondness or affection, if they entered into the equation at all, resulted from compatibility extended over a period of time. As the human species became more mannered and various religious rites began to be observed, young men and women sought to make themselves attractive to non-family members of the opposite sex who resided near them in the same village or series of villages. Rules of exogamy, which denied marriage between persons of the same bloodline, and the laws of endogamy, which prohibited marriage with any persons except those of the same bloodline, arose to define the pool of eligible mates from which young people could choose.


Anthropologists and various scientists of social behavior theorize that from the earliest tribal gatherings, young people have hoped to attract favorable attention to themselves as potential marriage partners by spending a great deal of time in ornamenting, mutilating, painting, and tattooing themselves, much as they do in contemporary times.

In the early developmental stages of courtship, those tribal cultures that permitted their young to have some role in the selection of their mates might dictate that if there were two or more suitors for the hand of a woman, the men would have to wrestle and fight for the opportunity to become the victorious husband. These struggles were seldom to the death, but were in keeping with the custom among various peoples of forcing young men to undergo tests of endurance before granting them permission to marry. The underlying principle was that no man should have a wife until he has proved that he is able to protect her.


Capturing a Bride. Courtship by capture contributed its share of customs to the rituals of modern marriage. The screams, tears, and struggles of the bride among various peoples are known to be merely a part of the marriage routine; yet they are considered absolutely essential to show her bashfulness and modesty. The conscious or unconscious simulation of capture as retained in later systems of marriage appears to be due to a much earlier concept of modesty and delicacy. Even after the establishment of Christianity had abolished marriage by capture throughout all of Europe, the Anglo-Saxons persisted in simulating the capture of the bride.

Among the Arabs of the Sinai peninsula, a girl acquires a permanent reputation of chastity and modesty in proportion to her tears and her struggles of resistance on her marriage day. In many Irish traditions, a marriage is considered scarcely legal unless the bride attempts to escape and the bridegroom overtakes and "captures" her. A custom in Wales requires the relatives of the bride to grab her as she reaches the church door and run off with her, forcing the bridegroom and his party to follow in pursuit. When the stolen bride is recaptured, she is at once handed over to the groom. A popular superstition arising from this tradition is that whoever of the groom's friends caught her will be married within the year.

Buying a Bride. Marriage through purchase was quite likely the next stage in the evolution of courtship. The transition from marriage by capture was much more peaceful a manner to gain a bride for a young man. In earlier times when a bride was stolen from a village by men from another tribe, members of the captured woman's clan would set out to avenge their loss. Perhaps after centuries of such violent reprisals, some unidentified wise man or woman suggested that instead of fighting and chancing people being killed, why not have the bridegroom offer compensation to the parents of the daughter that he had stolen from them? Perhaps after a few more centuries had passed, another wise man or woman suggested that the potential bridegroom simply buy the bride without going through all the effort of kidnapping her. In the traditions of a wide variety of peoples from the nomadic Jews and Arabs to the Native American tribes, a beautiful daughter became a valuable asset. In later years, a variation on marriage by purchase united the feudal kingdoms of Europe.

Perhaps even more common than buying a bride was the ancient custom of gaining a wife by working for her father for a certain period of time. Such an exchange of a prized daughter for an agreed-upon term of labor was practiced among many of the early societies and tribes of America, Africa, and Asia. Many are familiar with the Old Testament story of how Jacob worked 20 years for his uncle Laban to gain Leah, a bride whom he did not want, and Rachel, whom he loved (Genesis: 29, 30).

Among many early peoples, valuable presents were given to the parents by the bridegroom instead of a monetary payment. In Japan, it was the custom of a suitor to send certain previously stipulated gifts to the parents of the young woman whom he wished to marry. If the initial gifts were accepted, negotiations would begin to discuss the marriage agreement.

The prospective groom in many Native American tribes exchanged horses for his bride. The fathers in African tribes considered it proper to exchange cattle for their daughters.

The word "wedding" hearkens back to the time when men purchased their wives. The wed was the money, horses, or cattle that the groom gave as a pledge to acquire his bride from her father. From wed is derived the later idea of wedding or pledging the bride to the man who promises to provide her future security.

The spread of Christianity throughout Europe dealt a fatal blow to the custom of marriage by purchase and brought about a more wholesome attitude toward women, as well. But it required several generations before the civilized world was largely freed from the demeaning customs of wife purchase and woman barter, although it is known that in some more primitive regions of the world, such practices continue today.

Infant Betrothals. Among early tribal cultures, betrothals were commonly arranged by parents between their infant daughters and their future husbands, sometimes even before the girls were born. Infant males also had their brides selected for them by their families, most often with a girl from a family with whom an alliance would be profitable. Among those societies in which people arranged the marriages of their children in infancy, the betrothals were considered absolutely binding.

For most of the Polynesian people, the father had absolute power of life and death over his children, and he could promise his infant children in marriage to whomever he wished to suit his own ambitions. Many African tribes practiced infant betrothal.

The Fiji islanders arranged for their children to be married when they were three or four years old. A ceremony was performed for the children at that time that remained binding upon the bride and groom when they became mature. Such types of infant marriages were also common in India and among the tribes of New Guinea, New Zealand, and Tahiti.

In the old traditions of certain Eskimo tribes, as soon as a girl was born, a man who wanted her for a wife went to her father and made an offer of marriage. If the husband-to-be was a child, his father acted on his behalf and made the offer of marriage to the infant girl's father. If the offer was accepted, a betrothal promise was given that was considered as binding as the marriage ceremony, and the girl would be delivered to her husband when she had reached the proper age.

Mutual Love. Mutual love, wherein members of the opposite sex are able to determine their marriage partner based upon emotional feelings, could not develop until the time when humans began to establish themselves in tribes and clans and attained a certain amount of stability in their social environment. While the primary impetus of tribal humans was still survival, periods of leisure time developed by the process of banding together and developing divisions of labor. It was at that level of civilization that men seeking a mate began to abandon courtship by kidnapping or conquest. It was no longer necessary to steal a bride from another tribe and risk retaliation and death. Villages were growing larger, and there were eligible women available from clans with which political or religious alliances had been formed.

In those early days of building permanent social structures, men and women began to devise various ways of making themselves attractive to the opposite sex by ornamenting, mutilating, painting, and tattooing themselves. It is also likely this elementary level of romance consisted of two people sneaking away from their clans at night for some privacy; such forms primitive expressions of mutual attraction began to alter in dramatic ways the ancient customs of courtship.


Since primitive times, the underlying principle of courtship has been that no man may have a wife until he can prove that he is able to protect her. If two men were attracted to the same woman, the one who won her hand might first have to win a competition of physical prowess. In many societies, the potential groom was forced to undergo tests of endurance to prove his ability to guard his wife and their family from danger. Such customs survived in many cultures for centuries, and while few suitors today engage in feats of endurance to win their brides, it is not uncommon for contemporary women to select the stronger suitor, perhaps yielding on an unconscious level to the ancient instinct of self-preservation.

In the early days of transition from marriage by abduction to relationships developed by individuals with a mutual attraction for one another, most marriages were arranged and wives could be purchased. The evolution of romance would create great conflicts with these old traditions.


According to many social historians, the Greeks "invented" love in the Golden Age of Greece (about 480 to 399 B.C.E.). The Greeks gave love two names: eros (physical love) and agape (spiritual love). Yet for all its familiar aspects, love in classic Greece was still quite different from the concept of mutual attraction between man and woman that serves as the standard for marriage in the modern Western world. Marriages were still arranged by parents, and a solemn betrothal almost invariably preceded the actual marriage.

For centuries, marriages in Europe continued to be arranged for monetary, religious, and political advantages. Those couples who found themselves attracted to individuals other than the mate chosen by their parents were forced to take matters into their own hands and defy family, society, and sometimes their religious traditions.

Elopement. It was not until the ninth century that women in Europe began to gain the privilege of choosing or refusing their husbands according to their own judgment. Although it is known from biblical accounts, mythology, and legends that love between man and woman existed long before this period, there had been little chance of mutual love existing when marriage by capture and marriage by purchase were the prevailing methods of courtship. Once women began to accept the idea that they could have a say in the selection of a spouse whether or not her parents, clan, or church approved, the practice of a couple running off together (eloping) was born.

Quite likely, however, the tradition of a young woman eloping with the man of her choice began when marriage by purchase was still a grim reality. To avoid marrying a man who was able to pay the bride-price her parents demanded but who personally disgusted her, a young woman would run away from her parents and elope with the man she really loved.

Obviously elopement could never have thrived in primitive societies. Women were guarded too closely, and their parents arranged marriages to suit their own purposes, caring nothing about the wishes or happiness of the girl.

Hope Chest and Dowry. The "hope chest" that many modern young women still maintain is largely a social relic that hearkens back to the old custom of the dowry. The dowry derived from the even older custom of marriage by purchase and was a way of compensating the husband as the newlyweds began their life together.

In ancient Greece, once a betrothal had been announced, the dowry amount of the bride was settled, and her social position as a married woman depended largely upon the value of her dowry. On some occasions, the daughters of poor parents in Athens were granted dowries by the city-state or by wealthy private individuals.

Among many European cultures, it was tradition that a young woman should make every bit of household linen that went into her hope chest to ensure happiness for her marriage. In old Romania, it was once customary for girls as young as five to begin working on their bridal finery. As each article was completed, it was placed carefully away in the hope chest until the time when a proper suitor appeared.

In the Europe and Great Britain of only a few generations ago, wardrobes and closets in which to hang clothes were uncommon, so chests of various sizes were used to store away household linens and wearing apparel. In most homes there would be one chest set aside for the daughter, and into this chest she would place the handmade linens and other items she would use one day in "the home of her hopes."

The Lovers' Kiss. Some anthropologists theorize that the origin of the kiss of affection is to be found in a mother's caresses and gentle nibbles on her child's body. Out of these maternal caresses grew the kiss of feeling and reverence as known today. However, the act of kissing one's sweetheart on the mouth as a form of affection did not develop until comparatively late in the evolution of love.

Among Semitic people, a kiss on the cheek has been considered a traditional form of blessing or greeting for centuries. Some ancient Romans kissed a person's eyes or mouth as a form of greeting, but it was done in a cursory manner. Roman husbands kissed their wives on the mouth at the end of the day, but their motive was not at all romantic. They were checking their spouses' breath to see if they had been sitting around drinking wine all day.

Kissing the hand or the foot or even the ground on which some royal personage would walk was deemed a mark of respect and homage in ancient times, but scholars of social customs cannot trace the kiss on the lips as a form of affection between lovers ever occurring in antiquity.

One of the earliest definite instances of kissing as a form of love and affection appears to have developed in Tours, France, in the sixth century, when it became fashionable for a young man to give his betrothed a ring as a symbol that he was bound to her. In addition, he would gift her with a pair of shoes, to indicate his subjection to her, and a kiss on the lips as a seal of his affection.

In France, the kiss as a form of affection between sweethearts developed rapidly and soon found a permanent place in courtship and love. When social dancing become popular, almost every turn on the dance floor ended with a kiss. From France the kiss spread quickly all over Europe.

Until after World War II (c. 1945), kissing one's sweetheart on the lips was largely a Western habit, and most Asians were strangers to the practice. In the years before the lovers' kiss was demonstrated throughout the world by means of Western motion pictures and military personnel, a kiss in Samoa was a sniff in the air beside a sweetheart's cheek. Polynesians showed affection by rubbing noses together—as did the Laplanders and the Eskimo. Neither the Chinese nor the Japanese kissed on the lips. Until quite recently in the evolution of the customs and taboos of love and marriage, it was only in North America and Europe that the kiss was an important element in courtship.

Exchanging of Gifts. Throughout all of the history of courtship, it is likely that the presentation of gifts by the groom-to-be to the object of his affections or to her father is one of the surest methods of winning approval— and in earlier cultures the idea of a lavish betrothal gift meant a great deal more than it does today. In times past, the suitor felt that part of himself was being given to his beloved and her family.


In Japan, the sending of presents to the bride by the groom is one of the most essential aspects of the marriage ceremony. Once the gifts have been received by the bride and accepted, the marriage contract is considered complete and neither party can withdraw from the union.

Among many Native American tribes, the suitor was expected to bring gifts of horses, hides, or any item that might be esteemed to the woman's father as an indication of his prosperity and his ability to care for the man's daughter in a marital relationship.

A certain aura of romance has centered around flowers since early humans began to notice the beauty of nature and developed the aesthetic sense necessary to draw correlations between the appeal of a flower and the attractive qualities of one's beloved. It was a custom among the ancient Greeks for two lovers to wear flowers in full bloom to indicate a love newly awakened. Once the lovers had exchanged their engagement vows, they wore the same kind of flower in their hair as a public emblem of their betrothal.

In Indonesian Timor, a woman bestows the highest mark of attachment upon her lover when she gives him the flower garland from her hair. Among the Polynesians, men and women alike wear flowers behind their ears when they are in love. The flower, it seems, has been the quintessential gift between lovers in many cultures for many centuries, and it is the considerate suitor of today who remembers to call upon his sweetheart bearing a bouquet of flowers.


The Engagement Announcement. While it is still considered good relations for a young man to obtain the formal consent of his sweet-heart's parents before asking for her hand in marriage, for most modern couples in the United States, Great Britain, and Europe that particular old custom is seldom observed. Today, once a man and woman have decided to marry, there is usually the presentation of an engagement ring to the woman, and as a couple they simply make an announcement of their intentions to family and friends.

While it is not uncommon in contemporary society to celebrate an engagement with a dinner party, in many earlier societies the occasion of a betrothal required a feast of great festivity and celebration. Among certain peoples, the betrothal was not considered binding until a feast had been given and both families had eaten together.

Among many of the Afghan tribes, no man may even see or speak to his promised wife from the time of betrothal until marriage. In Greece, the rings for betrothal are exchanged in the priest's presence, and the engagement may then not be broken without the consent of the priest. Following the betrothal, the engaged couple may not see each other or talk to each other until the day of the wedding.

In old Russia, it was considered a great disgrace for a man to propose directly to his sweetheart. Until the two sets of parents had settled the amount of the dowry and selected the exact day of marriage, the prospective bridegroom was strictly forbidden to see his betrothed or even venture near her home. Some scholars have suggested that customs such as these forbidding the interaction of the intended marriage partners before the day of the wedding hearkens back to even earlier times when the bride's parents might have feared that they would be cheated of her bride-price if their daughter decided to elope with her betrothed before the wedding day.

While most modern couples continue to see one another until the day of the wedding, the old superstition persists that if the bride permits herself to be seen by the groom before the actual time of ceremony on the day of the wedding, the marriage will be blighted with bad luck.

The Bridal Shower. Many consider the custom of the bridal shower to be one of the more charming of the old traditions handed down to modern brides from centuries past. In contemporary times, the bridal shower is essentially a social occasion during which friends and relatives of the bride wish her well on her approaching marriage and present her with gifts.

The custom of the bridal shower grew out of earlier times when a poor woman's family might not have the money to provide an acceptable dowry for her, or, in some circumstances, when a stubborn father refused to give his daughter her dowry because he did not approve of the marriage. In such situations, friends of the woman would gather together and bring her gifts that would compensate for the dowry and allow her to marry the man of her choice.

The Bridal Dress. The bride in the Western world traditionally wears a gown of white, as an emblem of purity. In many Asian countries, however, the bride may wear a black bridal dress.

Even before it denoted purity, white represented the color of joy. The early Romans always wore white on occasions of rejoicing, such as birth and feast days. The white rose was an emblem of joy among the Greeks. The aboriginal inhabitants of Patagonia in southern Argentina painted their bodies white on every joyous occasion. The whole bodies of the bride and groom were covered with white paint on the eve of their wedding ceremony.

Some social historians believe that the tradition of the bridal veil originated in the covering of the bride in ancient times to show her submission. Others believe that the veil originated in sexual shyness in women and the attempt to hide from view. Among some early peoples, the bride was draped completely in a shroud that she wore during the marriage ceremony. Once the wedding ritual ceremony was completed, she was uncovered and the shroud was placed in a chest. It would be taken out again only when the woman was ready to be buried.

It is well known that among various ancient peoples it was customary to keep the bride hidden from her future husband until the day of the wedding. In Egypt, for instance, the groom was not permitted to see the face of his bride until the marriage ceremony when he engaged in the solemn ritual of uncovering her visage. The same sort of custom was observed among the Arabs, the Indians, and among other European and Asiatic peoples.

It has been a custom for brides to wear gloves since the time of ancient Egypt. In Egyptian hieroglyphics, the glove is the symbol of the hand. The word itself signifies to give, to honor.

The "something blue" that brides are told to wear during their wedding is a tradition borrowed from the ancient Israelites when young women were advised to place upon the borders of their fringed garments a ribbon of blue, the color of purity, love, and fidelity. According to the old bridal saying, the bride is to wear: "Something old and something new, Something borrowed and something blue."

The Wedding Procession. Most of the traditional wedding observances that are honored today in North America originated in Europe and the United Kingdom during the Middle Ages. Then as now, the ushers enter first, escorting guests and relatives to appropriate seating before the altar.

The bridesmaids enter after the guests and family members have been seated, walking down the aisle most often one at a time, though some traditions favor them approaching the altar two by two. The bridesmaids may wear colorful gowns, often similar in design to the bride's, but they may never wear white, a color reserved for that of the bride.

Flower girls may precede the bridesmaids, or they may walk just in front of the bride. In medieval times, it was customary to have two little girls, usually sisters, dressed exactly alike, carry garlands of wheat and walk in front of the bride. The bouquets of wheat symbolized the wish of family and friends that the union between bride and groom would prove fruitful. Later, flowers carried in small ornamental baskets replaced the garlands of wheat, and petals were often strewn from these baskets in the path of the bride.


The maid or matron of honor, who is unattended, comes next, followed by the bride. The bride is always the last to enter, and she walks down the aisle leaning on the arm of her father or whoever is to give her away at the altar. A page or pages, usually a young boy closely related to either bride or groom, may be added to the group to bear the train of the bride's gown. It has been suggested by some historians that the tradition of the bride carrying a bouquet of flowers began as a precaution against body odor. In the Middle Ages, according to these scholars, most people planned to be married in June because they took their yearly bath in May and were still smelling good. Brides carried a bouquet of flowers to guard against any offensive odors that might have developed since their annual bathing ritual.

The "best man" who attends the groom is quite likely a relic of marriage by capture. When a young man in those ancient times set out to capture a bride, he was usually accompanied by a strong-armed friend who helped defend the groom against the pursuing father and relatives of the stolen woman. In medieval times, the groomsmen were known as bride knights, whose duty it was to guard and protect the bride on her way to the church, accompany her down the aisle to the altar, and after the ceremony had been conducted, relinquish her to the groom.

The origin of the bridesmaids also hearkens back to marriage by capture. As that form of brutal courtship was fading into humankind's memories of ancient ways better forgotten, it remained the custom for the bride to pretend that she was being carried away against her will and wished to escape from the groom's clutches. During the transition time between courtship traditions, it was considered modest and maidenly for the bride to feign a struggle before being led down the aisle. To add to the fray, the bride's friends and family would rush the groom and his party in a mock attempt to rescue her. As the bride-groom's defending clansmen developed into the groomsmen, the bride's attacking family evolved into the bridesmaids, who remain at her side during the ceremony.


The question, "Who gives this woman to this man?" asked by the officiating clergyperson in contemporary wedding ceremonies is a relic of marriage by purchase. It is at this point in the ceremony that the father of the bride responds to the question by offering the arm of his daughter to the groom and telling the clergyperson, "I do." In recent years, some ceremonies include both the mother and father of the bride responding "we do," to the question of who gives the bride to the groom.

Custom also dictates that the bride always stands to the left of the groom during the ceremony. The position of the bride reflects a much earlier period when the groom needed to have his sword arm free in case he had to defend them against an attack by a jealous rival or a family member who violently objected to the union. The best man is positioned on the groom's right, immediately behind him, hearkening back to those same earlier times when he might have to help the groom fight off more than one assailant while the couple were attempting to declare their marriage vows.

The gift of a small item of personal jewelry that the groom presents to his groomsmen is a survival of primitive courtship when the prospective groom set out to capture a bride with the help of his friends. If they were successful in catching a suitable wife for the groom, he would reward them with gifts. During a later time period, when the bride knights kept watch over the bride, it was she who presented the gifts, rather than the groom.

The Wedding Ceremony. As the methods of courtship and the subsequent marriage rites evolved in various ways, it was inevitable that an element of religion should enter into the ceremonies. As humankind progressed from the primitive stalking of a bride, to the purchase of a wife, to mutual love between bride and groom, the linking together of two lives grew in importance to the community at large. Even in the early stages of civilization, the dissolution of a marriage, especially one that had produced children, was troublesome and upsetting to the entire tribe or village. In order to help avoid a couple separating after marriage, a religious element entered the process and a divinity or a deity was invoked to help strengthen the ties that bound bride and groom.

There are many different individual denominations under the general theological umbrella of Christian and under the two main divisions of Roman Catholic and Protestant. There may be many distinctive elements involved in what may be termed a Christian wedding, but most of the ceremonies are similar. In most circumstances, the wedding takes place within about three or four months of the couple's engagement announcement. Although Christian weddings need not take place in a church before an altar, most marriage ceremonies are performed in a church familiar to either or both the bride and groom.

On the day of the wedding, the groom arrives at the church in the company of his best man. The bride awaits them in the company of her attendants, her bridesmaids, and, on occasion, a matron of honor, perhaps an older sister or some other relative. When the ceremony begins, the groom, his best man, and his groomsmen enter at the front of the church and join the priest or pastor at the altar. Once they are in position, the organist, orchestra, or other musical accompaniment, begins to play a piece of music that signals the entrance of the bridesmaids, who one by one walk down the aisle to stand opposite the groom and groomsmen. When their processional is completed, the musicians play another selection that announces the arrival of the bride and her father.

After the bride and her father have walked down the aisle, the clergyperson asks who gives the woman to the man who awaits her at the altar. Traditionally, it has been the father who designates that he is the one who gives the bride to the groom, but in recent years, the mother may also stand with her husband and say that together they give the bride to the groom.

The bride approaches the altar and stands beside the groom. The clergyperson reads passages from the Bible that speak of the harmony of the marriage state and God's pleasure in the union of man and wife. The clergyperson may also deliver a brief sermon that encourages the couple to remain true to one another and adhere to Christian teachings. The couple may then offer pledges to one another that they have written themselves.

In most Christian ceremonies, the bride and groom place the wedding band on one another's left hand ring finger and repeat the vows of marriage as the clergyperson reads them aloud. The clergyperson asks God to bless them and help them remain with one another until death parts them, then pronounces them man and wife. In some denominations, after the newlyweds have stated their vows, they and the assembled guests will celebrate mass or holy communion together.

After the wedding ceremony, the newlyweds leave the church as the guests throw rice or pieces of confetti over them. There is a reception in the church basement or in a hall where dinner is served to the invited guests and gifts are presented to the newlyweds. Depending upon the beliefs of the individual denomination or congregation, a dance may follow the dinner and the gift-giving. After the party, the couple leaves their family and friends and departs on their honeymoon.

Jewish weddings are always events of great celebration and are usually performed on Sundays. On the Sabbath before the wedding, the groom must go to the synagogue and read from the Torah. As in other traditions, the bride is attired in a white gown, symbolizing purity and joy, and the groom stands beside her wearing a dark suit. The wedding couple is attended by their parents, and the group stands before the rabbi under a canopy known as a chuppah, which represents the future home of the bride and groom.


The rabbi hands the couple a glass of wine that has been blessed. After the bride and groom share the wine, the rabbi and the groom read the marriage contract. When the reading is completed, the groom places a plain gold ring on the first finger of his bride's left hand and announces to all assembled in the synagogue that she is his wife. After making such a declaration, he moves the wedding ring to the third finger.

A second glass of wine is offered to the couple. The rabbi says the Seven Blessings and praises God for marriages and asks for the newlyweds to be happy. After both drink from it, the glass is smashed under the heel of the groom. The breaking of the glass is a reminder of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. An old tradition adds that the glass is broken to symbolize that the bride and groom will be joined in happiness and love until the glass is made whole again, which is another way of saying forever.

Before a Buddhist wedding can occur, a Buddhist monk must check the horoscope of the prospective bride and groom to be certain that they are compatible. If the stars indicate that the couple will be able to adjust to one another's personalities throughout their lives together, the monk next determines the best day for the wedding ceremony to occur.

Buddhist weddings are not conducted in temples or in religious sites, but in hotels or public halls and are generally regarded as civil ceremonies. The bridal couple are clothed in robes and sit side by side on silk cushions beside another Buddhist couple, who serve as their sponsors. The monk performing the wedding ceremony wraps a silk scarf about the wrists of the bride and groom, and the two eat rice from a silver bowl to symbolize that they vow forever to share everything between them. They promise to love and respect one another, to be frugal with their incomes, and to welcome their friends and family to their home. There may be a brief reading from Buddhist scriptures and a period of meditation, followed by a few words from the officiating priest. After the ceremony is concluded, most Buddhist couples visit the nearest monastery to be blessed by the monks and to pay respect to Buddha.


Traditional Hindus continue the ancient practice of arranged marriage and infant betrothals. The primary concern of Hindu parents is that their child marry within his or her caste or social structure. For even less traditional Hindus, the kind of dating and courtship practices that exist among Americans and Europeans are discouraged. When families have agreed upon a future marriage between their children, there follows a long period of betrothal, during which gifts are exchanged during chaperoned meetings of the engaged couple. The date of a Hindu wedding is set by a priest who carefully examines the couple's horoscope for the most favorable day.

Before the marriage ceremony, the bride takes a ritual bath and her female friends in attendance paint distinctive patterns on her hands and feet with henna. Once the ornate designs decorate the bride, she is attired in a red sari that has been adorned with gold thread, a symbol of good fortune. Often the bride also wears gold bracelets and anklets. Just before the formal ceremony begins, representatives of the groom's family approach her and place a small dab on red paint on her forehead.

When the bride and groom arrive at the temple, hotel, or private home where the ceremony will take place by mutual agreement of their respective families, both of them have their faces hidden by veils. The ceremony begins with prayers to Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed god, who is beseeched to bless the couple with success in all their future plans. The bride's family officially gives her to the groom, and the priest introduces them to assembled guests as man and wife. The couple then sits before a sacred fire, facing each other under a canopy. A cord is placed over their shoulders to signify that they are joined together forever.

At this point in the ceremony, the couple rises, holds hands, and walks around the sacred fire seven times, promising to honor and respect one another and vowing to respect the gods. Prayers for happiness and good fortune are said or chanted by the priest, and the assembled relatives of the couple and their guests join the newlyweds in a wedding dinner provided by the bride's family.

Most traditional Muslim weddings are arranged by the parents, who indicate to their children that they have been judged suitable to marry each other. Although (especially in contemporary times) the children have a right to decline their parents' choice of spouse, many Muslims still consider open courtship as undesirable and believe that the arranged marriage is much more morally acceptable. Most Muslim families prefer that their children marry within the faith of Islam, but in such countries as the United States, unions with non-Muslims have become more acceptable and common. The exchange of the dowry, the ancient custom of the bride-price, is observed in most Muslim families. Once the amount of the dowry, which the groom will pay to the bride's parents, is agreed upon, that sum becomes the property of the bride.

The nikah (marriage ceremony) is usually performed in private homes or in the prayer hall of the mosque. Brides often wear a traditional khameez(tunic) and shalwar(pants), decorated with a great deal of gold jewelry. The groom may also choose traditional clothing or a dark suit.

On the day selected for the wedding, the couple are kept apart, separated in different rooms, the bride with the female guests, the groom with the male guests, until the ceremony is over. Either the imam, the officiating priest of the mosque, or a Muslim judge, called a qadi, presides over the ceremony and generally offers a brief series of reflections upon the sacredness of the marriage contract. The bride says that she wishes to marry the groom, and he signs the contract. Two witnesses attest to the marriage agreement, and the union is documented in the records of the mosque and by whatever license is required by the civil authorities in the state or nation in which the marriage has been solemnized. After the ceremony, a reception honoring the couple is held, and the bride's family hosts a large wedding feast.

The Wedding Ring. The origin of the wedding ring may have begun in primitive humankind's belief in the magic of a circle. Social historians inform that early suitors wove a cord with their fingers and bound it around the waist of the woman they wanted. Such an action, both the man and the woman believed, allowed her spirit to enter his body and thus the two were bound together forever.

Other scholars have made the unpleasant suggestion that the earliest form of wedding rings were the fetters bound around a woman's wrists and ankles to indicate that she had been captured and become the property of a man in the tribe.

From what can be ascertained from historical records available, it would appear that the ancient Egyptians were the first to use the wedding ring in taking their marriage vows. In hieroglyphics a circle represents eternity, and the circular form became symbolic of a marriage that would be binding throughout all time.

The early Anglo-Saxon groom gave a pledge or wed to his intended at the betrothal ceremony. At this time he also placed a metal ring around her right hand, where it remained until the marriage ceremony, at which time it was transferred to her left hand.

The ring was used in Christian marriage ceremonies as early as 860. When a marriage settlement had been properly sealed, rings bearing the names of the bride and groom were handed around to the guests to be approved by them.


In the past, wedding rings have been made of every conceivable material. In addition to various metals, such as gold, silver, iron, steel, and brass, wedding rings have been made of leather and wood.

Old traditions state that the wedding ring is worn on the fourth finger of the left hand because a certain vein of blood, passing directly from this finger, flows directly to the heart. Probably the true reason for wearing the ring on this finger is that it is the least used of all the fingers, and therefore ornaments worn on it are not inconvenient.

The Wedding Dinner. The simplest and most universal of all marriage ceremonies is that of eating and drinking together. Eating together, among many early people, constituted marriage. There was little or no additional ceremony.

In the Fiji Islands the marriage ceremony was considered complete as soon as the bride and groom had eaten out of the same dish. In Madagascar as well, all that was necessary to become man and wife was to eat out of the same bowl. In ancient Rome, a marriage was dignified and solemnized once the bride and groom had eaten together. The Navajo marriage couple ate maize pudding together. To some extent, eating and drinking together still forms an essential part of the marriage ceremony in Japan, Russia, and Scandinavia. Until recent times, a Serbian woman ate only once in her life with a man, and that was on her marriage day, when she shared a meal with her husband.

The wedding cake is a direct descendant of a particular kind of cake used in Roman times among the highest members of the patrician families. During the wedding feast, the cake was broken over the bride's head as a symbol of abundance. All guests then partook of a portion of the cake to ensure plentifulness for themselves. This custom survives in the belief that single women who take home a piece of a wedding cake and place it under their pillows will dream of the man whom they will marry.

According to legend, the many-tiered wedding cake with which most people are familiar today originated in Old England when it was the custom to pass a basket of biscuits to the guests during the wedding feast. A Frenchman who was in attendance at such a feast got the idea to pile a number of biscuits into a mound and pour icing over the top.

According to some sources, the name "bridegroom" was given to the new husband because among various peoples it was customary for him to serve his bride a meal on his wedding day. "Groom" signified one who served in an inferior station, and the "bride-groom" was the one who served the bride.

Throwing Rice and Tossing the Bouquet. When wedding guests throw handfuls of rice after the bride and groom, they are enacting an ancient ritual that expressed wishes for the couple's fruitfulness and abundance. However, rice was not always the grain used to throw after departing newlyweds. Among some early peoples wheat symbolized productivity, so grains of wheat were used in the marriage rites to symbolize fruitfulness and plenty for the couple. The ancient Greeks poured flour and sweetmeats over the bride and groom to represent a wish for an abundance of all that is sweet and desirable. The Romans began the custom of throwing, rather than pouring, sweet meats at the fleeing couple.

Some authorities state that people began throwing rice after newlyweds for the purpose of giving food to the evil spirits that were always present at any festive gathering of humans. It was to appease these spirits and keep them from doing injury to the bridal pair that the custom of rice-throwing was originated.

Another old tradition states that unless somehow bribed, the soul of the bridegroom is likely to fly away at marriage and never return. To prevent this, rice is scattered over him to induce the soul to remain.

The throwing of the bridal bouquet originated with the old custom of scrambling for the bride's garter. In fourteenth-century France, it was considered good luck to win the bride's garter, and everyone rushed for it at the conclusion of the marriage ceremony.

In the fifteenth century, the garter gave way to the stocking, and brides began tossing their stockings to the wedding party. However, the removal of one's stockings in public sometimes proved to be awkward and embarrassing, so somewhere during the fifteenth century, a modest and wise bride conceived the idea of throwing her bridal bouquet. The custom has endured, along with the tradition that the fortunate maiden who catches the bouquet will be the next to marry.




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