Heritage Traditions- Handfasting and More in a Ceremony

Marriage ceremonies are often the most important events in a couple’s life together, and of course, are important for their families as well. Many couples love to incorporate religious or ethnic traditions into their ceremonies. I have officiated numerous ceremonies with different cultural practices such as Jewish or Catholic rituals, Celtic handfasting rituals, African traditions, and even Chinese tea ceremonies. Most cultures have a unique and beautiful way of celebrating the union of two people, and bringing some cultural heritage into your ceremony can help bring everyone together. I’ll dive into a few examples of these beautiful traditions that I’ve helped officiate.

 

Jumping the Broom

Before I became a wedding minister, I was quite ignorant of how many different wedding traditions were out there! A couple of years ago two black brides I married introduced me to the “Jumping the Broom” ceremony. The process is quite straightforward – someone in the wedding party places a broom on the ground behind the couple while they say their vows, and after the couple says “I do,” they jump over the broom together. These brides chose this practice to bring in an African American flavor to their special day. I loved the idea and agreed to help them make their wish a reality.

I decided to learn a bit more about this ceremony and found out that the roots are quite a bit more interesting and varied than I had thought. The New York Times has reported that while today Jumping the Broom is often associated with African American communities, it originated around the 18th century in Europe. The detail that fascinated me was that jumping the broom started with marginalized communities in Europe such as the Romani, and was brought over to America by enslaved Africans who wanted to represent their unions, but weren’t allowed to legally marry. While this does complicate the history a bit, Dianne Stewart in this article discusses the importance of jumping the broom in African American culture and brings in the history of other African rites to consider incorporating into a ceremony.

Regardless of the ties and history that separate us, there are always marginalized people who want to celebrate their love and aren’t allowed to. I found it so inspiring to realize that a tradition that helped marginalized people in Europe celebrate their love crossed the Atlantic ocean, and helped spread light to people in America suffering under injustice and marginalization as well. It seems that love does help us transcend our differences, and reminds us that we are all connected.

 

Breaking The Glass

 

Breaking the Glass is perhaps one of the most well-known marriage ceremonies, specifically coming from Jewish culture. Typically a glass is wrapped in a cloth or a napkin, and placed on the ground in front of the groom. Often a specifically Jewish song will be sung before the glass is actually smashed. Once that’s done, the groom leans over and breaks it, everyone shouts “Mazel Tov!”  meaning ” Let the celebration begin”.

The tradition is quite old and somewhat shrouded in mystery. Some say that the tradition comes from an old writing in the Talmud where a Jewish father wanted to remind visiting rabbis to be serious, others claim that it enjoins Jews to remember the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Another interesting interpretation could be that it focuses the couple on their love, instead of material possessions and wealth. Apparently, some folks even argue that it symbolizes the last time the groom will ever get to put his foot down!

Either way, while the custom seems like a lot of fun, it reflects some somber roots. Marriage and love are beautiful things, but they also require hard work and reflection. It’s a sad truth that even the best people can struggle in their marriage if they forget the love that brought them together, and traditions like breaking the glass can help remind us of the fragility that can creep into our relationships if we aren’t careful. I like to think that the breaking of the glass shows that marriage isn’t all kittens and rainbows, as I know from experience, so we have to try our best to celebrate the good with the bad and remember to focus on our love and commitment as much as we can. In modern times, some couples are wanting both partners to break the glass, not just the groom.

 

Handfasting Ceremonies

 

Another popular practice many couples like to incorporate nowadays is the enchanting convention of Handfasting ceremonies. Handfasting involves the binding of the couple’s hands with ribbons or cords, symbolizing the unity and commitment between them. While it is rooted in Celtic traditions, we actually inherit it from English and Scottish marriage customs between the 12th and 17th centuries, although nowadays it’s often associated with Neo-pagan or Wiccan practitioners. This symbolic gesture is actually where the phrase “tying the knot” comes from, believe it or ‘knot!’

The cords can be chosen for their colors or materials, each representing different aspects of the couple’s journey together, such as love, trust, and unity. When I do a Handfasting I’ll bind the couples’ hands together, and say a few words that emphasize the unique circumstances that brought them together. Handfasting beautifully captures the essence of unity and the interconnectedness of two souls embarking on a shared path.

In Celtic cultures, Handfasting was historically recognized as a trial marriage, lasting a year and a day. After this period, the couple could choose to formalize their union or part ways amicably. Today, this tradition has evolved, and most couples that I work with don’t necessarily want a trial period! That being said, it is still a simple yet beautiful demonstration of the loving ties that bind us together, and even though we can’t always see them, they are often the strongest and most important bonds in our lives.

 

Chinese Tea Ceremonies

 

One of the more exotic and interesting rituals I’ve helped with is the Chinese Tea Ceremony. Dating back to the Tang dynastic in China, this practice is over a thousand years old! The ceremony is a highly symbolic ritual that honors respect, gratitude, and the blending of families. Typically held after the main wedding ceremony, the it involves the newlyweds serving tea to their parents and elders as a gesture of appreciation and recognition.

Couples typically want to bring in the tea ceremony to show gratitude for the wisdom, guidance, and support received from their families over the years. The order in which the tea also holds significance, with the groom typically serving first, followed by the bride. As each cup is presented, the couple addresses the recipient with words of thanks and good wishes. I was interested to learn that tea ceremonies aren’t just limited to weddings either, they can be used to show respect or hold various other meanings.

I appreciate the Tea Ceremony because it not only lets the couple do something together, but it brings in the family of the couple and helps show that the marriage isn’t just binding together two individuals, it’s melding two whole families. While of course, a wedding should focus on the love between the couple, it can also be a great opportunity to begin to foster loving relationships between the two families that will be brought together alongside them.

 

Bringing Tradition to Your Wedding

These are just a few of the different practices I’ve brought into ceremonies for my couples over the years. If you’re curious about incorporating any of the practices I’ve mentioned here into your wedding, have any questions about them, or just want inspiration for how to make your ceremony special, please reach out and I’d be happy to help. I love talking to couples about their culture and working with them to incorporate their heritage into their special day, to make them and their families feel honored and connected.
Here’s a fun example of one of the more unique ceremonies I’ve helped with:

 

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