Tag Archives: wedding

Indian Wedding Traditions – Stealing Shoes

Background: 
My informant, NS, is an eighteen year old student at Tufts University. She was born and raised in Southern California. Her mother was born and raised in the Philippines, and her father is Indian but grew up in Scotland and Southern California. While her mother is the only member of her family to have moved away from the Philippines, much of her father’s family, including his father, siblings, and nieces and nephews, are also in Southern California, meaning lots of family time between NS and her extended family, especially her cousins. Her father’s side of the family continues many traditional Indian and Hindu practices in day to day life, and NS is also greatly influenced by her heritage.  (I’ll be referring to myself as SW in the actual performance).

Performance:
NS: At Indian weddings, the youngest bridesmaid..ok so..have you ever been to an Indian wedding?

SW: Nope.

NS: Oh. Well the bride and groom…they do a thing where they walk around a fire 7 times, and each time represents, like, the first one might be commitment, or the second one represents love. They walk around 7 times, and then the youngest bridesmaid will steal the shoes from the groom-

SW: The groom’s shoes?

NS: Yeah, so she steals the groom’s shoes, and it’s always expected, like, Indian men will take out cash, like over $100, before their wedding day because they know they have to pay for their shoes back. And basically, it’s like a sign of wealth. The groom shows that he has the money to buy his shoes back, even if he doesn’t need to. It’s supposed to be, like, a way of showing that he can support his wife and family, financially. 

Thoughts: 
I’ve never been to a wedding before, and talking to NS, my best friend, always makes me want to go to one, especially an Indian wedding. They seem to be a big affair, with hundreds of people there, including extended family and friends. Walking around the fire reminds me of a more symbolic way of reading out your vows, which I like. NS also mentioned that she’s been to a few weddings where her Indian cousins marry someone who is not Indian, and because they’re not Indian, they don’t quite get all the Indian traditions that make up the wedding. So NS, often being the youngest bridesmaid (as she is the youngest cousin), has dealt with the family of the groom being less than understanding. She’s had people she hardly knows get angry with her and tell her to return the shoes, or the groom will give her $10, clearly not understanding the significance of the custom. It makes me sad that so many people won’t even consider trying to understand a culture different from their own. 

Ukrainian Wedding Tradition

The following is transcribed from an interview between me and interviewee, referred to as MT. 

MT: In my country, when someone wants to get married to a girl, they have to first barter for her with her neighborhood, essentially. Usually the neighborhood people ask for booze and money and then in exchange they’ll let her go and give her to him. 

Me: So do potential grooms actually end up going and meeting the neighborhood people’s demands for their brides?

MT: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, at this point it’s usually pretend, like, not serious but because it’s tradition we have to do it, you know? So usually the guy will just go and the neighborhood will play pretend like you have to give me stuff and at this point it’s just an excuse to get some booze and get excited for the wedding. Although, I have seen a neighborhood take it seriously one time and the guy had to actually go home and get money because the neighborhood wouldn’t let her go! 

Me: And why do they do the bartering before the wedding?

MT: Well, the neighborhood is losing a person so it’s like they should get something in return, you know? And it’s also a way to test and see how much the groom wants her like what she’s worth to him. 

Me: What if someone wants to marry her from the same neighborhood, though?

MT: Oh, no matter what they’ll make the guys barter for her. So even if they’re from the same neighborhood, they’ll then separate it by streets and he’ll barter with the people on her street. If they’re on the same street, he’ll have to barter with the family type of stuff. It’s just tradition. 

Background:

Interviewee, MT, is from LViv, Ukraine. His family is from a village called Rodatichi in Ukraine. He immigrated to America at age 13, but returns home for occasions. He has lived in Sherman Oaks, CA for the rest of his life thus far and has been happily married to my mom for 11 years. He has been to numerous weddings and seen this wedding tradition happen all growing up.

Context: 

This interview was conducted over lunch at our family home, so it was very casual. He has many stories about the customs of his country that he usually shares with me so it was just like any number of our usual conversations. 

Thoughts:

There are many versions of these wedding customs, but what I found interesting is that this specific tradition of bartering for the wife is unique to his region in Ukraine. Even in the Eastern part of the country, there are wildly different traditions but they all seem to center around the idea of testing the man of his dedication to the wife. I think this is interesting because in
America, we don’t have many of these traditions where a man has to truly win and earn his bride. It is also very interesting how much variation there is within this custom as far as what the neighborhood people ask for, whether or not the groom actually has to give it to them, and whether he is bartering with the whole neighborhood or just her family. 

Joint Marriages in Gujarat

Context: The following is an account from the informant, a family friend. She told this during a conversation at a get-together.

Background: This information was regarding the wedding customs of her village in the state of Gujarat in India. She had firsthand knowledge from her family and her own wedding.

Main piece: 

Informant: In our village, it is common and customary to have big joint weddings. Families will get together and plan to have five or six different couples getting married at the same time. 

Me: So do they know each other, or are they just random couples from the village?

Informant: Since most people in the village are either related to each other at least distantly or know each other well, people can coordinate without much difficulty. Everyone gets together to help, and my own grandfather helped cook the food in traditional cauldrons. Usually it ends up working well, and is much more economical since multiple marriages happen at the same venue, and the attendees who would have otherwise had to have been invited separately can all come at the same time.

Me: Wouldn’t there be extra attendees because there are so many families?

Informant: No, most of the villagers will come to any wedding that is happening anyways, so the number is about the same as there would be for just one couple getting married.

Analysis: This is a unique way of performing the wedding ceremony that seems to work well mainly due to the close-knit nature of the village, especially since many of the families of those getting married are actually relatives, whether close or distant. It seemed surprising at first because usually weddings are considered to be a special event for the couple, but this style of marriage seems to have more of a social aspect.

Irish American Wedding Tradition – The Claddagh Ring

Background: The informant is my mother, who is a third generation Irish immigrant from Bridgeport, CT. She learned the tradition from her parents and observed it multiple times at her four brother’s weddings. 

Context: The piece was collected in a casual, in person interview, inside the informant’s home. 

Piece:

The following is a summary of the conversation, rather than a transcription for the sake of brevity and clarity. 

The informant discussed a modification to traditional American wedding ceremonies and the exchange of wedding rings that is practice among some Irish-American groups. Whereas the traditional American ceremonies involve the couple exchanging wedding rings after they profess their vows, in my the informant’s family and community, the bride and groom exchange both wedding rings and Claddagh rings following the exchange of vows. The Claddagh ring is an Irish ring that features two hands holding a heart between them with a crown atop the heart. The wedding ring goes on the left ring finger and the Claddagh ring goes one the right ring finger with the heart pointing toward the individual wearing the ring. The informant relayed that there are multiple interpretations of the symbolism of the Claddagh ring, but that she was taught that, “it’s the hand of Mary and the hand of Joseph holding the heart of Jesus, but a lot people believe it’s Love, Faith, and Hope.” 

Analysis: The practice seems to be a way of integrating Irish heritage into the American wedding ceremony through jewelry. The Claddagh ring has been an important symbol in my family as a celebration of both our Irish heritage and Catholic faith, although I do not believe that the ring is not necessarily widely interpreted as a Catholic symbol. I was surprised to hear that the ring was worn on the right hand of the individuals because I was taught while in Ireland that one wears it on the left hand when married. I was also taught that if one wears the ring with the heart facing outwards on the right ring finger, it signifies that the person is single, whereas pointed in on the right ring finger indicates that the person is currently in a relationship. Similarly, if worn on the left ring finger with the heart pointing outward, the ring indicates that the individual is engaged, whereas pointed in on the left ring finger signifies that one is married. I have worn a Claddagh ring for just over two years that is inscribed with the words, “Faith, Love, and Friendship,” indicating yet another potential interpretation of the symbolism around the ring. It is important to note each interpretation I have heard of, interprets the two hands and heart as a trinity of either virtue or faith.

Greek Wedding Ritual

Context: My informant – identified as N.D. – and I were on a FaceTime call. She is of Greek and Peruvian decent, and goes to school in Manhattan, New York. While catching up, I decided to ask her whether she maintains her cultural traditions while at school.

 

Background: N.D. explained that she was going home to Miami in the coming week to celebrate her eldest sister’s wedding. She and her other four sisters planned to perform a traditional Greek bachelorette ritual, that had been done in her family for years. It’s a generations-old ritual that my informant’s family, relatives, and friends, all perform, and it is deeply rooted in Greek culture.

 

Main Piece: “The night before the couple’s wedding, all of the single friends of the bride usually do this thing where we come together and decorate the couple’s future marriage bed. A few of my sister’s friends will be there, but it’s me and my sisters that are going to be doing most of the work. Basically you put a bunch of flowers all over, and put rice all around the room and on the bed, and also leave out coins and money. The idea is that it promotes prosperity, fertility, and love for that couple. My family is very into these little traditions and it’s a fun way for all of us to get together before the wedding and celebrate the bride. Rice is used in a lot of ceremonies like this in Greek culture, and Peruvian culture too actually. Even though it’s such an old tradition, it still has a lot to do with the typical American bachelorette party activities. We’re planning on doing that too, but this is a different way of celebrating that also takes us back to our roots a little bit.”

 

Analysis: I found it interesting how the idea of rice is intertwined in such a large number of cultural customs, especially in regards to weddings. In other cultures, the throwing of the rice at the end of the wedding ceremony symbolizes rain, which is thought to be a sign of good fortune and prosperity. In the case of Greek culture, the rice is placed in the most intimate part of the couple’s life.

 

Smashing Plates

Context: My informant – identified as N.D. – and I were on a FaceTime call. She is of Greek and Peruvian decent, and goes to school in Manhattan, New York. While catching up, I decided to ask her whether she maintains her cultural traditions while at school.

 

Background: While discussing her sister’s upcoming wedding, my informant described a Greek ritual that is often performed at celebrations. It’s the idea of smashing plates to promote fun, good spirits, and positivity. N.D. couldn’t place how or when the tradition began, but mentioned that it was deeply rooted in authentic Greek culture.

 

Main Piece: “Any time we’re at some big party, usually a wedding or an engagement or something like that, there’s always some point where everyone just picks up a plate and starts smashing them onto the floor. It usually happens at the peak of the party, when everyone is dancing and drinking and having fun. It’s supposed to symbolize the idea of good spirit and fun. My parents say it promotes positivity. When I go back to Greece in the summers to visit my family there, you see it everywhere. The restaurants there are very lively and upbeat and play great music. At one point a lot of people will start dancing once they finish eating, and you’ll see the plate smashing there too. I don’t think it has some crazy symbolic meaning to it, but it’s something you’ll always see in Greek culture.”

 

Analysis: The idea of breaking glass, especially in regards to weddings, reminds me of Jewish tradition as well. At Jewish weddings, the groom usually stomps on a glass, to symbolize the loss suffered by the Jewish people throughout history. Though it’s a somber reminder, it represents healing and better fortunes ahead. Broken glass in many cultures emphasizes positivity and happiness, among other things. It’s interesting to see the similarities across cultures for this kind of ritual.

 

The Chuppah

Context: My informant is a 37 year-old Jewish woman who recently moved to Los Angeles from Toronto. She was preparing for her upcoming wedding when she began to discuss what Jewish traditions she planned on incorporating in her ceremony. In the piece, she is identified as J.T. and I am identified as D.S.

 

Background: The Chuppah is essentially a canopy in which the bride and groom and their family members stand under in a Jewish wedding ceremony. The tradition can be traced back to biblical weddings in Jewish culture, and is deeply rooted in its’ history and religious customs.

 

Main Piece:

DS: “You mentioned your fiancé is Christian, are you still going to have a traditional Jewish wedding?”

JT: “Definitely. My family is fairly religious, and he’s in the process of converting right now, so his family is open to keeping it more traditional too.”

DS: “What are some of the traditions you’re going to include?”

JT: “Well, pretty much everything. A Rabbi is speaking at our ceremony, we’ll be reciting the seven prayers and the blessing over the wine, the chuppah, and of course breaking the glass at the end of the ceremony.”

DS: “Do you mind elaborating on the importance of the chuppah a bit?”

JT: “Sure! The chuppah is pretty much a canopy, and it represents the home that the bride and groom will build together. Couples usually decorate it beautifully for their weddings. I’m planning on having mine strung with vines and white roses. It’s supposed to stand with all four sides wide open, to represent a home with open doors that’s welcoming and loving. Hospitality is something that’s highly regarded in Jewish culture, as I’m sure you know.”

 

Analysis: Since I come from a reform Jewish family, I’m aware of most traditions, but I don’t have much background knowledge on the meaning behind them, so it was interesting to hear the symbolism behind this tradition in particular. Having attended quite a few Jewish weddings, the Chuppah is always the staple of the ceremony, and is always decorated beautifully.

 

Annotation: For more on Jewish wedding customs and the history behind the Chuppah, reference to:

Goldman, A. L. (2000). 3. Weddings. In Being Jewish: The Spiritual and Cultural Practice of Judaism Today (pp. 69-86). New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks.

Indian Wedding Custom: Stealing Shoes

Text:

BH: “So one of the wedding rituals that all, or like most, of the Indian weddings have, is the joota churai [shoe stealing] of the groom, so basically the [to-be] sister-in-law that uh, whenever, so Indian wedding require you to remove your shoes whenever you enter into that pandar [ceremonial area] where the groom and the bride [perform the official religious marriage rituals] – they have to remove their shoes because shoes are considered to be something dirty and they’re entering into a pure religious place and that’s why they are asked to remove the shoes. So, as soon as the groom removes his shoes, it a battle, or kind of like a battle, between the groom’s side and the bride’s side because the bride’s sides – the sister-in-laws – are supposed to steal the groom’s shoes and at the end of the wedding [ceremony], the sister-in-law will present the shoes back to the groom in exchange for some money. It is like a ritual which shows the relationship between a sister-in-law and – like a very friendly relationship – between the groom and his sister-in-law, it kind of helps them bond.”

MS: “Have you yourself ever been involved in the stealing?”

BH: “So basically what happened – there’s a varmala ceremony [bride and groom exchange “necklaces” made of flowers, similar to leis, similar to the exchange of rings] that happens in Indian weddings. So the groom was [lifted] by his brothers onto their shoulders so that he could put the varmala on his bride. And during that time, all the sister-in-laws – because he was at a height – they, uh, removed his shoes without him knowing and we ran away and we hid them in a car and the whole time when he had to pose for pictures, he was just barefoot and then he had to go for the ceremony [where he would have had to remove his shoes anyway] so it didn’t really matter. But it was a good ice-breaking session for us, that allowed us to bond. Because then we had to uh – so once the wedding ceremony was over, we came to him with his shoes and we were basically bargaining with him for how much he’d be willing to buy his shoes for. Since there were a lot of saliyans [sister-in-laws], we negotiated to a high amount and in the end, it depends on the groom and his family as to what uh amount they want to give and that is split equally among the sisters…It helped us make – uh, it was an ice-breaking thing for us, because the next time I met him [the groom], I was very comfortable because I had led the negotiation earlier because I was the closest sister-in-law so it was very easy for me to maintain a good rapport with him later as well.”

MS: “Does it matter where you hide the shoes?”

BH: “Not really. You just have to make sure you hide them well because if the groom’s side takes the shoes, then you will not get your money. So we usually hide them in the cars so we aren’t really bothered during the long ceremonies that we have in Indian wedding that the shoes might be stolen back by the groom’s side.”

[Talking more about the negotiation over the shoes]

BH: “It’s a very very hard negotiation, so all of the bride’s family and the groom’s family come in to support both of them, though the bride doesn’t say anything even though she is pressured to say something, she will not say anything because she does not want to take anyone’s side…In the end, we just take – as the sister-in-laws, we just take whatever the groom is willing to give and whatever his capacity is to give and that is equally – but it helps because we make jokes about it in the future. Because a sali’s [sister-in-law’s] relationship with her jija [brother-in-law] is very fun and relaxed – it’s like friend-cum-brother so they should be able to have open conversations and this is one of the ways to establish that.”

 

Context:

The informant is a college student from India. The conversation was in response to my question about any wedding traditions that the informant has been involved in or seen in the past. The informant is also bilingual so the conversation happened in a mix of English and Hindi. I have translated the relevant Hindi parts to English as per my own interpretation and in an attempt to retain the meaning as best as possible. Certain key terms have been Romanized and their translations or explanations are given in brackets. The content has been lightly edited, and the removed content is indicated by ellipses.

 

Interpretation:

This was a very culturally dense discussion that took for granted a basic understanding of how Indian weddings work. Focusing specifically on the one ritual of stealing the groom’s shoes, it seems to be, as the informant says, a means to establish a relationship between the groom and the sister-in-laws. But it is also notable that the entire family joins the discussion about how much the groom is going to pay for his shoes, whose side you support becomes an identifier of whether you belong to the groom’s side or the bride’s side. In the same vein, the bride is not supposed to partake in this discussion because she is now supposed to be a part of both the groom and the bride’s sides. The exchange of money itself is also interesting and may have some historical basis in the fact that traditionally the expenses of the wedding ceremonies were paid for entirely by the bride’s side of the family – this seems to be one of the place where the bride’s side can some monetary and symbolic compensation.

Also interesting is the change that the informant implicitly mentioned from the traditional “battle” like nature of the ritual, where each side is supposed to steal back and forth from each other, to the more modern “we just hide them in the car and forget about them till the end of the ceremony”. Even though the practice has changed, its social significance persists.

Predicting Children- A Korean wedding ritual

Main Text:

Collector: ” You mentioned the clothing of the bride and groom that is traditional to Korean Weddings, but are there any acts that the bride and groom perform at most weddings that you have been to?”

HK: “I do remember one actually. So after the wedding ceremony, the bride has a white cloth that they have to drape and carry around their arms and someone else would have to carry the bottom of it because they are really long. Usually the groom’s parents will toss little ball-like objects into the air towards the bride and however many the bride can catch with this cloth determines how many kids she will have.”

Collector: “Does the cloth have a specific color like the clothes did?”

HK: ” I think the cloth can be any color but usually I have seen it as a white cloth.”

Context:

After I asked HK whether or not there were specific acts performed at Korean weddings she listed out many traditional pieces ranging from the color of the clothes the bride and groom are supposed to wear all the way to this piece about predicting how many children the new married couple will now have has been to family weddings in Korea as well as in the United States and and observed these wedding rituals in practice. When asked about her interpretation about why Korean weddings contain this act she said that children and family are a large part in Korean culture and that once a couple gets married it is expected that they jumpstart the process to conceiving children, so the act of predicting how many children they will have is a sort of precursor to this. I also asked her why she remembers this ‘performance’ specifically and if she would do it at her wedding to which she responded, ” I remember it because I thought that it was a really cute thing to do for a new family and I like to think I would do it at my wedding too because it is a fun part of my culture.”

Analysis:

The ritual that HK is describing is a ritual that is used in many Korean weddings to present day and the “ball-like” objects that the bride is catching are dates (대추), also called jujubes. While the weddings HK described in particular use the dates as a way of predicting the number of children that the couple is going to have this ritualistic act can also be interpreted in another way that is very similar to her explanation. The dates that the bride catches also symbolize the fertility of the bride and her ability to bear many children. As HK explained, children and family are very important to Korean culture so it makes sense to have such an act in the wedding.

Another explanation for this act is that it could figuratively symbolize the “deflowering” of the bride.  Proof of this symbolic deflowerment is that balls are being tossed into a cloth which is supposed to represent fertility or one’s womb and since the cloth is white , it is also supposed to represent purity and virginity. To many cultures, marriage is not necessarily about love but instead building a home together as well as procreating. This being said, the symbolic deflowering of the bride represents this belief that marriage is all about the next generation and establishing a place for your children in society. I think that this wedding tradition continues in traditional Korean Weddings because it is does, as I mentioned before, serve as a nice precursor for the family that is to be built by the newly married couple, which Korean culture places a heavy influence on.

Mazel Tov! You’re Married!

Piece:

Interviewer: “Did you incorporate any like folk traditions into your wedding?”

B.F.: “Yeah. We did the traditional breaking of the glass.”

Interviewer: “Can you expand, please?”

B.F.: “So, um, at the end of the ceremony the groom stomps on a glass and everyone shouts ‘Mazel Tov’ (which means congratulations in Hebrew). My parents did it at their wedding, you Uncle Dan did it at his wedding, it’s just, just something we do.”

Interviewer: “Did it hurt your foot?”

B.F.: “Ha. No. We used a cloth.”

Informant:

Informant B.F. is a middle-aged man who is of Ashkenazi Jew descent. He grew up in a low-income, divorced parent family and lived in many different locations growing up. He worked hard in school to become successful and does not have a deep cultural connection with his past, though is grateful for it because her believes it has shaped him into the man he is today. Although he had a Bar Mitzvah and his grandparents and other relatives are practitioners of Judaism, he personally does not practice the religion anymore.

Context:

I asked B.F. to briefly sit down for an interview for my folklore collection project. When asked about wedding traditions, B.F. recalled this from his own.

Interpretation:

While B.F. is not a practitioner of judaism and was not at the time of his wedding, he still found the tradition breaking of the glass to be something he needed to do at his wedding because it was a traditional thing the men of his family had done. He is actually not even sure what the breaking of the glass symbolizes. He is not a traditional man but finds that certain traditions make him feel closer to his family. B.F. is not sure where he learned about this tradition, but remembers it from jewish weddings growing up. I think this folklore piece is important because it shows that a person does not have to be a believer in the beliefs behind folklore to practice the folklore. Folklore traditions can be more than just the beliefs that started it, and can take on a new meaning of familial ties and heritage. While this is a popular wedding tradition, B.F.’s unique take on the meaning stood out and was significant to me as a collector.

Annotation:

Mazel Tov – End of Ceromony – Seth breaks glass. Produced by Karen Orly, 2010.
Youtube, Karen Orly, www.youtube.com/watch?v=6sXl1Bbe4Yk.