Tag Archives: wedding

Breaking Glass at Jewish Weddings

Interviewer: Do you have any other unique customs or traditions that are particular to your Jewish community?

SS: Yes one off too the top of my head is breaking glass at weddings.

Interviewer: What exactly happens?

SS: At the end of the wedding ceremony the newlyweds will traditionally stomp on some sort of glass together.

Interviewer: When did you learn of this tradition or first see it?

SS: Everyone who’s Jewish pretty much knows it, but I think I first saw it at my uncle’s wedding when I was seven or eight years old. 

Interviewer: Is there anything particular about the glass or the manner with which they stomp it?

SS: Yes, it depends at some weddings I have been too it has been a glass cup, usually it’s a plate in between a napkin, but I’ve even seen it be a light bulb. Also at some weddings, it’s only the groom who does the breaking, but that was more common in the past, now the tradition is usually both the bride and the groom doing it. 

Interviewer: Do you know what the meaning of this tradition is?

SS: Yes, it is used to signify how fragile relationships can be and how easily they can be broken but by breaking the glass it serves as good luck to the marriage never breaking. 

Context:  I received this explanation of a Jewish wedding custom from an 18-year-old male Jewish from Los Angeles. He practices Judaism and been raised in a Jewish household his entire life. This interview was done in person at the USC Leavey Library. 

Analysis: This marriage custom is a unique one that I was familiar with though seeing it in some movies but I was unaware of the meaning and manner of how it happens. It is interesting that it is used to signify luck for the marriage and that although it is done at almost all traditional Jewish weddings but can be done in different ways. 

 

Thai pre-wedding custom

Main Piece:

Informant: Here’s there’s this thing called a Sin Sod. It’s a price that the groom must pay the bride’s family before they can get married. It’s not as bad as it seems. It’s actually kind of sweet! The bride’s family will usually gift it back at the wedding. It’s more of a formality than anything else. Money is a big part of Thai culture, so marrying up a wealth bracket is really uncommon, especially for guys. The Sin Sod is just like…confirmation that the groom is worthy of supporting the bride.

Background: The informant is second generation Thai. His parent’s came to America long before he was born. He is very familiar which Thai culture as he typically travels there at least once every year. The informant does not have any first-hand experience with this tradition. He learned of it through his classmates when spending a semester abroad in Bangkok. This conversation was recorded in person while in Thailand during a USC trip the two of us were on together.

Context: Having seen it first hand, Thai culture is incredibly fixated on the public perception of money and status. The wealth gap is incredibly drastic in Thailand, especially in Bangkok, which is where we were. In addition, it is legally forbidden to speak ill of the royal family in Thailand. Status is trans-generational in the truest sense of the word in Thailand.

Analysis: When I went to Thailand, I had very little knowledge surrounding values of the culture. In experiencing it with no prior knowledge, I came to see Bangkok as one part extravagance and one part destitute. I remember seeing a lavish, 80 story apartment building and then looking at the surround neighborhood and seeing 10 people living where there should be 2. Off of this observation, I was not surprised to learn of this Thai marriage custom. While the idea of paying the bride’s family might seem archaic to our post modern ideas of gender, the informant relayed to me that this custom was less about the bride and more about the groom. The informant stated that this wasn’t a direct transaction but more so the bride’s family symbolically making the sure the groom is financially stable and able to take care of their daughter.

Naval Academy Wedding Tradition

Main Piece:

Informant: When a newly-married couple is walking out of the chapel for the first time they walk through two columns of Midshipmen holding their sabre’s up high. The lines are made up of members of the wedding party and officers in attendance. It’s four on each side of the two rows. The first two will lower their swords making like a gate. The married has to kiss in order for the each row to raise their swords and let them pass. When the couple gets to the last two Midshipmen with their swords lowered they kiss one more time. When they pass the last two one of the last two will slap the sword against the butt of the civilian spouse and say “Welcome to the Navy!”

 

Background: The informant is my brother. He is a senior at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. He first learned of this tradition through first-hand experience at the wedding of one of his closest friends at the academy. This interview was recorded over the phone. I asked the informant if he could recall any specific military traditions he has witnessed through informal mediums.

Context: The sabre is given to Midshipmen when they reach first class rank (the college equivalent of a senior). It is a point of pride amongst first class officers and is treated with the utmost care. The sabre arch is done right after the wedding ceremony finishes as the bride and groom leave the chapel. It is a highly-respected tradition and is always performed with punctuality.

Analysis: For most military members, the job can quickly become your life. Although the informant is a student, I have witnessed his transition into a full-fledged officer within the short span of four years. He holds the values and culture in the highest regard, much like his peers. In his words, “When you join the Navy you are making a lifelong commitment”. Well, some would also consider marriage to be a lifelong commitment. As I have experienced first-hand, the spouses of servicemen and women become an equal part of the military community they married into. As such, the tradition of the sabre arch is symbolic of that relationship. The spouse of the officer is committing to joining the military community around them. In return, through the sabre arch, the military community is grants the spouse acceptance. The cry, “Welcome to the Navy”, is confirmation of that acceptance.

Turkish Wedding Customs: Coffee

P.N. – “When Turkish girls are old enough to make a good Turkish coffee, a joke is made in the family that they are now ready to be married off.”

What happens during a traditional Turkish engagement ceremony?

P.N. – “In the actual engagement ceremony, the groom’s family sits in the living room while the bride’s family stays in the kitchen, making and preparing the food of the day.  The bride is not to sit down with the groom’s family until the end of the ceremony, because the bride is supposed to be all up, being the working woman, and that kind of stuff.”

“But, at the very end, after all the pastries are eaten and the tea is drank, you always end the ceremony with coffee.  So the bride goes in to the kitchen to prepare the coffee, and she has to carry the coffee one by one to each of the family members present, and the most important one she has to hand the coffee to is the groom.  That always happens.  She is carrying the coffee to her future husband, whether or not that is what is desired or anything.”

“If she spills any coffee onto the saucer, it’s gonna be a failed marriage, and they blame her for it.”

“That’s the whole thing; whenever I’m carrying Turkish coffee, (I used to have really shaky hands) I’d always spill it when I was younger, and my mom would always tell me I’d have bad luck.”

 

 This particular story struck me as odd, because I could tell how conflicted the person was while she was talking.  She, an extremely powerful woman, clearly doesn’t love this custom, as it’s implicit biases against women both in Turkey in general and during the wedding specifically are clear.  

 

May You Grow Old Sleeping on One Pillow

Item (direct transcription):

May you grow old sleeping on one pillow.

Background Information:

The informant learned this blessing from his grandfather, who told it to him when he got married.

Contextual Information:

This blessing is meant to be given at a wedding. After the informant’s grandfather grew too old to attend weddings and eventually passed away, the informant took it upon himself to perpetuate the blessing by telling it at family members’ weddings.

Analysis:

This blessing has a simple, literal, and obvious meaning. Clearly, its power comes not from its unique insight or wit, but rather from its emotional connection to a beloved and deceased family member.

Breaking a Plate at a Wedding

Item:

After a wedding ceremony, the groom breaks a plate by stomping it with his heel. The number of pieces that it breaks into is supposed to signify the number of happy years that the married couple will have together.

Background Information:

The informant learned this saying from his wife’s family, who insisted that he perform the tradition at his wedding. He suspects that the tradition is originally Russian-Armenian, but he isn’t sure.

He doesn’t believe that the number of pieces the plate breaks into has any meaning, and he doesn’t seem to hold the tradition in very high regard, probably due to the memory of hurting his foot by stomping too hard when he performed it.

Contextual Information:

The tradition is performed at a wedding, after the ceremony. In the informant’s case, the tradition was performed during the wedding reception.

Analysis:

Wedding traditions and accompanying beliefs are very common in all cultures.

Persian Wedding Custom

Background: Lauren was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. Her parents are both Persian Jews, and Lauren considers herself Persian as well. She has lots of extended family in the area that she grew up in, so her family often has family events that she attends, including bar and bat mitzvahs as well as weddings.

Context: Lauren was telling me about a pre-wedding party that she recently attended for her first cousin. I called Lauren on the phone since she attends university in Florida and recorded our conversation. I have transcribed what she said over the phone below.

“So there’s two names for this wedding tradition. Goleh baleh* or shironim khanom**. Goleh means flower and baleh means yes. Shironim means sweet. It’s a party it’s one of the first parties that happens when a couple gets engaged. It’s thrown by the bride’s family. At this party there’s a table full of sweets, sterling silver, flowers and a crystal that’s called leelac. That chrystal is supposed to be very expensive. It’s basically bringing in the sweetness of course of a marriage and the combining of two families and it’s usually a very big party. It’s the first time the couple is there together. I learned this tradition from  my family because last April my cousin Natalie got exchanged and her parents threw a shironim khanom. I just remember the entire party there was just fresh pastries, crepes, flowers… people send hundreds of flowers. My aunt’s house, everywhere there was flowers it was just beautiful. Everywhere there were silver plates…just gorgeous. Since I’m so close to her I didn’t really get to enjoy the food because I was dancing the whole night. One thing that we do that I really love that we do at most of the parties is we get fresh flowers and there’s a song that is sung and during that song, during the chorus everyone throws the flowers up at the bride and the groom, and the bride and groom are supposed to kiss at that time. It was my first time really seeing all that happen and it was really pretty and magical. I don’t know the song of the song… I know the melody but I’m gonna botch the words. The flowers are normally light colored flowers, typically white roses. Always light colors, never a dark color. White or light pink. At my cousin’s shironim, there was some jewelry given to her like close family came early and jeweled her up I guess? She wore no jewelry at the beginning and before the party started each of the grandmas gave her a piece of jewelry and then her parent, and then the grooms side of the family. They put the jewelry on her and then she wears it for the party and the rest of the night. Usually it’s not during the party, it’s before, just for close family and friends because… I don’t know my dad doesn’t really like it, it’s not very humble. Usually it’s just close family and friends. She wears the jewelry for the rest of the night though. Jewelry is given to the bride and the groom, usually the parents of the bride and groom, the grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles and if there’s even more jewelry then cousins, first cousins. No specific type of jewelry, usually just anything. Persians have this thing where you give married people emeralds, and older women will wear emeralds to the party if they are close to the bride. My mom wore emeralds to this party and the wedding, like emerald necklaces, earrings, rings. The groom’s mom wore emeralds. Something that has emeralds in it- once you’re married you’re given a lot of emeralds for some reason.”

 

*goleh baleh

How it’s pronounced: goh-leh bah-leh

**shironim khanom

How it’s pronounced: sheer-oo-neem khah-nohm

Moroccan Wedding Tradition

Background: Leigh comes from a Moroccan Jewish family. Her experience with these pre-wedding traditions has predominantly been with her aunt and uncles’ weddings.

Context: I interviewed Leigh in person and recorded our conversation on my phone. Her comments below are what I transcribed out of our conversation. She described henna (pronounced “hee-nah”) parties in Israel before weddings.

“I’m not sure if this is Moroccan or Moroccan Jewish. In terms of the significance and all that I am the wrong person to ask. I always thought they were talking about tahini, which to those of you unfamiliar with it, its like sesame seed paste that is consumed by many in the middle east. I always thought that when I was going to my uncles wedding ceremonies, they were talking about “doing a tahini” which to me sounded like “doing a hummus” like making food, which I didn’t understand. It took me a while to understand that they meant henna. It actually makes sense now that I think about it, they come from the same kind of henna paste. But it’s referring to henna. It was interesting when I was little because I did not realize that my family owned all of these moroccan costumes, that was my first time really experiencing true Moroccan culture, because you would dress up the way that they would in Morocco. Mom would always dress me and my sister up in matching, elaborate, flashy costumes. They were pretty cool. For men there are tunics or kaftans and there’s a vest and a hat, called a tarboosh. Theirs are pretty boring to be honest, compared to the women’s costumes. They always looked like they were out of Arabian nights, either like a belly dancer look going on, or kind of like the coins, you know? They always had these really beautiful beaded costumes, I wouldn’t call them tunics I would say they were more like… it wasn’t a kaftan…the bride would always have something more open, which I think is a more modernized, Israeli-Moroccan take on the women’s costume. We didn’t have the most traditional ones I would say. We looked like genies. We looked like Christina Aguilera, “Genie in a Bottle” music video genies. I know my grandma still keeps them, she has a whole closet full of that stuff and the costumes. They’ll pull them out for random occasions, for Passover for example which is a pretty big deal in Moroccan Jewish heritage. Oh, and the henna itself, the tattoos that won’t leave your hand and smell horrible and stain everything. It’s kind of like…have you ever seen a horse take a shit? It looks like that and you rub it into your palm. I don’t remember much else about it because I was so concerned about getting out of the costume, I did not like being in the costume. It stains in a weird way, it’s not like a normal henna that you can get on the beach in Mexico these days. It’s more watery, it leaves a paler residue. I don’t know if it’s the exact same formula or anything like that. That’s all I got.”

Bridal Punch

Title: Bridal Punch

Category: Food/Recipe

Informant: Lisa L. Gabbard

Nationality: American, caucasian

Age: 58

Occupation: Housewife

Residence: 5031 Mead Drive/ Doylestown PA, 18902 (Suburban Home)

Date of Collection: 4/8/18

Description:

Ingredients:

– Ginger-ale/Seven-Up

– Pastel Sherbet Ice-cream in Wedding Colors

– Alcohol (Clear Consistency)

– Ice

Directions

– Combine Ginger-ale and alcohol in a large punch bowl or serving container. Add sherbet ice-cream to the combination and then ice.

Context/Significance:

Bridal Punch is served during the wedding reception of a couple. The bridal punch is based primarily on the colors of the ceremony, but specifically the color of the bridesmaids dresses. The punch can be served as either an alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverage. Bridal punch is greenly served alongside cake and cocktails. Bridal punch is allowed to all guests in attendance alongside the bridal party specifically.

Personal Thoughts:

Bridal punch reiterates the theme/colors of the wedding and promotes social drinking amongst guests/patrons to the couple. Bridal punch seems to honor the bridesmaids specifically during the wedding reception; As an almost “thank-you” to their involvement in the ceremony.

Polterabend

The following is a conversation between myself and my parents about a German Jewish wedding tradition called a Polterabend. My dad, Arthur, is of German Jewish descent and grew up in a secular household in Cincinnati, while my mother, Margaret, is from a secular Episcopalian background. They are referred to by their first initials in this conversation; “L” is my first initial.

M: This is actually uh, Dad’s but I was gonna say that in Cincinnati they have um–among reform Jews in Cincinnati–they have a custom called the Polterabend. which is a-
A: It’s a German custom.
M: It’s a german custom, but isn’t- I think it was celebrated by the German Jews?
A: Yeah.
M: Um and we had one of them before our wedding and the idea was um, the night before, you have like a- a kind of a wild party of some kind to celebrate. But “polter” is y’know from “poltergeist” so it’s like, y’know, goblins or-
A: And you’re supposed to break something.
L: You always do it before your wedding or…?
M: Yeah, the evening before your wedding um, y’know you uh, you break stuff, you make a lot of noise to sort of celebrate the marrying couple and chase away the bad spirits.
L: And like, did your parents do that, Dad?
A: Yeah.
L: And like, all the reform Jews in Cincinnati?
A: Yeah.
M: And when they had a party for us, the evening before our wedding here [in San Francisco]-
A: They called it a Polterabend.
M: They called it a Polterabend, although it was just a party.

My dad’s family, like most German Jewish families in Cincinnati, were not at all religiously observant; in fact, they had a Christmas tree most years growing up. Still, most reform Jews in Cincinnati, my dad’s family included, participated in cultural practices like the Polterabend in order to connect to their culture. Although neither of my parents are especially religious, traditions like this one connect our family to our cultural-religious background. My parents were married by a Rabbi in a Jewish ceremony, and had a “Polterabend” before their wedding; though my mom is not Jewish, their wedding celebrated Jewish culture’s place in their newly formed family.