Informant AM is a graduate student from San Jose California, whose family is originally from Ethiopia. There is a strong Ethiopian diasporic community in San Jose, where much of its traditions live on.
“The morning before the reception, the groom and his family members accompany him to go pick up the bride. But, at the door, the bride’s family is blocking them. They’re role playing — that’s what it seems like. I’m like, ‘Didn’t y’all agree to this?’ I don’t know why it became a tradition. Every single Ethiopian wedding I’ve been to has done it.”
Informant AM witnessed this tradition in primarily Ethiopian Orthodox Christian weddings. Ethiopia is a country with 36 million Orthodox Christians as of 2017, according to the Pew Research Center (Diamant). The Orthodox Christian religion places an emphasis on sexual purity in women, with the most apparent example being the veneration of the Virgin Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus Christ.
In “Wedding Ceremonies in European Folklore,” Hungarian folklorist Géza Róheim gives several examples of similar wedding traditions where the families of the bride and groom role-play a situation with a barrier, such as a Slovak wedding tradition where the groom’s family attempts to stela the bride’s bed. Róheim proposes that this cluster of traditions, collectively termed, “The Barrier,” are a means of giving meaning to the liminal nature of a wedding, especially in the case of the woman transitioning into sexual maturity. The custom of blocking the groom similarly reflects the importance of sexual maturity, especially to Orthodox Christians.
Róheim, Géza. “Wedding Ceremonies in European Folklore.” International Folkloristics Classic Contributions by the Founders of Folklore, Rowman & Littlefield, 1999, pp. 197–230.
Diamant, Jeff. “Ethiopia Is an Outlier in the Orthodox Christian World.” Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, 17 Aug. 2020, https://www.pewresearch.org/short-reads/2017/11/28/ethiopia-is-an-outlier-in-the-orthodox-christian-world/#:~:text=Ethiopia%20is%20an%20outlier%20in%20the%20Orthodox%20Christian%20world&text=The%20country%20in%20the%20Horn,largest%20Orthodox%20population%20after%20Russia.