Ethiopian Wedding Gifting Traditions

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.


“My grandpa actually told me this, I didn’t know this was a thing. So, friends and family of the bride and groom, they give gifts to the parents, and usually the gift is money. I have no idea why. My grandpa told his friends, like ‘I have 11 children, you don’t have to give me gifts after each child.'”


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). Ethiopian Orthodox culture is patriarchal, taking cues from religious hierarchy barring women from positions in the clergy among other examples set by the Bible and Orthodox customs. Similar, Ethiopian Orthodox culture places a heavy emphasis on the knowledge of elders and the importance of family.


Ethiopian wedding gifting traditions reflect the importance of family. For example, informant AM mentioned that it is customary to presents gifts to the couple’s parents, as well as to the couple itself. The practice resembles other traditions practiced in Ethiopia and other countries which emphasize family influence, such as the custom of gaining parental approval before marriage. One such tradition in Ethiopia is known as ሽማግሌ, or shimagelay, which translates to “elder.” In this custom, the groom sends his parents to deliberate with the parents of the bride before a marriage proposal can officially be made. This discussion mainly consists of the groom’s parents convincing the bride’s parents that the groom can adequately take care of the bride, reflecting both patriarchal values and the value of elders’ opinions in Ethiopian culture (Habeshabrides). Yet, informant AM also mentioned that her grandpa advised his friends not to give him gifts, indicating that Ethiopians are willing to be flexible about practicing this tradition for the sake of practicality.

Works Cited:

“Brides of the Blue Nile.” Habeshabrides,