Ethiopian wedding traditions

My informant’s parents immigrated to the United States from Ethiopia. My informant grew up in Washington, D.C., where she says there is a large Ethiopian community. This her explanation of Ethiopian wedding customs:

“I go to a lot of Ethiopian weddings every summer, and they’re all pretty similar. The only ones that are like, really different are when people try to Americanize them. That’s always really awkward because half the people there don’t approve. So yeah, I usually go to around twelve every summer, and they’re all pretty repetitive. The one main thing that would make a wedding different is if it’s held in the orthodox church. Those ceremonies are pretty much exactly the same. Um, they are using Amharic, which is like the main Ethiopian language. It’s the one that’s spoken by the most people. But they’re kind of using the old form of it, so it’s words that aren’t really used outside of a religious setting. And there’s three priests that preside over that ceremony. And it’s really long, and they burn incense, and it’s like… it just goes on forever. When you go in the orthodox church, you have to take off your shoes. It’s a sign of respect. Um… Oh, and the people who are getting married are wearing, like, robes. They’re really heavy and they’re kind of made of like, velvet or suede, I think. The stitching and the designs are usually flowers and crosses—crosses are always a big theme—and they’re stitched with very heavy gold fabric, and they’re very detailed and rigid. They’re not very comfortable. And the people getting married are also wearing crowns that are made out of the same fabric. Um… And… In preparation for the wedding, the bride is like… It’s done at like a close family member’s house, it can’t be done at your own house. But like, the bride is kind of like, prepared and dressed, and there’s singing and dancing and talking. And it’s mostly women. Like, men can there, but they’re usually not. They’re usually with the groom. It’s like the Ethiopian version of bachelorette party, sort of, but it’s like, right before the wedding. So all the family is there, and so are all the bride’s close female friends. So I mean, I guess they’re less lively when it’s an orthodox wedding, because if the wedding is orthodox, it’s likely to be really early in the morning. So it can be at like 6 AM. I’ve been to a few that are at like, ten or eleven, but that’s not normal. And the ones that are still in churches but are not orthodox are usually at ten or eleven. The reception isn’t until much later, so in between, there’s usually like, a big break where people just go home or do whatever they want. Or at least in Washington, D.C., everyone always goes to the same park and takes pictures for hours. And there’s food there—Ethiopian food—like injera and types of sauces that are very similar to curry. So everyone eats and socializes.”

My informant had a lot to say on wedding traditions because weddings are so ritualized. They commemorate a liminal period in a person’s life—the time between being completely single and being married—so there are multitudes of traditions in every culture that surround weddings. Some aspects of Ethiopian weddings are similar to common Americanized wedding traditions, such as the separation of the actual ceremony from the reception and the “bachelorette party”. Yet there are a number of obvious differences, such as the clothing that is worn and the time of day that the ceremony takes place. My informant alluded to the fact that many elements of Ethiopian weddings are considered traditional, and according to a portion of the Ethiopian community in Washington, D.C., they should not be altered. However, as cultures continue to blend in America, the mixing of “traditional” elements is becoming more and more common.