Tag Archives: engagement

Irish Marriage Proposal Tradition — The Sheep Rug


MB recently went on a trip to the Irish island of Inisheer, where she met a local man named Kevin at a bar.

“We went outside for a cigarette and he proposed to me. Like legitimately got on one knee and had his grandmother’s ring. I was so confused and I didn’t know what to do, so I took the ring and just didn’t reply.

“The next day I was like, ‘I need to return this ring.’ I went back to the bar because no one has like any form of communication. And I was like, ‘When does Kevin come?’ And they’re like, ‘Oh, he’ll be here after work.’ So I hung out until Kevin showed up. And then I was like, ‘Look, I can’t marry you. Here’s your ring back.’

“Kevin was like, ‘Oh, no, no, no, wait. I owe you a sheep. Do you want a sheep?’ I was like, ‘What do you mean? I’m leaving tomorrow. What am I supposed to do with a sheep?’ And he was like, ‘No, no. In Inisheer tradition, when you propose, you’re supposed to give a sheep as your proposal gift.’ I was like, ‘What do I do with a sheep? What do you expect me to do with that?’

“Kevin said sometimes people turn the sheep into a rug, so I was like, ‘Oh, okay. I’ll take a sheep rug, I guess.’ And I wrote down my address on a little piece of paper.

“I thought it was hilarious because I was not expecting to get an actual sheep rug in the mail from Kevin. But low and behold, two weeks after getting back to L.A., a box showed up with this sheep rug. It’s gorgeous. So yes, I did, in fact, get an engagement sheep rug from Kevin, the rubbish collector.


MB is a 20 year-old college student from New Jersey currently living in Los Angeles. She has traveled extensively and was in Ireland to film a documentary when this proposal occurred.

While she was not familiar with this specific Inisheer tradition, MB said she had heard of similar customs in other cultures. “It’s a tradition to present the woman with something that would appeal. So I feel like I had seen it, but I didn’t know that was an Irish thing.

“But this island also is super traditional, so it wasn’t super surprising. For context, the island is very small. Not a lot of technology. It’s a tourist destination now, but year-round, I think less than a hundred people live there. It’s all farmland. The only things that people do are own a shop or work on a farm or work on the ferry that runs to the mainland. So it’s very traditional. They all know each other, so there’s no need to text. They just go to the same place at the pub and knock on each other’s doors.

MB said she plans to keep the sheep rug for a long time and keep telling this story for the rest of her life. “I cherish this sheep rug so much. I think it’s the best souvenir I could ever receive.

She also admitted that sometimes she feels like she insulted Irish marriage tradition, even though Kevin was very insistent. “Obviously, because I was doing the documentary, I wanted to talk to people and actually get to know the culture. But I did not expect to be proposed to. And coming in and then leaving … I don’t know. But he really didn’t give me an option. And who am I to turn down a sheep rug? That sounds awesome.”


Marriage is one of the most celebrated life milestones across cultures. Historically, marriage is what brings two families together, establishing kinship networks and serving to reproduce not only life but culture. Thus, as one of the most important societal rituals that transforms identity, marriage is surrounded by many traditions, including those related to the engagement as MB experienced.

MB was told that she would be given an older sheep. It is unclear to her whether the sheep rug she received was already made at the time of the proposal, so there is no way of knowing much about the sheep it came from. Nonetheless, it is interesting that she was not given a young sheep to symbolize fertility, which is an important theme across diverse wedding traditions. Giza Roheim’s research, “Wedding Ceremonies in European Folklore,” explores other iterations of such themes.

Ultimately, Kevin’s insistence in giving her the sheep speaks to the immense power of ritual. Even though MB declined the marriage proposal, he insisted on following through with the whole proposal ritual. This demonstrates the belief that rituals must be performed correctly and in their entirety, or else the occasion loses its transformative power. In Kevin’s case, it is possible that he believed a failure to follow through on the engagement ritual would give him bad luck with future proposals, or alternatively, not release him from his commitment to MB. Whatever the reason, it is clear that he was acting under the weight of ritual obligation, rather than reason.

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.  


If He Loves You, He Will Drink Your Turkish Coffee

About the Informant(s): Informant A and her husband (Informant B) are both from Turkey. They met in college, got married, and then came to the US for graduate school. They are both currently teaching assistants for math.

The Interview:

Informant A: Before engagement, [to ask] for her hand…the [two] families get together and…

Me: They talk about getting engaged?

Informant A: Yeah. It’s like these two young people have seen each other; they like each other. So what should we do about this?

Me: The parents [meet]?

Informant B: No, the parents and the kids. The future bride makes coffee for the groom’s family.

Informant A: It’s a special kind of coffee. Turkish coffee. It looks like espresso. The bride puts salt in the coffee. The groom’s coffee. If the groom drinks it without any complaints, then the bride’s side says: ‘ooh, our groom is very nice. He didn’t say anything even though the coffee is not the best.’ But I didn’t do it…

Informant B: She was afraid that I would just spit it out.

Informant A (slightly sad): I didn’t do it.


Informant B: I heard a story but I am not sure if it is correct or not. A groom was…

Informant A: Dead! It is rumored that the bride put pepper, salt, eggs, many spices…

Informant B: Many spices, and the groom drank it and like, there was news that he…just died.

Informant A: He died!

Me: From drinking coffee?

Informant B: But they put several things inside the coffee.

Me: Like poison?

Informant A: I think they overdid it extremely. I don’t know. I just heard of it. I think it was food poisoning.

Me: So is it like a legend? No one knows if it’s actually true?

Informant B: It could be. I’m not sure.

Background Information/Context: I asked this couple about some Turkish wedding traditions, and the conversation went to how an engagement happens. Although Informant A didn’t follow tradition and give her current husband salty coffee, they both knew about it. It seems that brides normally put salt in, but they might add a variety of other things like spices in the coffee as well. Soon, the conversation turned to a legend about this fateful cup of coffee (that has to be Turkish coffee). Although the legend is about dead groom, we still laughed about it because of how extreme and ironic it sounded. I got the impression that the couple thought that this tradition was quite unnecessary and laughable, yet Informant A still seemed a bit disappointed that she did not put her husband to the test.

My thoughts: It seems that this tradition came about as a way for the bride’s family to see how fitting the groom is for the bride and how much he loves her. If the groom is willing to go through this kind of pain, then he can endure any kind of hardship in the future as well. This would explain why Informant A might have been disappointed because she did not place that trust in her husband back when they got engaged (even though they are a great couple today). The fact that a legend exists because of this tradition also shows how some people do not approve of this kind of test, since after all, someone could die from it. This legend acts as a cautionary tale for people thinking about getting married (telling the bride to go easy on the groom). It also acts as a way for people to deal with the fear of the engagement meeting not going as well as expected–even if the groom doesn’t spit it out, he could still die. Perhaps, for Informant A, it is a way for her to deal with the regret of not putting salt in Informant B’s coffee.








Tradition – Chinese

During an engagement, the woman and man are supposed to exchange twelve gifts and present them to each other during the engagement ceremony.

Karena learned about this tradition through her parents, who brought it over from Taiwan.  She says that the presents have to be thoughtful and classy and presented in nicely wrapped, half-open box.  She says that most traditional weddings do include this tradition, exchanging gifts such as watches, wallets, and purses.  This gesture often results in extravagant gifts and sometimes displays how much money the family has to spend on the other family.  Though she does not agree with this tradition, she still follows it to please her family in their wishes to have a Chinese wedding.

Since Karena is a wedding planner on the side, she is familiar with certain Chinese traditions regarding engagements and marriages.  For her own wedding, she followed these traditions and saw it as another part of the process for engagement.  Her interpretation of the tradition was no more than pleasing her family.  It is very important to respect the customs of one’s ancestors for them to celebrate the union of two families.  In contrast to American weddings, Chinese weddings are very involved in each other’s families, making sure that the two get along.  The exchange of the presents is also a symbol of friendship between the two families.  In addition to her interpretation, another approach could be taken.  The exchange of presents can represent how each family is financially able to support each other.  It also acts as a way to join the families together; by exchanging these presents, the families can unite together through the couple.  These Chinese traditions are a way to respect the elders of the family as well as bringing the families closer together as the couple prepares for marriage.  These traditions are also brought over from Asia to be integrated into Asian-American weddings, showing the hybridization of the two cultures.