Tag Archives: Wedding Rituals

Ukrainian Wedding Tradition

The following is transcribed from an interview between me and interviewee, referred to as MT. 

MT: In my country, when someone wants to get married to a girl, they have to first barter for her with her neighborhood, essentially. Usually the neighborhood people ask for booze and money and then in exchange they’ll let her go and give her to him. 

Me: So do potential grooms actually end up going and meeting the neighborhood people’s demands for their brides?

MT: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, at this point it’s usually pretend, like, not serious but because it’s tradition we have to do it, you know? So usually the guy will just go and the neighborhood will play pretend like you have to give me stuff and at this point it’s just an excuse to get some booze and get excited for the wedding. Although, I have seen a neighborhood take it seriously one time and the guy had to actually go home and get money because the neighborhood wouldn’t let her go! 

Me: And why do they do the bartering before the wedding?

MT: Well, the neighborhood is losing a person so it’s like they should get something in return, you know? And it’s also a way to test and see how much the groom wants her like what she’s worth to him. 

Me: What if someone wants to marry her from the same neighborhood, though?

MT: Oh, no matter what they’ll make the guys barter for her. So even if they’re from the same neighborhood, they’ll then separate it by streets and he’ll barter with the people on her street. If they’re on the same street, he’ll have to barter with the family type of stuff. It’s just tradition. 

Background:

Interviewee, MT, is from LViv, Ukraine. His family is from a village called Rodatichi in Ukraine. He immigrated to America at age 13, but returns home for occasions. He has lived in Sherman Oaks, CA for the rest of his life thus far and has been happily married to my mom for 11 years. He has been to numerous weddings and seen this wedding tradition happen all growing up.

Context: 

This interview was conducted over lunch at our family home, so it was very casual. He has many stories about the customs of his country that he usually shares with me so it was just like any number of our usual conversations. 

Thoughts:

There are many versions of these wedding customs, but what I found interesting is that this specific tradition of bartering for the wife is unique to his region in Ukraine. Even in the Eastern part of the country, there are wildly different traditions but they all seem to center around the idea of testing the man of his dedication to the wife. I think this is interesting because in
America, we don’t have many of these traditions where a man has to truly win and earn his bride. It is also very interesting how much variation there is within this custom as far as what the neighborhood people ask for, whether or not the groom actually has to give it to them, and whether he is bartering with the whole neighborhood or just her family. 

Spitting at Greek Weddings

MAIN PIECE

“That common stereotype that Greeks spit at brides down the wedding aisle you see in [My] Big Fat Greek Wedding, although exageratted, is based in truth.  More in Greek-Greek culture than in Greek-American culture, you will see people spit on the bride, not walking down the aisle, but while she gets ready.  Also this “spitting” is not accompanied by saliva, but instead is like a mock spit. What it’s supposed to do is ward away evil spirits and the “evil eye”,  which a lot of us characterize with a redness on the face.  This can be acne or just simple irritation of the skin, but we have done it at weddings moreso to wish the bride luck and hope her husband doesn’t run away.  Yeah, it can be a little condescending at times because people could do it to say, “Just so your man doesn’t leave you at the altar”.

BACKGROUND

My informant was born in Anaheim, California, however, she spent most of her childhood on Greece’s  Mainland, particularly in Thessaloniki.  Both of her parents grew up and emigrated from Greece only twenty years ago.  SK, my informant, learned this not from her church in America, but her church back in Thessaloniki where there is more of a belief in bad spirits surrounding big occasions.

CONTEXT

This came from a friend of mine from my church in Southern California.  I got this folklore from a zoom call with her while she was quarantined back in Greece.  I asked her to explain some traditional Greek cultural cornerstones she knows as she ate breakfast.

THOUGHTS

When you watch the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, it’s easy to write off a lot of the stuff in it and other culture-specific movies as overblown stereotypes, however, in asking someone with firsthand experience, it’s very interesting to see a piece of folklore interpreted into a joke or comedic form.  As well, I find it interesting that this has such a dual meaning.  It can be seen as helpful or insulting and that really opens up a conversation about how one bigger folk group could be divided into  sub-divisions based on how they interpret the same piece of folklore.

Wedding Traditions

Context:

The informant is a 29-year-old Caucasian female who will be called JH. She is of Irish and English descent and knows of this folklore from her family, more specifically her grandparents. This folklore piece is told in her words:

Main Piece:

My Paternal Grandparents used to tell us that it was tradition on our wedding day for proper young ladies to have a few things:

– Something Old: Usually a piece of jewelry from a mother/grandmother/future mother-in-law. You were connected via sentiment and would carry that into your new marriage.

– Something New: Usually a gift of some sort from the groom or his family to show that the wife was considered precious to them.

– Something Borrowed: Sometimes a veil from a family member, or a trinket they wore or used in their wedding.

– Something Blue: Usually we learned it was forget-me-nots, sweet blue flowers to never forget your family, or the new love and joy you would receive from your wedding day. We also learned it could be a blue handkerchief, to hide the blue of tears (sad or happy).

And a sixpence in your shoe: By walking into your new life with wealth in your foot, you would always have money when you needed it for a prosperous life.

 

Background:

JH learned about this folklore when she was younger and had attended a wedding with her family. JH is not currently married but when she does get married, she will continue this tradition.

Notes:

This tradition derives from an Old English rhyme, which goes, “Something olde, something new, something borrowed, something blue, a sixpence in your shoe.” The meaning of something old is meant to ward off the “evil eye” and protect the newly weds and their future children. It can also represent continuity. Something new expresses optimism for the future so that the new couple can have good luck for their future life together. Something borrowed is a way for the couple to share in the luck given to them from the item that it borrowed and from that person/persons. The contemporary belief is to have something that honors a loved one that the item came from.  Something blue is also another way to ward of evil or mean spirits. And the sixpence is for future prosperity and good fortune in the couple’s life together. This tradition wasn’t something my family did however, for my wedding, my mother-in-law gave me trinkets that fulfilled every part of the tradition. I may continue this tradition with my children as I appreciated the gesture made by my mother-in-law.

 

For more information on this tradition, check out:

https://www.theknot.com/content/wedding-traditions-the-meaning-of-something-old

 

 

Hiding The Groom’s Shoes

Item:

“One of the most elaborately staged pranks at a desi (typically North Indian or Pakistani) wedding is the theft of the groom’s shoes by the bride’s younger sisters and female cousins. The groom has to bargain for his shoes to be returned to him with these young girls, often offering them money, sweets, and jewelry in exchange for them. It has become a tradition emblematic to our weddings.”

Context:

The interviewee related her experience with this tradition to me: “The first time I got the chance to have my cousins do this for me was when I was getting married to your uncle. It was hilarious. He was running around, looking for the shoes like some desperate fellow, and they managed to swindle about a thousand rupees each from him! Not to mention all the sweets they got in exchange. It was amazing.”

Analysis:

There are a few explanations for this ritual-impeding prank. The first is that the Indian groom, who has to arrive at the wedding venue from another location, some distance away,and usually on a horse or an elephant, cannot proceed with the actual wedding sacraments if he doesn’t have his shoes with him. This, effectively, would put a stop to the wedding and interrupt the smooth flowing of a very important liminal period in one’s life – the time in which one is a groom, not yet married, and not really unmarried either. Secondly, India, being a rather patriarchal society, sees a wedding as the groom’s family taking possession of the bride. Therefore, in retaliation, the girls from the bride’s side take their revenge, symbolically and humorously, by stealing an important component of the groom’s outfit and thereby threatening the marriage. The money is supposed to be a sort of compensation for the bride being taken away. And finally, and perhaps rather obscurely, is the deeply-entrenched ancient practice of child-betrothal and child marriage in Indian society. In a time when children were the main participants in these weddings, these little games would have assuaged their confusion and engaged their attention to the very religious, and sometimes pretty long-winded sacraments.

Seven Circles Around A Fire

Item:

“In a Hindu wedding,  a non-negotiable component is the saat phere, or seven rounds around the sacred fire. What happens is that the bride’s dupatta (scarf) is tied to the end of the man’s scarf, symbolizing their bond, and they walk together around the fire seven times while the priest prays for their union and blesses them. It is so emblematic of a marriage that people who elope consider themselves married, without an official ceremony, if they have walked around a fire seven times. I think the religious significance in Hinduism is that people who get married are supposed to stay together for seven lifetimes.”

Context:

The informant told me what sparked his interest in this tradition – “I had seen this happen in so many Bollywood movies that I was very intrigued as to what it actually meant. So when I was getting married a few years ago – no, actually more like seven…no pun intended, ha ha – I made the mistake of telling my mother that I didn’t want to spend so much time in circling the fire so agonizingly slowly seven times. I…really shouldn’t have said that. Amma was so scandalized that she didn’t speak to me for the rest of the day, at which point I was driven to find out what was so special about this tradition. So I did.”

Analysis:

This wedding tradition has deep roots in the Hindu faith – the ‘tying of the knot’ between the bride’s and groom’s scarves symbolizes their bond and the seven circles around the sacred fire are emblematic of, as the informant said, the belief that two people who are married will be reincarnated as literal soulmates for the next seven lives. This is reflective of the deeply-entrenched Hindu principle of the rebirth of the aatma, or soul, into several lifetimes. In addition to this, the number seven has particular significance in Hinduism and folk religious practices, playing out not only in the tradition of weddings, but also in astrology – the Saptarishi (Pleiades) constellation, meaning seven rishis or saints – as well as in proverbial phrases, such as “Seven steps with a stranger and you become friends. Seven more, and you are indebted to one another.”

Together Forever – A Henna Tradition

Item and Context:

“Henna traditions are deeply entrenched in the proceedings of Indian weddings. I remember when I was a teenager, my older female cousins would be getting married, and they would tease all of us younger girls by saying that if they hid the initials of our boyfriends in our henna and the respective boys were able to find them in the swirls and floral patterns, we would be together forever. Of course, being a teenager, I found this pretty embarrassing and awkward, as most teenage girls are when it comes to boys. Now, it’s no big deal, because I’m already married. But the next time any of the girls in our family gets married, I won’t leave you!”

Analysis:

As the informant mentioned, henna is really important in Indian weddings, regardless of religious affiliation. There are man different henna rituals and traditions, including this one. Oftentimes, the people targeted by this “hidden initials” ritual are the teenage girls of the wedding party, i.e. the ones who are about to grow up and get married soon enough. Therefore, it is common to embarrass them by hinting towards their upcoming weddings. Also, the idea of predestination is important in the faith of Hinduism, the predominant religion of India. The idea that a woman’s soulmate has already been picked out for her from lifetimes before and for lifetimes after is highlighted by this tradition, and the ideal outcome is that the girl’s supposed boyfriend should find his initials in the girl’s henna. Since henna is traditionally applied on the palms of a girl’s hands, the notion of palmistry is also brought up here ; if the boyfriend is able to find his initials in the girl’s henna, symbolically, he is finding and establishing his place in her hectic life as well.

The Unity Candle

Shirley Turner Jean grew up in Rialto, California.  She graduated from Dwight D Eisenhower high school I 2004.  From there, she pursued a bachelor’s degree in physical education at Cal State San Bernardino.  Shortly thereafter, Shirley obtained a Masters Degree in Kinesiology from Azusa Pacific University.  She has sense obtained a number of credentials from Azusa Pacific University.  She currently lives in San Bernardino, California and teaches at Synergy Middle School in Los Angeles, California.  She is a PE teacher.

We had a beautiful wedding this past October that my beautiful friend, Keesha, helped put together.  (pauses and smiles at me)  Anyhoo, it was help at this garden in Glendale.  It was very intimate … and very hot, actually.  We did a lot of symbolic things to reinforce the idea of us coming together as a single unit.  One of the things that I wanted to emphasize was the union of our families.  Because, let me tell you, it is so true.  You don’t just marry the man, you marry his momma and all the other crazy relatives too!  So, we did the unity candle.  During the ceremony we had my mom on my end of the alter light a candle and his mom did the same on his side.  They both walked up to where we were standing and lit one, big, candle together.  To me, it symbolized how the two families had to come together to make this union work.  Now, I kind of wish I didn’t need so much of his mom’s input and participation in my marriage.  (laughs for a few seconds.  Then looks me straight in the face.)  Keesha, and it was pretty and stuff.

___

It seems like this was only added to the wedding ceremony because it was a tradition and was aesthetically pleasing.  However, when put into practice and what it really means to the future marriage, it isn’t exactly warranted.

Unity Sand

Christopher Jean was raised in Los Angeles, California.  He graduated high school in 2003 and obtained his Bachelor of Science degree from Loma Linda University in 2012.  He is Hatian and grew up in a devout Catholic household.  He currently resides in San Bernardino, with his wife Shirley.  He is a Physical Therapist Assistant.

At our wedding, me and Shirley decided to do the Unity Sand … Now that I think about it, we did a lot of unity stuff.  The whole day was about us becoming one.  I guess that is kind of the point when you think about it and put it all into perspective. … so we had two jars of sand.  Each was our wedding colors.  So Shirley got the Coral colored sand and I got the dark brown colored sand.  When the pastor announced it, we made a big production of walking over, together, to a table that we had set up and decorated with a larger vase.  Together, we emptied the sand in our vases into the new, bigger vase.  It symbolized us being united.

___

A Freudian interpretation of this would interpret the larger jar as symbolizing the children that they will create together as a result of this union.

An Indian Wedding Tradition

Item:

“So my family originates from um, a little state called Gujrat in India, and uh we, our weddings in India differentiate from state to state, so our weddings have a certain aspect: At the beginning, prior to the formal ceremony, where the bride’s side attempts to steal the groom’s shoes. And it’s this big thing where both sides kind of get in this mini tussle that can kind of sometimes, expand in to big fights, um, over the shoes. And if the bride’s side succeeds in securing the groom’s shoes the groom then uh has to pay off the bride’s side to get his shoes back because he can’t leave , he can’t leave the uh location without those shoes.”

Context:

The informant on his experience with this wedding tradition: “So, um, this past wedding that I went to, I was on the groom’s side, so I was semi-in charge of my cousin’s, so we were in charge of securing those shoes and keeping them safe, so the entire way up until, the mundup is what we call it, it’s where they have the actual ceremony, we surrounded the groom like body guards and literally just walked him all the way up the stage and didn’t let anyone near him, like he was the president, um and successfully got him there without having the shoes stolen. In another situation at another wedding I was on the bride’s side, and um the groom’s side had secured one shoe, the other shoe had been secured by us, and one of the big guys like, put it behind him and held it there. And you know, I was in charge at the time of like figuring out where they took it, so I realized he had put it behind him and just had it in one hand, and I just grabbed it and ran, straight out of his hand, and got it that way. So I mean it takes a little scheming and planning, but it’s fun, it’s one of the fun parts about a wedding.”

Analysis:

Indian society is very patriarchal. So, in a way, what happens in a wedding is that the groom’s family steals the bride from her family. In this sense, the activity of the bride’s family in the wedding demonstrates their acknowledgment of this fact and their consequent response. That they steal the groom’s shoes exhibits a lighthearted form of revenge taken against the groom’s family. The monetary compensation received from the return of the shoes is the least they can expect after having their daughter stolen from them.

 

Thai Wedding Traditions

Informant Background: The individual was born in Bangkok, Thailand. She grew up there and still has family in Thailand. She said her family origin is Chinese. Her family still performs a lot of Chinese traditions such as: Chinese New Year, Ancestry Day, etc. Being in Thailand her family also practice a lot of the Thai traditions. She does not speak Chinese but she does speak Thai and English. She currently lives in Los Angeles to go to school. She has been travelling back and forth between the United States and Thailand constantly throughout the years because her family still resides in Bangkok.

 

Weddings in Thailand most of the time happens in one day. But there are different approach es depending on the size of the family.

Okay if you have a small family sometimes you would just go to the government building, you know like city hall here, and just dress semi-nice and get married there. They will sign the paper and then be done with it.

Bigger family usually dedicate the whole day for this event. Oh, way before the wedding day there are usually a lot of stuff the bride and the groom would do. Usually the bride will find her dress…usually people do both traditional Thai clothing in white with the western wedding gown type of thing…The bride and the groom would then have a photo session where they take photos in their wedding clothes in some nice place…some people do it at where they met, or a park, or a photo studio and what not. Some people even do different wedding themes…sometimes even casual clothes…some people even do their old school uniform you know…it really depends on the couple.

On the actual wedding day the day would starts with the groom and his family marching with money, food, and valuables to the bride’s house. Oh, the wedding usually takes place there. The groom and his group of people would sing songs as they march along. The size of the march depends on the groom’s family, friends, and relatives. They would have some Thai musical instruments. It’s like a marching band you know some wind instrument, drums, etc. And then these songs would be songs you only sing on weddings. The songs usually talks about how wedding is this idea of trading between family…the lyrics would be like “if you have lemons, you can trade for lime, if you have a daughter, you can trade for a son”…it’s kind of funny but most people still do it today.

Once the groom arrives he is faced with what we called “gate.” These “gates” are usually made by children of the bride’s family holding a string on two ends prohibiting the groom to see the bride. The groom would then have to give the children envelop with money inside. The number of “gate” depends on the number of children in the bride’s family. Sometimes the friends of the bride would set up the “gate” as a dare for the groom where he has to do jump rope, drink weird stuff, or push-ups to pass. It’s almost like a prank.

After that then the groom can see the bridge and the ceremony will then start. The two will be on their knees in front of the invited guests… And then the bride and the groom put their hands out on top of a small pedestal where the adults of both family pour water into their hands…while pouring the water the adult give consent, advice, and wishes to the bride and the groom…This usually begins with the oldest family members to the youngest. Sometimes close elderly guests participate as well.

After that the bride and the groom can sign the marriage papers stuff. Sometimes you can even book the government officials from your district to be at this event so they can bring you the paper to sign…so you know you don’t have to go to city hall to sign before or after the wedding day…so everything can happen on the same day.

There is also certain district with good names that people want to get married in. The most popular is this district called “Bang-Rak” which translates to something like “area of love” or “place of love” or you know something like that. This district is so popular that people would go there to get married even though they live like an hour away.

Oh, usually after the traditional Thai stuff the bride and the groom would change into the more Western wedding clothes…you known tux and gown…for their wedding reception with dancing, food, and cake.  

This is a common Thai marriage tradition observed by the informant. The march with valuables represents the groom’s family size and wealth. It also symbolizes how these valuables is the bride’s price, or how much the groom is paying the bride’s family. The march differs in scale from less than ten people to about a hundred. The “gate” serves the same purpose to present obstacle for the groom and how he must have wealth to get the bride. And that the value of the bride come at a price where the groom must be willing to pay and does to get to her. The adults play an important role as they give consent and pass on wisdom to the next generation. Having the oldest member of the family start the ceremony also reflects the value of the elders in the Thai culture. This is also a ritual where both sides of the family can get to know each other, especially the older generation, to create the joining of two families.

Since there are many religions practiced in Thailand, sometimes the wedding takes place in multiple forms to accommodate different believes. The informant said that since the traditional Thai wedding ceremony ritual stems from Buddhist traditions, those usually occur in the morning with close family. Then the reception will take place at night where all invited guests, family and friends, attend. The reception is then host more similar to the American wedding reception with food and music, and the wedding cake.

 

 

This wedding ritual, in my opinion, reflects how the importance of marriage transcends the bride and the groom. The march of the groom singing songs involves a small community. It shows how so many people have to come together for the two people. It also shows wealth and connection within the community. The dare by the bride’s family shows how her strong family ties and emphasizes this idea of trading the bride through money and wealth. The kneeling before adults shows the importance of the older generation to the new and upcoming generation. The ritual shows how the importance of the wedding day focuses as much on the people around the bride and the groom in comparison to the bride and the groom themselves.

Without the traditions the bride and the groom can just go to city hall and get married legally as the informant pointed out some small family would do. But I can see the importance of the wedding becoming an event that is for the micro-community. The legality of the day is much less importance than the traditions performed on the day.

The different traditions also show how the local tradition is infused with the international tradition. Having both shows how the people want to keep on their tradition while being open to new ones.

The photos taken before the wedding seems very strange in my opinion. As seen in many wedding traditions the day is deemed as very exclusive, sacred, and sometimes religious. The clothes that the bride and the groom wear at wedding are also exclusive to the day. I feel that to take photos before the actual day in wedding apparel loses the importance of the actual wedding day.