Tag Archives: wedding traditions

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. 

The Wedding Singers

Main Body:

Informant: So singing at weddings was big. And I’ll describe this from my memory because I haven’t seen it anywhere else. But I remember, you’d be on the groom’s side. So everyone is sitting on the floor. Typically this would be in the courtyard of … some kind of thing like if there are a few houses it would be in the courtyard in the middle. But then, houses were usually one story high. And on the roof of the house, there would be all these girls sitting all around, on the edge of the roof. They’d be sitting in a row and they’d be singing. So whenever a particular part of the wedding ritual took place, they’d be singing a song that was relevant or appropriate. What they’d also do is, typically, they’d be picking on the groom’s family. 

Interviewer: So these are all women from the bride’s family?

Informant: Yup. And I don’t think there was any restriction on whether or not they could be married or unmarried or anything. While the ceremony is going on, they don’t wait for pauses or anything, they are just continually singing over the ceremony. And they weren’t faint or anything. I mean, they weren’t overpowering but you could very clearly hear them. 

And this is the funny part, I remember one time I was looking up. And their songs, you know, sometimes they would have pathos in them because it was a sad thing because, typically, the bride would not return home after being married off. So they would, the singers would pick on the groom’s family. Like “Oh look at his mustache” or “Oh he’s bald,” or something like that. So I looked up, I was a little kid, to see what all the singing was about. And I remember my older brother telling me, very sternly, “You’re not supposed to look up.” So you can’t acknowledge them. But at the same time, it was very clear that people would feel deprived if there wasn’t that singing.

Background:

The informant is my father who was born and raised in northern India in the state of Punjab and immigrated to America over 20 years ago. He was raised for a time in a rural village setting which is where much of our family comes from and this tradition is one he noticed being practiced in those rural, village weddings. This did not happen in his own wedding.

Context:

I am back home due to shelter-in-place. One night when my family was sitting in the study I asked my father if he had any folklore samples I could add to the archive. This was one of the ones he shared with me.

Analysis:

I think I understand where this tradition comes from. India is, by and large, an incredibly patriarchal society. Brides are married off, largely expected to stay home. Even now I see it during dinner settings there is an unspoken expectation that the women clean and bring the food to the table while the men sit and wait. So with the wedding being a somewhat sad affair for the bride’s family, losing their sister/daughter/niece to another family, this tradition is sort of a way of rebelling against that. Disrupting the ceremony, making fun of the groom’s family, ultimately all in vain as the bride will be married and leave. But it’s the bride’s family’s way of expressing their love for the bride and acting out to show, in a roundabout way, that they will miss her.

The Wedding Beat

Main Body:

Informant: This is one that I’m positive does not happen in my part of India, in my part of the community. I had not witnessed it until my brother got married. He was getting married and my sister-in-law was from Haryana (a northern state of India). And the wedding was in Chandigarh which is a big city. So this was after the wedding ceremony but we’re still all sitting around. My brother, the groom, gets called into a room. And he walked in, and there were always these little rituals to do so I suppose he thought it had something to do with that. And I walked in after him but someone stopped me. So my brother comes back out two or five minutes later, red in the face, and he told me that they all punched him on the back.

I mean, it wasn’t soft too, it was pretty serious. I thought it was funny. It was the bride’s family that did it and they laid into him pretty good. So they brought him in there under false pretenses and there were all these women –

Interviewer: So it was exclusively the women in the bride’s family?

Informant: Yeah, only women, not men. So it’s more of women in the bride’s family messing with the groom’s family. Here’s my theory, there were many women in there who probably were abused and this was their way of getting some of their thing out. And at my wedding, and your mom is from UP which is a different state. At a similar point in the wedding, and my brother in law was standing behind me. And some women from your mom’s family came and they hit my brother-in-law, my sister’s husband. But it wasn’t like a fist, like how they hit my brother, it was open hand. It was on the back and they had some powder some turmeric on their hand so now they have a hand print on their nice suit. Funny thing, my brother-in-law starts yelling, “No you don’t hit the brother-in-law, you’re supposed to hit the groom!” Which is why, even though I haven’t heard of it anywhere else, I’m pretty sure this is a tradition in some sense.

Background:

The informant is my father who was born and raised in northern India in the state of Punjab and immigrated to America over 20 years ago. He was raised for a time in a rural village setting which is where much of our family comes from and this tradition is one he noticed being practiced in those rural, village weddings. This also happened at his own wedding.

Context:

I am back home due to shelter-in-place. One night when my family was sitting in the study I asked my father if he had any folklore samples I could add to the archive. This was one of the ones he shared with me.

Analysis:

I think this tradition comes from the women in the bride’s family fighting back at the patriarchal society they find themselves in. While done in jest, it could be argued that the women beating the groom is a warning for him not to do the same to the bride and to treat her right, otherwise he knows what’s awaiting him. Additionally, the example of a powdered handprint being left on a suit could suggest that the women are leaving their “mark,” much as a man would leave on a woman by beating her. They’re leaving a physical and a visual reminder that there is an entire family who is looking after the bride so she is to be treated well.The fact that the two examples discussed happened in different, yet nearby states, lends credence to this being a widespread tradition in northern India.

Barber at the Wedding

Main Body:

Informant: This when I was growing up in India, this was still being done. And I’m not sure if it was all of India that was doing this but definitely a lot of Northern India. For some strange reason, when you got married, typically it was an arranged marriage, right? So, at some point, the girl’s dad would talk to the priest. They’d figure out what’s a good, an auspicious day for the wedding. But for some strange reason, and I don’t know what that strange reason is, the barber in the village, he would be the one to take the message about the wedding’s dad across to the groom and his family. It was always the barber. 

Then when you actually went to the wedding, it would always be at the girl’s place. So the girl’s family is already there, the whole extended family. And the groom’s family comes and they all meet and some money is always given or exchanged. So one of the first people who would always be recognized, and don’t ask me why, would be the barber of the girl’s village.

Interviewer: So, no matter what, this is one of you obligations as a barber? No matter if you know the girl’s family or not you have to be involved in the wedding in this specific way?

Informant: Yes, it’s like a village thing, you know?

Interviewer: So it’s a rural thing, it’s not an urban thing?

Informant: Good question, I don’t know the answer. So yeah the barber gets recognized by both families and he gets some money. Barbers typically were lower classes, so he wasn’t treated exactly equal but he would be taken along with the rest of the wedding party. 

Background:

The informant is my father who was born and raised in northern India in the state of Punjab and immigrated to America over 20 years ago. He was raised for a time in a rural village setting which is where much of our family comes from and this tradition is one he noticed being practiced in those rural, village weddings. This did not happen in his own wedding.

Context:

I am back home due to shelter-in-place. One night when my family was sitting in the study I asked my father if he had any folklore samples I could add to the archive. This was one of the ones he shared with me.

Analysis:

This is a very interesting tradition. I think it somewhat makes sense that when the two families finally meet that the barber is one of the first to be recognized because it’s the barber that relays the choice of date between the two families. So in a way, this could be recognizing the barber for their part in making the wedding happen. What is less clear is why the barber specifically is given that responsibility in the first place. It could be that a barbershop is typically regarded as a community center. It’s where everybody goes because everyone needs their hair cut. So it could be that the barber, knowing more people than most other people in the village would, is given the responsibility being a sort of “community representative.” Any elected leader of the village would not be given the responsibility as it would be “beneath them.” But the barber, being of lower class, would be the perfect candidate.

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

 

 

Taiwanese Wedding Tradition

Background

The informant said that she learned Taiwanese wedding traditions from her grandparents and as a part of daily life by going to weddings. She emphasized that it is very important to her that she learns these traditions and keeps them up, even though some of them conflict with her own religious beliefs, because they are part of her cultural heritage. She said that it makes her sad when she sees Taiwanese-Americans who do not know or practice any Taiwanese traditions, because they are missing out on something that is a part of who they are and helps to define them.

Text

Usually, uh, traditional weddings, there will be like, um, multiple different.. like.. stages. So, usually the first– like, after, um, you engage, you have to meet each other’s parents. Like, you have to dress formally, like, usually traditional, uh, Taiwanese dresses. And girls, uh, the wife will make tea for the parents of, um, the husband’s side. So, making tea is a sort of respect, and to show that you have the ability to cook and stuff. So, you make tea, and you kneel down and you serve them the tea. For, um, the husband’s side parents. And, uh, if they accept it, it means that, like, this engagement will be made. And then, um, if.. If it’s a traditional wedding, sometimes.. It’s… it’s most of the time it happens at the southern part of Taiwan, they have really big, like, wedding ceremonies. They’ll invite hundreds of people. And they will go to like plazas in front of, um, temples and they will have a lot of tables of food. So, it’s like a huge, um, festival that invites all of the people. Your neighbors, friends you know. So, they’ll, uh, all go there. They will give out “hongbao,” which is red envelopes with money inside. So.. so, they will give those monies to, uh, the wedding couples and stuff, so they can have money to, you know, buy houses, buy stuff. So, that’s usually a part of, um, the gifts you give them. And during those… um…. dinners– So, there will be a lot of people who cook right there. And, uh, usually they will look at… they will enjoy, like, traditional Taiwanese operas, as well. So, yeah, that would be a show stage over there, and people would just eat, and there would be a performance going on.

Thoughts
The informant seemed to hold great respect for Taiwanese wedding traditions. When I asked if she saw her future wedding resembling these traditions, she said that she plans on likely staying in America, so whoever she marries might have traditions of their own, but that it would be important to her to include some of her Taiwanese traditions in the wedding process. Continuing Taiwanese wedding traditions seems to be a way for her to maintain her Taiwanese identity even while in an American setting.

Henna and Jagua

Context:

My mother and I were wandering the streets of Lahaina, HI, and we noticed an abundance of Henna Tattoo parlors. My mother, who had lived in Pakistan for a year in the late 1980’s, had told me a little about henna, and I was curious as to what it was used for and why there are tattoo parlors in Hawaii that use it, when it was originally something that came from the Middle East.

 

Interview:

Me: Can I ask you a few questions about henna?

Informant: I’ll have to ask my boss, as sometimes people come to ask questions and she worries that people will steal her methods, how she does things, that kind of thing. [After a couple of minutes] Okay, she agreed.

Me: Ah. Yeah, I’m not an artist, and I’m not from around here.

Informant: Yeah, I can tell. So her worries are unfounded. So we do not only use henna, but also something called jagua. And jaguar is a fruit fro the Amazon, so it is different from henna. IT is more aboriginal while like henna is kind of traditional. I can’t remember exactly what country in the Amazon it is from, but it comes from the rainforest, which is kind of cool. So all those pictures you see of kids with what looks to be tattoos all over their faces, it’s not actually real. Which is actually surprising to most people, so it’s like, no, no one’s letting their kids get face tattoos even when they look like they are. But I do traditional henna, so if you want a little bit of information on that, as we don’t always have it. Cause jaguar will last for about nine to ten days, whereas traditional henna will last like two to three months.

Me: Oh. Wow. That long?

Informant: Yeah. So most people aren’t ready to make that kind of commitment. Traditional henna, I am trying to think of where it started, I believe in India and I know that it was used for weddings, parties, and ceremonies, and rituals, and stuff like that. There must be some exact reason for why they used it, and I’m thinking that it’s because of, uh…I think that at one point in time the designs used to mean something. You know what I mean?

Me: Uh huh. And perhaps still do.

Informant: Like whoever had this sort of design, that meant that they were getting married, or that they were married.

Me: That it had some sort of cultural significance.

Informant: Yeah. I don’t exactly know it, I just make things look pretty. [Laughter] But I know that…which fingers the design goes up mean something, but I don’t know the exact meanings. I have never actually worked with someone from India who could tell me more about it. We just know more about the jagua fruit.

Me: Then talk about the jagua fruit. If that’s what you know more about.

Informant: Yeah. It’s…I just know that like, they used to do it for ceremonies, like for, I’m trying to think…Like when the boys were reaching adulthood.

Me: Like manhood ceremonies.

Informant: Yeah. And they would do it full bodied ones. And sometimes they would be completely covered and it’s kind of nuts.

Me: Wow, that must have taken a long time to prepare and such.

Informant: Not really, as all it is is just mashing up a fruit. It’s pretty organic and most people don’t really get irritated by it, while henna, a lot of people will because people don’t really know what a lot of people mix their henna with. You know? Because different people mix it with different things. While we just mix. Like our jagua is just a fruit. She buys the fruit and ships it here. IT’s super organic and just mashes it up and puts it in a bottle. I wish I knew more about this, as we are more aesthetic than we are anything else.

Me: I understand.

Informant: I can tell you that there is a difference between the traditional designs and the kinds of stuff that we do, the more picture stuff. You know, the more Western kind of stuff that Americans would get as tattoos.

Me: Yeah, the traditional stuff is much more abstract, floral designs.

Informant: Sorry for not being able to give you more information.

Me: No, that’s alright. This is good. Thanks a lot.

Informant: You’re very welcome.

 

Analysis:

I have noticed over the past several years that henna tattoo parlors are cropping up more and more. To me, this is quite odd, as henna was used, originally, for mostly ceremonial and ritualistic purposes. Also, the fact that the use of henna has spread so far from where the practice began is interesting. This, to me, is an example of something from a non-European culture that has been taken out of context by the Europeans, by the Americans, and turned into a form of body art that has little to no connections to its original purpose, and to the extent that most non-Indian, non-Pakistani, etc. people do not know or understand the cultural significance, the history, the traditions that henna ties into. Also, it is interesting to note that other cultures halfway across the world have a similar means of temporary body art – jagua – that has also been taken out of context to be used for simple decoration, with little care or regard as to the origins, the traditions behind its use. I think that the reason that henna, and to a lesser extent jagua, has become so widespread in American culture is because of its temporary nature. It is not permanent, and so it is a perfect tool for those people who are not sure as to whether or not to get a tattoo, or those people who are not sure they want something of a permanent nature. I think that this is the main reason as to why henna parlors have begun to spring up in the past few years.

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.”