The History of Weddings

Come Cross That Bridge with Us

As Two Rivers Join together to be One

Couples honor their ancestors by celebrating customs from the past.

No one is sure of when the first wedding took place. Going as far back to the Middle Ages, weddings and war were the most common methods of unifying empires. The desire for peace, for protecting one’s family, one’s wealth and one’s land brought powerful families together through matrimony.

Whether it was a couple performing some joining ritual known to their clan or tribe, or centuries later, having the ritual performed by a member of the clergy, marriage has always been cause for celebration.

“Many rituals from the past show up in courtship and at weddings around the world today,” says Joyce Scardina-Becker CMP (Certified Meeting Planner) and owner of the California based company Events of Distinction. “Incorporating cultural traditions into a ceremony often personalizes it. Plus, many of these traditions honor the couples’ parents and grandparents—making the event a family affair.”

“For instance, with many Asian families (Chinese, Indian, Thai, Korean, Vietnamese and others) couples are introduced through family members,” continues Scardina-Becker. “It is the same for African American families. I am not talking about arranged marriages. I’m talking about personal introductions—it could be an aunt, a cousin, or a grandmother who introduces a future bride to a future groom. Even the church gets involved. In Baptist churches, church elders are aware of who is looking for a spouse. The elders make the introductions.”

Marybeth Whitehead met her husband Roger at a church social. “We were introduced by our pastor,” says Whitehead. “And for us, the church and its members are part of our extended family. When it came time to discuss marriage, Roger sent a letter to my parents asking for their permission.”

According To Scardina-Becker, letters are a major part of engagement and wedding rituals. In Nigeria, the groom’s family presents the bride’s family with a letter asking for the daughter’s hand in marriage. They offer money to the bride’s family in exchange for accepting the letter. This is usually done a few days before the wedding, and at that time the guests are served a home-cooked meal.

A similar tradition comes from China. In olden days and for some traditional Chinese today, a request letter sent by the groom’s family to the bride’s confirms the marriage.

“Weddings bring families together,” says Scardina-Becker. “A wedding is not just a union of two people. It is a union of families.”
Filipino tradition dictates that a man has to woo the bride’s family. In the past, men had to perform acts of service to the bride’s family to show his worthiness. Today, that tradition continues. The intended groom will visit the house of his bride-to-be and perform household chores—just like any other member of the family. Chores can be as simple as grocery shopping, fixing a household item, or driving the bride’s mom to the hairdresser.

Once family approval is given, the man will present a ring to his soon-to-be bride. Diamonds are the popular choice followed by birthstones. “The diamond is popular all over the world,” says Osnat Gad, author of the book Wedding Rings (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $19.95) and a jewelry designer. “This stems from DeBeers’ incredible marketing strategy. DeBeers has done such a wonder job promoting the diamond that it has become a symbol of love around the world.”

Elaine Ferrair-Santhom with the Gemological Institute of America agrees. “DeBeers advertising campaigns has influenced the public at large. Diamond engagement rings and diamond wedding rings continue to be the number one jewelry choice for brides in most parts of the world—and that is largely due to the DeBeers’ advertising campaign.”

In the Hindu tradition, a Sagri, (a meet and greet party) is held at the home of the bride. The purpose is for the bride and her family to get to know her future in-laws. At this gathering female relatives of the groom bring flowers, toiletries, and jewelry. “In Asia, jade is a symbol of good fortune,” says Gad. “Other stones, such as rubies, emeralds, and birthstones are given. While these stones, as well as giving gold bangles and necklaces, are a sign of wealth and prosperity, the diamond is truly forever.”

In addition to DeBeers, queens, princesses, political leaders, and movie stars have and still do impact wedding fashions throughout the world. “Just look at Lady Diana,” says Rani Totman, owner and creator of the St. Pucchi (bridal dress) collection. “When Lady Di was alive we would watch what she wore. The same goes for Jackie O. She made hats and gloves fashionable.”

Totman, who grew up in Thailand, was influenced by what her queen wore. “I come from a country where we have a king and a queen,” she explains. “Our queen was beautiful and her clothes were stunning. As a designer, I study everything. I love watching old movies and seeing the glamorous movie stars of the 1930s and ‘40s. I also watch all of the awards shows to see what today’s stars are wearing. But deep down, I believe that I’ve been most influenced by the style and pageantry of what the queen of Thailand wore and how she presented herself.”

Lady Diana was presented with a sapphire ring. “That made the sapphire quite popular,” says Gad. “In England, a leading choice for wedding ring stones is the sapphire thanks to Lady Diana. Still, diamonds are just as important in England.”

Placement of the wedding ring is also important. Most people wear the ring on their left hand on the forth finger because the fourth finger is thought to have a vein leading directly to the heart. In India, the rings are placed on the fourth finger of the right hand of the groom and the fourth finger of the left hand of the bride. When the couple holds hands a heart is formed.

Handholding is also part of many ceremonies today. For Marybeth and Roger Whitehead, they held hands throughout the service. “We held hands at the altar and when we walked back down the aisle together,” says Whitehead. “This custom goes back to tribal Africa when couple’s wrists were bound together with plaited grass.”

“We also wanted to jump the broom at our wedding to honor our ancestors who were slaves.” The ritual of jumping the broom at the end of the ceremony comes from the time when slaves were forbidden to marry. They held secret weddings in which they, literally, jumped over a broom. This symbol represents the sweeping away of the past and the welcoming of the future.

A brand new custom that is fast becoming a tradition today is a family ceremony. Specifically for second marriages, couples with children are inviting their children to participate in the service. When Donna Cohen married Marty Stein, the rabbi called the couple’s children up to the chuppah (an altar where the couple get married). Marty presented a locket to Donna’s daughter and Donna presented a locket to Marty’s daughter. The rabbi said a few words uniting the family—not just the couple. “There wasn’t a dry eye in the room,” says Donna. “And it meant so much to the kids.”

This new ceremony is popular in most major religions. “Starting new traditions or holding on to ones passed down family member to family member, really makes the wedding ceremony personal and special,” says Scardina-Becker. “Many of my clients consult with astrologers. It is done throughout China, India, Korea and other Asian countries. This tradition has carried over to America too. Certain days are more auspicious than others and choosing the right wedding date is crucial to having a loving, happy and prosperous life together.”

Before Hynusook Wu married Scott Wong, Hynusook’s parents consulted with an astrologer. “My family not only wanted the day to be perfect, they were thinking about our future,” says Wu


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