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Wedding Customs: Traditions From Around the Globe

Lion dances, weed bouquets and henna tattoos -- a look back at some of the most interesting cultural wedding traditions from Italian, Chinese, Mexican, Swedish and Moroccan history.

bride with bouqetWedding Traditions in Italy

When: In bygone Italy, wedding festivities kicked off in the morning, ideally on a Sunday. Regional Italian folklore dictated that couples should never marry (or leave for their honeymoon) on a Friday or Tuesday, or they'd be bound to have loads of bad luck, while Saturdays were reserved for widows getting hitched to husband number two (or three, or four...).
Attire: In addition to a white gown, the blushing bride's face would be hidden beneath a veil -- a symbol of her virginity and to protect her from unruly spirits. Tearing the veil, however, was considered good luck. (Why? Just use your imagination.) Meanwhile, the groom lugged a piece of iron (preferably a small one) in his pocket to ward off evil spirits.
Activities: Italian brides and grooms made their way to the chapel on foot. In some regions, it was considered bad luck for the groom to turn around once he stepped foot outside his house on his wedding day (no backing out now!). Just in case, he'd be accompanied to the ceremony by a group of friends who would run back for him if he'd forgotten something. After the wedding ceremony, the couple would shatter a vase -- doing their best to pulverize it, since the number of broken pieces represented the number of years they'd be happily married. Villagers might also set up a log for the newlyweds to saw through with a double-handed saw -- representing how they would work together in their new partnership.
The Food: Even hundreds of years ago, food was an essential part of an Italian wedding. Course after course of antipasti, calamari, pasta, fish, pork and more were accompanied by a liqueur or wine. Guests could always count on having some wanda, bow ties of fried dough dipped in powdered sugar that symbolized good luck. Confetti -- sugar-covered almonds (or Jordan almonds, as we know them) representing the bitter and sweet parts of life -- served as a snack or, yes, as something to throw at the newlyweds as they made their exit.
The Music: The bride and groom would lead their guests in a jaunty circular jig called the tarantella. Legend has it that this springy dance could save victims from poisonous tarantula bites.
Added Perk: Money -- and lots of it. To help with the expense of the wedding, guests would place cold, hard cash in a satin bag called la borsa carried by the bride.

chinese teacupsWedding Traditions in China

When: It all depended on the astrologer. Chinese couples consulted a fortune-teller to find a favorable date derived from their birth dates.
Attire: For centuries, Chinese brides wore the traditional qipao, a bright-red silk dress with intricate gold embroidery. These loose, high-necked, long-sleeved gowns fell all the way to the ground -- revealing only the bride's head, hands and toes. At the reception, the bride often changed gowns several times throughout the night to show the opulence of her family.
Activities: On the morning of the wedding day, the groom and his groomsmen would make their way to the bride's home. There, the bridesmaids would give the groom a hard time -- forcing him to negotiate (with money) his way into the house. Once the ladies were satisfied with his offerings, they would deem him worthy of entering, and he would join the bride's parents for tea (served by the bride) as a parting ritual.
The Food: Weddings were a great excuse for families to flaunt their wealth, making a 10- to 12-course banquet a regular occurrence at a traditional Chinese wedding. Shark fin soup was a luxurious staple -- which, at upwards of $100 a bowl today, could drain anyone's bank account quickly. (Today, due to the environmental implications, many couples are skipping shark and splurging on other menu items like fine French wine!) Other delicacies included bird's nest soup (yes, made from real swifts' nests) and a whole fish, which was served because the word for fish, yu, sounds similar to the word for abundance.
The Music: At more elaborate weddings, the couple and their guests would enjoy a performance called the lion dance, in which performers dressed as powerful felines swayed to the beat of drums, gongs and cymbals to scare away evil spirits.
Added Perk: After the wedding feast, friends and family would follow the couple into their bedroom, making as much noise as possible and taunting them -- all in good fun, of course. Guests tried to stay in the room for as long as they could before the privacy-starved couple kicked them out.

Want to know more? Get answers to all your Chinese wedding questions!

mariachi playersWedding Traditions in Mexico

When: A summer evening.
Attire: The bride's attire would vary greatly depending on the region, from simple white cotton to a colorfully embroidered huipil. Spanish-inspired mantilla veils were common as well. She might also wear a blue slip or sew three ribbons (one yellow, one blue and one red) into her undergarments to symbolize food, money and passion in the years to come. The groom would usually wear a lightly colored guayabera, a loose-fitting shirt perfectly suited for the Mexican sun.
Activities: During the ceremony, the groom would give his bride 13 gold coins, called arras, which symbolized Christ and his apostles. Following the vows, the priest would wrap a lazo, or lasso (a large rosary, rope or a band of flowers), in a figure eight around the couple's necks to represent their eternal unity.
The Food: Spicy rice, beans and tortillas. The traditional Mexican wedding cake is made with nuts and dried fruit and soaked in rum.
The Music: A mariachi band (with at least two violins, two trumpets, one Spanish guitar, one vihuela and one guitarron) would provide the day's music. La Marcha -- a dance similar in appearance to an elaborate game of Follow the Leader -- would serve as the couple's reception entrance. Two lines, each led by a family elder, would weave around the room, eventually meeting to form a bridge with their arms before breaking apart to form a circle around the bride and groom for their first dance.
Added Perk: Bridal attendants called madrinas (godmothers) helped the bride by making the plans, arranging bouquets and keeping a general handle on the day's events. It would also be their responsibility to guide the bride throughout her married life.

ringsWedding Traditions in Sweden

When: With almost 20 hours of sunlight each day, summer was considered prime wedding season.
Attire: A crown of myrtle leaves on the bride's head represented virginity, while a gold coin from her father in her right shoe and a silver one from her mother in her left shoe guaranteed she would never go without.
Activities: In some regions, brides and bridesmaids also carried bouquets of weeds that stunk to high heaven in order to ward off trolls (don't knock it -- trolls haven't crashed anyone's wedding so far!). The couple would also enter the church together. The first to step foot over the threshold was said to become the pants-wearer in the relationship.
The Food: The traditional Swedish smorgasbord lasted for three days and included inlagd sill (pickled herring), lingonsylt (lingonberry jam) and kottbullar (Swedish meatballs).
The Music: Throughout dinner, the guests would sing love songs and, eventually, rowdy folk songs accompanied by a fiddle. Every guest was welcome to give a speech or toast in honor of the new couple.
Added Perk: A Swedish bride received three gold rings from her future husband. One was for her engagement, and on her wedding day, she'd receive two more: one for marriage and one for pregnancy.

henna handsWedding Traditions in Morocco

When: Historically, Moroccans celebrated weddings on Sundays in the fall at the end of the harvest, when there was plenty of food to feast on.
Attire: This varied greatly by region. But what they all shared was color -- and lots of it -- including yellow (to scare away evil) and green (to bring good luck). In preparation for the day, the bride and her attendants, or negaffa, would have a henna party, receiving temporary tattoos on their hands and feet (with the bride's being the most intricate, of course).
Activities: A traditional Moroccan wedding lasted up to seven days, with separate parties for the men and women. The first three days were spent preparing, partying and beautifying the bride. On the fourth, the couple was married. On the fifth and sixth days, the celebrations raged on. Finally, on the seventh day, the parties combined and the bride was placed on a cushion and held aloft in front of friends and family. The men would hoist the groom onto their shoulders, and the new couple would be carried off to a special room to consummate their marriage.
The Food: Fish and chicken, ancient symbols of fertility, were often served. Guests dug into tajine (a chicken, beef and lamb stew mixed with almonds, apricots, onions and other spices) alongside heaping piles of couscous.
The Music: The bride and groom were ushered into the reception with a lively wedding march called the zaffa, complete with music, dancing and even flaming swords. Guests would boogie down throughout the night to the sounds of drums, tambourines and a string instrument called a zither.
Added Perk: Sure, the wedding was exhausting, but Moroccan brides got some serious pampering too -- namely, massages and milk baths (hammam) to purify themselves for the special day (er, week).

A special thanks to: Lisa Light, founder of DestinationBride.com and author of Destination Bride: A Complete Guide to Planning Your Wedding Anywhere in the World (2005); and Timeless Traditions: A Couple’s Guide to Wedding Customs Around the World (2001) by Lisl Spangenberg.

-- The Knot

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