People sure do love to get married, and they always have.
Along with that, historically, are a large array of wedding traditions celebrated by different groups of people in regions around the world. For example, in the United States, brides typically walk down the aisle holding a bouquet (originally meant to cover up the smell of medieval brides) next to her dad (from arranged marriages when fathers had the right to literally give away their daughters). People also throw rice (to mimic rain, which symbolizes good fortune). There’s a terrible DJ who plays the Electric Slide (origin unknown).
To traditions like this (and all other traditions), we’d like to pose a simple question: Why?
To celebrate weddings as well as our own curiosity, and combine it with what we do, which is “travel,” we’ve gathered together some of these longstanding (see: possibly outdated) and generally heterosexual wedding traditions–and dive into why the heck they’re celebrated in the first place–from around the world for you to be like, “Wow? What? Cool,” or possibly, “Wow? What? Still? Yikes! Not good!”
No Smiles Allowed
WHERE: Democratic Republic of the Congo
What’s going on here? The bride and groom are not allowed to smile throughout the entire duration of their wedding day. No one smiles, and everyone must be very serious. They’re not allowed to smile during the ceremony, or before it, or after it–nothing.
Wait, why? The point of this is that the couple needs to be “serious about marriage.” If no one smiles, it means they are taking it seriously, literally.
The Greatest Gift of All: A Whale’s Tooth
What’s going on here? A potential husband asks his prospective lady’s father for her hand in marriage by giving him a sperm whale’s tooth. However, in this day and age, this means they order one off of eBay or go to a pawn shop–not descend into the sea to obtain a tooth from a live whale’s mouth. Nobody does this, thankfully.
Wait, why? A sperm whales tooth, or tabua (“sacred” in Fijian), is associated with good luck and even supernatural forces. It’s a way of saying, “I love you.” By giving a potential partner’s parent the tooth of a sperm whale, the man is showing respect by taking the time to find the tooth and by paying for the gift using his own money. This tradition is mostly done in more rural areas of Fiji, but it’s not completely out of the question for it to be practiced in urban areas as well.
INSIDER TIPNothing says “I love you” quite like teeth.
Recommended Fodor’s Video
Man Rings and Lots of Kisses
What’s going on here? Sweden has quite a few interesting wedding traditions to choose from. In Sweden, men also wear engagement rings. The engagement ring also doubles as a wedding ring, however–only the bride gets another ring at the ceremony. Also, at the actual wedding, there is a tradition where when the bride leaves the room, everyone is supposed to try to kiss the groom, and when the groom leaves the room, everyone tries to kiss the bride.
Wait, why? This tradition exists because it’s really fun and makes everyone laugh a lot.
Saw a Literal Log in Half
What’s going on here? Germany has several wedding traditions that may or may not be practiced, and one of these occurs right after the ceremony. As the couple exits the church, they are greeted outside by a log. The bride and groom then have to cut said log in half, together, in front of all of their wedding guests.
Wait, why? This is done to show that the couple can work together and overcome obstacles. By sawing an actual log in half, they are coming together to complete a chore. As the saying goes, a couple who saws a gigantic log in half, together, on their wedding day, in front of their friends…stays together. We all know this age-old saying.
Protect the Shoes or They Will Be Stolen
What’s going on here? Joota Chupai, or “hiding the shoes,” is a tradition in parts of India where the groom takes off his shoes before walking up to the altar, and his family has to protect the shoes from being stolen by the bride’s family. If the bride’s family is successful in stealing the shoes, they hide them and then they ask the groom for money.
Wait, why? Just a little fun bonding experience to bring the families together.
Book a Hotel
Throw Some Dishes
WHERE: Germany, Again
What’s going on here? Another German wedding tradition is that the evening before the wedding, all of their guests throw porcelain plates on the ground and the bride and groom have to clean it up together. The event is called “Polterabend,” and is sometimes held a week before the wedding to give everyone time to recover (both the guests throwing the porcelain and the couple themselves).
Wait, why? The lesson, again, is about working together. The couple has to work together to clean up all of the porcelain. Also, it’s said that the broken shards are supposed to bring luck to the couple.
Just a Huge Mess
What’s going on here? The bride and the groom are taken out for a night of drinking, and then they are covered in feathers, soot, ash, flour, spoiled food, and other disgusting things. Sometimes, they are then driven around in the back of a truck, and sometimes they are tied to a tree. Either way, they are paraded around in some way for everyone to see. This tradition is usually carried out in parts of Northeast Scotland and the Highlands.
Wait, why? It was once believed that this tradition warded off evil spirits, and although that’s not necessarily a popular belief now, it’s still carried out in some parts of Scotland–mostly because it’s fun and embarrassing and everyone gets drunk. What more reason do you need?
Put a Baby on Bed
WHERE: Czech Republic
What’s going on here? Before the marriage, there is a tradition that is just this: someone puts someone else’s baby on the couple’s bed. They literally place a young infant–who, again, does not belong to the couple–on their bed.
Wait, why? Putting a baby on the bed of the engaged couple is meant to promote fertility. When someone else’s baby is put on top of their bed, it is blessing it and also just a very forward way of suggesting that, hey, maybe they should have a kid, too.
Dangling Charm Hat
What’s going on here? The bride wears a crown with spoon-shaped bangles hanging around it.
Wait, why? The sounds of the dangling spoon charms is said to deflect evil spirits. The evil spirits do not like the tinkling and clanging of the charms, presumably because they are afraid of pretty sounding things and just like the sounds of screams.
Do Whatever You Want
What’s going on here? The parents of the groom typically host the wedding reception, and therefore “can do whatever they want.” Anything! They can do anything. Yikes! One thing many like to do is “smash things.” It’s a tradition for the mother of the groom to smash to pieces a white ceramic bell filled with rice.
Wait, why? This (the smashing, that is) is said to “bring prosperity to the couple.”
Ducks on Ducks on Ducks
WHERE: South Korea
What’s going on here? Grooms were, at one point, supposed to give their new wife’s mom an actual duck (or a goose—a goose is also acceptable). However, this tradition is slightly outdated, and now couples usually just exchange wooden geese and ducks on their wedding days (if at all). Honestly, at this point, wedding ducks are not the norm–but they are sold at most tourist attractions in South Korea.
Wait, why? Since geese and ducks are monogamous creatures, it represents the man’s loyalty to his lady. Ducks stay together for life, and giving your wife a duck symbolizes that your coupling is forever. It also symbolizes peace and many children.