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12 of the World’s Most Unique Wedding Traditions

Because if your cake doesn't arrive dancing, are you even getting married?

Humans have always been infatuated with celebrating matrimony. The first weddings are documented to have taken place in 2350 B.C. in Mesopotamia (way before cringe-worthy name conjunction hashtags were invented) when ​​hunter-gatherers became farmers and gender roles became more structurally defined. The ritual has created an industry that’s skyrocketed in recent decades, with Americans alone spending a yearly average of $50 billion on weddings from 2015 to 2020. 

But though we love the why of wedding celebrations, the how they’re done differs dramatically depending on where you are. Take a look at these 12 countries and territories whose “I dos” include some pretty unique ways to tie the knot. Then one-up Owen Wilson and try wedding crashing on an international level because, man, these all sound exceptionally cool.

1 OF 12

Steal the Bride and Get Ransom From the Groom (Seriously!)

WHERE: Estonia

If you find yourself at an Estonian wedding, there’s a chance you’ll end up working it. Seriously. A traditional Estonian wedding procession requires jobs or roles to be filled by guests. You might be bestowed fancy titles like The Wedding Seal, The Guard of the Bride, The Wedding Stud, The Dance Father, or The Kibe Yeller, but all guests are given a role and expected to participate in the ceremony or party. The Guard of the Bride has the most daunting job: guests may steal the bride and ask the groom for “ransom.” Don’t worry, this isn’t some gangster movie: the ransom is usually a somewhat-embarrassing task the groom must complete.

One beautiful aspect of an Estonian wedding happens post-ceremony, when the bridal party and guests gather in cars and buses, forming a procession toward the wedding venue. There’s a word for this in Estonian—Pulmarong—which differs from your traditional traffic lineup because there are many spontaneous pitstops for rituals and games. Expect lots of honking by passing cars, but this isn’t Los Angeles or New York, and they’re not angry you’re slowing traffic. They’re actually celebrating you!

toes
2 OF 12

Kisses Under the Tables and Cut Socks

WHERE: Denmark

In Denmark, a Nordic country that emphasizes gender equality, it’s still traditional for men to ask women to marry them. Unless (duh!) it’s Leap Day, the only day women wear the metaphorical pants, get down on one knee, and propose. And it doesn’t stop there: when guests at the Danish wedding stomp on the floor with their feet, the bride and groom are forced (but, okay, they probably love it) to kiss under the table. When guests knock on their plates and glasses, the smitten couple climbs onto chairs and kiss. And here’s the kicker (quite literally): following this first wedding waltz, the male guests will lift the groom, take his shoe off, and cut a hole in his sock. Legend has it this antiquated tradition was created to prove that the groom no longer has to find and woo a new mate. But we think it’s to prove he didn’t get cold feet.

3 OF 12

The Wedding Cake Dances (Likely Better Than You!)

WHERE: Canouan

You may not have heard of Canouan, the tiny island in the Caribbean archipelago nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, with a population under 2,000. However, size doesn’t seem to stop this island from partying, especially when celebrating matrimony. Let there be (Canouan) cake! 

Movement and dancing are such an integral part of the island’s culture, so it’s no surprise really that the signature Canouan Cake Dance is a go-to at every wedding. The bride does not see her cake until the wedding day (and TBH, having one less stress to deal with after the dress and the décor sounds pretty lovely). But when she does—as the name suggests—it is DANCED to her. And yes, it’s just as exquisite as you imagine it: there are four performers in total, two flag dancers, and two cake dancers (one for each of the couple, of course). Not only is this tradition ridiculously adorable, but it’s also often incorporated into the island’s destination weddings and vow renewals. 

4 OF 12

Sun, Sea, and Frantic Dancing: The Wedding Trifecta

WHERE: The Maldives

Weddings in the Maldives are always a special occasion. Who doesn’t daydream about their future wedding in paradise, surrounded by perfect white-sand beaches, overwater bungalows, and sunshine practically every day? Maldivian culture typically shows itself off at weddings in the form of a Boduberu, a Maldivian musical performance commonly seen at special occasions, celebrations, and festivals. It comes to life with a magical amalgamation of drums, vocals, and dance, all centered around the bodu beru, or “big drum.”

Typically performed by 20 people, including drummers and singers, the drums are accompanied by a small bell and an onugandu, a piece of grooved bamboo that produces raspy sounds. Often similar to dances and songs found in East and Southwest Africa, the music was initially introduced to the islands in the 11th-century by sailors coming across the Indian Ocean. At weddings, the Boduberu is performed as part of the processional guiding the bride to the altar, starting with a slow drum beat and ultimately building to something wilder and filled with frantic dancing.

 

5 OF 12

Horn-Hiding and Sake-Exchanging

WHERE: Japan

Japan is a lore-heavy land where thousand-year-old tradition somehow seamlessly melds with Westernization. Traditional Japanese Shinto ceremonies are still revered (and make our list for being mega unique). Here’s some background: Shinto is a nature-based religion native to Japan, and often the weddings are steeped in ancient Japanese mythology. The bride and groom will don formal kimonos (and the bride will look extra glamorous with a unique headdress called a tsu-no-kakushi, meaning “horn hider,” because all women secretly have horns). The couple has a ceremony at the shrine of their choosing, including exchanging sake cups to symbolize their union and commitment. The priests and shrine maidens in attendance lead the couple to express gratitude for their new family and pray for divine protection.

6 OF 12

Ward off Evil With Unleavened Bread

WHERE: Armenia

Evil spirits sound like something we should probably try to keep away (like, far away) from our marriage. Lucky couples in Armenia have found a way to wade off the wicked: with flatbread. The ceremony, which takes place typically at the groom’s house, involves the wedded pair breaking a plate for good luck and getting bestowed lavash (a crisp, Middle Eastern flatbread) and honey by the groom’s mother. Now comes the fun part: the tradition here is that newly married Armenian couples should balance this thin and unleavened bread on their shoulders, warding off all potential evil, and indulging in spoonfuls of honey. Now that the hard work is done and the marriage is saved from all sin, it’s time to break it down with traditional Armenian dances, such as the renowned circle dance.

7 OF 12

Inwardly Smile, Outwardly Frown

WHERE: Democratic Republic of the Congo

Congolese couples may be swimming in the sunshine and jumping through marshmallow clouds internally, but externally, they must keep their excitement in check. In this central African country, wedding ceremonies are seriously profound and generally thought to be solemn affairs. The belief is that the more serious you look, the more serious you are about the marriage. So in order not to give your mother-in-law grief (or make your partner regret their decision), that means you must look somewhat agitated the entire wedding day—from the morning ceremony and through the reception and, yes, even during the photo sessions.

8 OF 12

Hallelujah! It's Raining Coins!

WHERE: Scotland

Marriages in Scotland involve many a luck charm. Ayrshire, one of the most agriculturally fertile regions in the country, is especially superstitious. In the region, the father-of-the-bride will actually throw handfuls of coins for the children in attendance to collect as his beloved daughter steps into the wedding vehicle. This is thought to bring about financial good fortune for the couple while keeping the kids momentarily occupied. Talk about a win-win.

9 OF 12

Besties and Festive Henna

WHERE: India

Pre-wedding rituals in India are a tad more traditional than mimosas and nail-painting with the bridal party. Before the ceremony, Indian brides will often gather with their closest female besties and sit for hours at a time, getting their skin intricately painted with a specific type of paint made from henna known as mehndi. This personalized skin art not only makes the bride uniquely gorgeous at her wedding (which, by the way, typically is celebrated over three days) but the henna will last for over two weeks. Talk about relishing the special day again and again!

10 OF 12

Cry Fests With the Family

WHERE: China

There is no such thing as “ugly crying” in China. In fact, the Tujia people, hailing from the Wuling Mountains and straddling the borders of the Hunan, Hubei, and Guizhou provinces, encourage and embrace the tear flow. Beginning about one month before the wedding, it is traditional practice for the bride to begin crying for one hour each day. Ten days into the blubber, the bride’s mother will join her daughter in the cry fest. And then, ten days later, grandma is in on it too. The idea is that by the month’s end, every single female in the family is shedding tears together in unison. For the Tujia people, this orchestrated tear flow is an expression of joy, as the family members weep in differing tones, resonant of a song. Remember to bring tissues. 

11 OF 12

Clean up Literal Messes With BAE

WHERE: Germany

The Germans, often reasonably practical, remind us that marriage involves much more than some pretty ceremony and feasting. They want to know that the bride and groom will be able to conquer life’s many challenges together. And they measure this in the most German way possible: with logic. On the night before many weddings in Germany, the couple’s family and friends will gather in the bride’s home to partake in a tradition known as Polterabend. This is a fancy term for smashing pieces of crockery everywhere and watching as the lovebirds work in unison to clean up the debris. They hope to demonstrate to their loved ones that they function in unison and can metaphorically (and literally) clean up any future mess in married life.

12 OF 12

Thread Ceremonies and Water Blessings

WHERE: Thailand

Water is believed to be a powerful blessing in Thailand, and so it comes as little surprise that the element is incorporated into traditional Thai weddings. In fact, back in the day, the water-blessing ceremony was legally necessary to declare two lovebirds husband and wife (but today, they must also get a marriage certificate—ah, modernity!). The ceremony is still a part of modern weddings today, and it is still just as beautiful.

Here’s the lowdown: the bride and groom sit next to one another, holding hands and joined by the Sai Monkhan white thread, connecting the couple by a ceremonial headdress and symbolizing their everlasting union. Next, the wedding’s most honored guests line up, each having a turn pouring water over the pair’s interlocked hands from a blessed shell, usually found by the sea. It is custom for the water pourer to also wish the couple well and bestow marriage advice while pouring the water. And if that’s not making your own eyes water, we don’t know what will.

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