International Wedding Traditions to Try
Try something old with your something new.
There’s room for tradition even in today's unique weddings. Traditions connect us and honor the past, even as we celebrate the future. Consider adding a meaningful custom to your ceremony, like one of these from around the world.
Cakes are served at most weddings, but your “sweet treats,” says Megan Velez, of Destination Weddings Travel Group, can be creative. “Opt for a traditional wedding cake based on your destination—Mexican fruitcakes, Jamaican black cakes and French croquembouches,” are among the many choices. Italians like to serve Jordan almonds to their guests, says Paula Ramirez, of Historic Mankin Mansion, to represent both the bitterness and sweetness in marriage.
If you’re having a destination wedding, Velez recommends adding some local traditions for fun. “For example, a Mexican celebration wouldn’t be the same without tequila cocktails to the tune of a mariachi band, whereas jerk chicken and rum punch are what makes a Jamaican wedding special.”
A “fusion” destination wedding, she explains, blends the couple’s backgrounds with the local culture. “Hindu weddings are often multi-day extravaganzas filled with food, flowers and fun. Couples can bring in traditional mehndi artists (artists who create body designs), as well as chefs to create a custom menu with authentic South Asian flavors.”
Kevin Dennis, of Fantasy Sound Event Services, sees a lot of couples observing international traditions, even if they’re not part of that culture. “We have had couples interested in having a baraat (a processional, often held in North India or Pakistan). It’s a fun way to celebrate the day and adds a level of drama and elegance.”
The baraat, explains Nahid Farhoud, of Nahid’s Global Events, may include a band and dancers, as it leads from the groom’s home to the wedding venue. “A shehnai (a musical instrument) precedes the groom. When he enters, the bride’s family welcomes him and one of the cousins places a ring on his toe.” The bride’s mother presents the groom with a tray of selected items and puts a red dot on his forehead.
In most baraats, Farhoud adds, “the tradition is to enter either on a horse or in a convertible. However, these days, traditions are changing to meet modern times. I had a groom that decided to come on a Segway and we made it happen for him. We had another groom that came on a camel instead.” The bride is typically carried in by her relatives.
For Mexican and Hispanic weddings, Farhoud says brides and grooms often stroll through their village to celebrate their union, accompanied by traditional music and dancers. In the Middle East, the groom’s family goes to the home of the bride’s family to dance and make photos. After they present her with jewelry, she’s escorted to meet her groom.
Charm bracelets are part of the bride’s jewelry in traditional Norwegian weddings, according to Kim Sayatovic, of Belladeux Event Design. The bride wears one to repel evil spirits, and each woman in her bridal party, including mothers and grandmothers, are encouraged to give her a unique charm as a keepsake.
In Peru, Sayatovic adds “charms attached to ribbons are incorporated into the cake. Each charm means something different -- true love, the next to get married etc. Most charms can be found online these days and it’s a fun way to get all the single ladies at the wedding involved, besides the bouquet toss.”
Claddagh rings are handed down from mothers to daughters in Ireland, where they've been used as engagement and wedding rings. Before the wedding, the bride wears the crown on the ring facing her wrist. Afterwards, she turns the ring, so the crown faces her nail.
In other cultures, brides are adorned with traditional henna tattoos. Jamie Chang, of Passport to Joy, says the henna is applied during a ceremony the day before the wedding. Professional henna artists tattoo the bride's hands and feet.
Sayatovic adds that the intricate henna designs can take hours to complete, and may last up to two weeks. “Henna is not just for Indian weddings. A beautiful henna tattoo, whether subtle or full head to toe, can be just gorgeous,” and if the bridal party and female family members help create it, it can be “a wonderfully intimate way for the important women in your life to help with your look for the day.”
Money is a wedding gift in many traditions, but in Cuba, Sayatovic says, men who want to dance with the bride on her wedding day are expected to pin money to her gown. Money dances are also performed in the U.S. and in Mexico, where a couple may exchange gold coins during the ceremony, says Ramirez, to signify sharing their abundance.
Ramirez calls France one of her favorite places in the world, where traditional weddings are all white “for a simple yet breathtaking effect. Rather than standing…the couple is often seated in lush, stately chairs. Towers of shallow coupe glasses filled with champagne are a favorite…as are scrumptious tiered macaron towers in place of a typical cake.”
In Russia, vodka is the traditional beverage at weddings. It’s kept on the table at all times, says Farhoud, since “Grandma cannot go to the bar for a drink!” And while many brides diet beforehand, so they’ll fit into their wedding dresses, Sayatovic says brides are encouraged to “pack on the pounds” in the island nation of Mauritius. (This old custom of overeating, in which an overweight wife is considered a sign of wealth, has become controversial because of its adverse health effects.)
In other parts of the world, many different traditions are performed to seal the couple’s bond. In Scotland, Chang says couples clasp their hands together to be “handfasted,” or tied with cords or ribbons, as a symbol of their union. Nigerian and African couples may jump over a broom placed flat on the floor to represent the start of a happy, married life. Devout couples, especially in the American South, sometimes wash one another’s feet to signify service, humility and love.
Hawaiian couples perform a Polynesian greeting, the honi honi kiss, touching their noses and inhaling together. “This represents sharing the breath of life, as well as taking in each other’s spirit,” Chang says.
At the conclusion of the wedding ceremony, guests in the U.S. traditionally shower the newlyweds with rice, to symbolize fertility. Today, more eco-friendly wedding toss ideas have emerged, with guests using flower petals, biodegradable confetti, birdseed or lavender buds.