- What does a traditional British wedding look like?
- Do American marriages look like they do in the films?
- How do Native Americans marry?
We think we know how traditional British and American marriages are thanks to the magic of Hollywood, but is that image right? Do the Brits and Americans get married just like they do on TV or do they each give their own twist to their exchange of gold rings?
What does a traditional British wedding look like?
If you followed the recent royal wedding in May, undoubtedly you would have picked up on some typically English wedding traditions. First of all, the suite consists mainly of small children instead of exclusively adult bridesmaids and groomsmen. Moreover, the bride's party does not go ahead of the bride, but follows her while carrying the dress’s train. This fact caught everyone’s attention at the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, when her adult sister Pippa carried the train.
Do you want to buy a beautiful hat? Then an English wedding is the ideal opportunity! Although in many other countries the emphasis is on festive or even formal clothing, in the UK the hat is the cherry on the cake. Going to a wedding without a hat is a big no-go. Although dressing in white at a wedding is not really a problem, it is better to avoid wearing black party attire.
Wales has an unusual wedding tradition in the form of love spoons. A wooden spoon is carved out of a single piece of wood, traditionally by the suitor, with different types of meaningful carvings. The spoon symbolises wanting to provide for the livelihood of the partner. Additionally it brings good luck to jump over a broom together as it ensures future fertility. The past is swept clean so that they can start their joint future with a clean slate.
Do you immediately think of kilts at a Scottish wedding? Then you are not wrong. Men still get married wearing a very traditional waist coat, kilt and all the accompanying accessories. Women often choose for the modern white dress, but follow other traditions instead. A branch of heather blossoms in the bouquet to bring good luck, or a 'luckenbooth', a brooch that they receive from the bridegroom as a sign of love.
Ireland adds a different twist to the well-known gold ring: the Claddagh ring. The ring is shaped to represent two hands hold a heart with a crown on top. The ring symbolises love, friendship and faithfulness. The hands of the bride and groom are also tied together with a ribbon. From that tradition stems the proverb tying the knot as a synonym for getting married. Although the Irish are known for their affinity with the colour green, blue is the colour that is considered more likely to bring the bride good luck on her wedding day. That is why many brides choose to at least add a small touch of blue to their special day. Finally, the Scottish are not the only grooms who wear kilts, the Irish like to wear kilts too. The details and types of tartan differ between both traditions.
Do the Americans get married just like in the movies?
American marriages play the leading role in many romantic comedies. The white princess dress, the perfect gold ring with a diamond… we all know it by heart. Most of the thing that we know from the movies are correct, just with slightly different variations based on personal and religious preferences.
Even today, many brides still use the tradition of something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue. This habit used to have an immensely important superstitious function to protect the new couple, but today it is just a nice tradition to take part in.
A special type of marriage that occurs mainly in the United States is the military wedding. In 2017, the country had around 1,281,900 active soldiers, so military weddings are actually very common. A military wedding day is seen as a formal occasion, and that includes a very formal dress code. Soldiers often choose to marry in their uniform, although military brides also opt for the traditional white dress. After the ceremony the bride and groom are received by active soldiers who form an honorary arch of swords.
The United States is enormous and there is a lot of diversity among the different states, with many local customs that you probably have not heard of before. Celebrating is second nature to the southern states. The weddings are large and festive, with hundreds of guests and exceptional hospitality. A typical tradition in most southern states is to bury a bottle of bourbon as close as possible to the wedding venue a month before the big day. The bottle must be buried completely full, sealed and upside down for the proper effect. Doing this will bring good weather on the day itself and ensure everything else will go well, too.
In Alaska the cold weather is embraced and the open air ceremonies are immensely popular thanks to the unique panoramic views and incredible mountains. With an average of 95 guests, which is below the national average of 120 to 150 guests, the weddings are more intimate than in the rest of the US. The ceremony itself often takes place in a log cabin or other traditional and often religiously significant building. Preferably, there is a large cedar fire pit in the centre. Weddings in hotels and other luxurious places are uncommon.
Hawaiian weddings are even further away from the traditional American wedding because of their particularly rich native culture. From a free choice in outfits - ranging from white dresses to coconut bras - to the spiritual ceremonies themselves, Hawaii is unique. Traditional floral wreaths will complete any wedding look, just as Hawaiian music enchants every marriage. The blessing of the rings is again the most important part of the ceremony.
Not only different states but also different cities have their own traditions. In New Orleans, for example, brides and grooms do not settle for a simple gold ring. They organise a parade, complete with a brass band, and dance with all those present through the streets of the city. Cutting the cake is also completely different. They have a custom called the cake pull. Small charms with ribbons attached to them are baked into the cake. Each maid of honour pulls on one of the ribbons and discovers a charm which predicts her future. A riverboat promises a life full of adventure, whilst a flower means a new romance is on the horizon.
In Pittsburgh, California, the most important marriage tradition stems from a melting pot of cultures that set foot on this land over the years. The cookie table is a huge collection of cookies, baked goods and cakes from different cultures that friends and family bring. In the past, it gave everyone the chance to relive the flavours of home, with Eastern European, Italian and in particular Greek sweets. The traditional cookie table is more important than a wedding cake and an absolute must at every Pittsburgh wedding.
Similar to Pittsburgh, couples from New York and New Jersey prefer a sweet treat during their Viennese Hour. Coming from an Italian tradition, an enormous amount of cakes, cookies, brownies, pies, sweets, coffee and more is offered to the guests after dinner. And the wedding cake? This is also optional here, as long as all the other sweets are present.
How do Native Americans get married?
As the original inhabitants of what we now know as the United States, Native American wedding traditions are completely at home in this list. Although there are 500 different Native American tribes - excluding the Native Alaskans and Native Hawaiians - each tribe has their own customs and traditions. Although many Native American couples nowadays use more Western traditions, certain old elements are still present.
Although the gold ring is now often part of the Native American ceremony, it was traditionally not the case. The ceremony was enough proof of the association. Furthermore, the wedding ring originates from the century-old custom that the woman is the property of her husband, a concept that Native Americans do not have.
Although the ceremony varies between different tribes, there are certain rituals are similar. Most indigenous tribes believe in the Great Spirit, which is presented as an amorphous and universal force. The Great Spirit is everywhere in nature, so almost every ceremony contains a lot of natural elements. Washing hands together drives away the bad spirits and creates a pure beginning to the couple’s new life together.
Music plays an equally important role in Native American marriages as any other custom. And even though music styles change throughout the different tribes, instruments such as flutes, drums and rattles can be found almost everywhere for cheerful and rhythmic dance accompaniment.
Ready for your own traditional or unique wedding day? Choose the perfect gold ring with a diamond for your engagement or the ideal gold ring to slide on each other's finger during the ceremony. Doubts? Ask the jewellery experts at BAUNAT for advice.