A wedding is the ceremony where people are united in marriage. Wedding traditions and customs vary greatly between cultures, ethnic groups, religions, countries, and social classes. Most wedding ceremonies involve an exchange of wedding vows by the couple, presentation of a gift (offering, ring(s), symbolic item, flowers, money), and a public proclamation of marriage by an authority figure or leader. Special wedding garments are often worn, and the ceremony is sometimes followed by a wedding reception. Music, poetry, prayers or readings from religious texts or literature are also commonly incorporated into the ceremony.
A number of cultures have adopted the traditional Western custom of the white wedding, in which a bride wears a white wedding dress and veil. This tradition was popularized through the wedding of Queen Victoria. Some say Victoria’s choice of a white gown may have simply been a sign of extravagance, but may have also been influenced by the values she held which emphasized sexual purity. Within the modern ‘white wedding’ tradition, a white dress and veil are unusual choices for a woman’s second or subsequent wedding. The notion that a white gown might symbolize sexual purity has been long abandoned, and is criticized by etiquette writers like Judith Martin as distasteful.
The use of a wedding ring has long been part of religious weddings in Europe and America, but the origin of the tradition is unclear. One possibility is the Roman belief in the Vena Amoris, which was believed to be a blood vessel that ran from the fourth finger (ring finger) directly to the heart, thus when a couple wore rings on this finger their hearts were connected. Historians like Vicki Howard point out that belief in the “ancient” quality of the practice are most likely a modern invention. “Double ring” ceremonies are also a modern practice, a groom’s wedding band not appearing in the United States until the early 20th century.
The wedding is often followed by a reception or wedding breakfast, in which the rituals may include speeches from the groom, best man, father of the bride and possibly the bride, the newlyweds first dance as a couple, and the cutting of an elegant wedding cake.
Religious aspects of weddings
Most religions recognize a lifelong union with established ceremonies and rituals. Some religions permit polygamous marriages or same-sex marriages.
Many Christian faiths emphasize the raising of children as a priority in a marriage. In Judaism, marriage is so important that remaining unmarried is deemed unnatural. Islam also recommends marriage highly; among other things, it helps in the pursuit of spiritual perfection. The Bahá’í Faith sees marriage as a foundation of the structure of society, and considers it both a physical and spiritual bond that endures into the afterlife. Hinduism sees marriage as a sacred duty that entails both religious and social obligations. By contrast, Buddhism does not encourage or discourage marriage, although it does teach how one might live a happily married life and emphasizes that marital vows are not to be taken lightly.
Different religions have different beliefs as regards the breakup of marriage. For example, the Roman Catholic Church believes that marriage is a sacrament and a valid marriage between two baptized persons cannot be broken by any other means than death. This means that civil divorcés cannot remarry in a Catholic marriage while their spouse is alive. In the area of nullity, religions and the state often apply different rules. A couple, for example, may begin the process to have their marriage annulled by the Catholic Church only after they are no longer married in the eyes of the civil authority.
Customs associated with various religions and cultures
Most Christian churches give some form of blessing to a marriage; the wedding ceremony typically includes some sort of pledge by the community to support the couple’s relationship. A church wedding is a ceremony presided over by a Christian priest or pastor. Ceremonies are based on reference to God, and are frequently embodied into other church ceremonies such as Mass.
Customs may vary widely between denominations. In the Roman Catholic Church “Holy Matrimony” is considered to be one of the seven sacraments, in this case one that the spouses bestow upon each other in front of a priest and members of the community as witnesses. As with all sacraments, it is seen as having been instituted by Jesus himself (see Gospel of Matthew 19:1-2, Catechism of the Catholic Church §1614-1615). In the Eastern Orthodox Church, it is one of the Mysteries, and is seen as an ordination and a martyrdom. The wedding ceremony of Saint Thomas Christians, an ethnoreligious group of Christians in India incorporate elements from Hindu, Jewish and Christian weddings.
A traditional Jewish wedding usually follows this format:
• Before the ceremony, the couple formalize a written ketubah (marriage contract), specifying the obligations of husband to the wife and contingencies in case of divorce. The ketubah is signed by two witnesses and later read under the chuppah.
• The couple is married under a wedding canopy (chuppah), signifying their new home together. The chuppah can be made from a piece of cloth or other material attached to four poles, or a prayer shawl (tallit) held over the couple by four family members or friends.
• The couple is accompanied to the chuppah by both sets of parents, and stands under the chuppah along with other family members if desired.
• Seven blessings are recited, blessing the bride and groom and their new home.
• The couple sip from a glass of wine.
• The groom will step on the glass to crush it, usually with his right foot, ostensibly in remembrance of the fall of the Second Temple.
• At some weddings the couple may declare that each is sanctified to the other, and/or repeat other vows, and exchange rings.
o In Orthodox and traditional Jewish weddings, the bride does not speak under the chuppah and only she receives a ring. The groom recites “Harei at mekudeshet li k’dat Moshe V’Yisrael”- “behold you are [thus] sanctified to me by the law of Moses and Israel” as he places the ring on the bride’s right index finger. The bride’s silence and acceptance of the ring signify her agreement to the marriage. This part of the ceremony is called kiddushin. The groom’s giving an object of value to the bride is necessary for the wedding to be valid.
Taking the bride to the mikveh, Georgia, early 20th century
o In more egalitarian weddings, the bride responds verbally, often giving the groom a ring in return. A common response is “ani l’dodi, v’dodi li” (I am my beloved’s, my beloved is mine)
• In Orthodox weddings, the groom then says:
“If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill.
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth.
If I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem in my highest joy.”
• The ceremony ends with the groom breaking a glass underfoot.
• The couple spend their first moments as man and wife in seclusion (apart from the wedding guests, and with no other person present). This cheder yichud – “the room of seclusion (or ‘oneness’)” halachically strengthens the marriage bond, since unmarried women are traditionally not alone with an unrelated male.
• The ceremony is followed by a seudat mitzvah, the wedding meal, as well as music and dancing.
• At the conclusion of the wedding meal, Birkat Hamazon (Grace After Meals) is recited, as well as the seven wedding blessings.
In more observant communities, the couple will celebrate for seven more days, called the Sheva Brachot (seven blessings) during which the seven wedding blessings are recited at every large gathering during this time.
A wedding is always a happy time for families to celebrate. In the Muslim world, there are colorful, cultural variations from place to place.
According to the Quran, a married Muslim couple, both husband and wife act as each other’s protector and comforter and therefore only meant “for each other”.
All Muslim marriages have to be declared publicly and are never be undertaken in secret. For many Muslims, it is the ceremony that counts as the actual wedding alongside a confirmation of that wedding in a registry office according to fiqh, in Islam a wedding is also viewed as a legal contract particularly in Islamic jurisprudences. However, most Muslim cultures separate both the institutions of the mosque and marriage, no religious official is necessary, but very often an Imam presides and performs the ceremony, he may deliver a short sermon.
In Islam, polygyny is allowed with certain religious restrictions, despite that an overwhelming majority of Muslims traditionally practice monogamy.
It is forbidden in Islam for parents or anyone else: to force, coerce, or trick either man or woman into a marriage that is contrary to the individual will of any one of the couple. It is also necessary for all marriages commence with the best of intentions.
Below are several types and styles of weddings. A wedding may include several of these aspects.
A civil wedding is a ceremony presided over by a local civil authority, such as an elected or appointed judge, Justice of the Peace or the mayor of a locality. Civil wedding ceremonies may use references to God or a deity (except in UK law), but generally no references to a particular religion or denomination. They can be either elaborate or simple. Many civil wedding ceremonies take place in local town or city halls or courthouses in judges’ chambers.
Not to be confused with an elopement, a destination wedding is one in which a wedding is hosted, often in a vacation-like setting, at a location to which most of the invited guests must travel and often stay for several days. This could be a beach ceremony in the tropics, a lavish event in a metropolitan resort, or a simple ceremony at the home of a geographically distant friend or relative. During the recession of 2009, destination weddings continued to see growth compared to traditional weddings, as the typically smaller size results in lower costs.
A double wedding is a double ceremony where two affianced couples rendezvous for two simultaneous or consecutive weddings. Typically, a fiancé with a sibling who is also engaged, or four close friends in which both couples within the friendship are engaged might plan a double wedding where both couples legally marry.
Elopement is the act of getting married, often unexpectedly, without inviting guests to the wedding. In some cases a small group of family and/or friends may be present, while in others, the engaged couple may marry without the consent and/or knowledge of parents or others. While the couple may or may not be widely known to be engaged prior to the elopement, the wedding itself is generally a surprise to those who are later informed of its occurrence.
A Jewish wedding is a wedding ceremony that follows Jewish law and traditions.
A collective or mass wedding is a single ceremony where numerous couples are married simultaneously.
A military wedding is a ceremony conducted in a military chapel and may involve a Saber Arch. In most military weddings the bride, groom, or both will wear a military dress uniform in lieu of civilian formal wear. Some retired military personnel who marry after their service has ended may opt for a military wedding.
Vow renewal wedding
A wedding vow renewal is a ceremony in which a married couple renews or reaffirms their wedding vows. Typically, this ceremony is held to commemorate a milestone wedding anniversary. It may also be held to recreate the marriage ceremony in the presence of family and friends, especially in the case of an earlier elopement.
A same-sex wedding is a ceremony in which two people of the same sex are married. This event may be legally documented as a marriage or another legally recognized partnership such as a civil union. Where such partnerships are not legally recognized, the wedding may be a religious or symbolic ceremony designed to provide an opportunity to make the same public declarations and celebration with friends and family that any other type of wedding may afford. These are often referred to as “commitment ceremonies.”
Officiants at same-sex weddings may be religiously ordained. Some religions and branches of religions, including Quakers, Unitarians, Ethical Culture, Reform and Reconstructionist Jews, the Metropolitan Community Church, the Reformed Catholic Church, and Buddhist organizations like Soka Gakkai perform and recognize same-sex marriages, even if the government of their geographic area may not.
A shotgun wedding is a wedding in which the groom is reluctant to marry the bride, however, is strongly encouraged to do so to avoid family, societal or legal repercussions. In many cases, the bride is pregnant before the wedding and the family of the bride, most commonly the bride’s father, insists that the groom marry the bride before the pregnancy becomes obvious.
A weekend wedding is a wedding in which couples and their guests celebrate over the course of an entire weekend. Special activities, such as spa treatments and golf tournaments may be scheduled into the wedding itinerary. Lodging usually is at the same facility as the wedding and couples often host a Sunday brunch for the weekend’s finale.
A white wedding is a term for a traditional formal or semi-formal Western wedding. This term refers to the color of the wedding dress, which became popular after Queen Victoria wore a pure white gown when she married Prince Albert, and many were quick to copy her choice. At the time, the color white to many symbolized both extravagance and sexual purity, and had become the color for use by girls of the royal court.