Each religion or culture has it's own wedding traditions. If you're marrying into a culture that's different to your own it might be confusing or make you a bit nervous to try their traditions. I'm marrying into the Chinese culture and I knew nothing about a Chinese wedding when I first met my fiancé.
When I lived in Hong Kong I went to lots of Chinese weddings and saw the traditions for that wedding. I'm Church of England so I know the protestant wedding traditions, and I've done a bit of research into Catholic, Jewish, Sikh, Hindu and Muslim weddings. I've collected them together to give a brief over view of wedding traditions.
I want to stress that none of these traditions are set in stone, and if you have attended a wedding that doesn't follow this pattern then that was probably the bride and groom's choice.
Your typical (and expensive) protestant wedding will have three parts: the church, the sit down dinner, the evening reception.
A protestant ceremony will typically last about an hour with readings, hymns and the signing of the register. The service is usually conducted by a vicar or a curate (deputy vicar) who will typically say some meaningful words before announcing the couple husband and wife. Some churches have a choir which adds a very nice atmosphere to your wedding and sometimes they can be asked to sing during the signing of the register. After the ceremony there is often time to take photos outside the church which would take between half an hour to an hour.
Everyone invited to the sit down dinner travels from the church to the reception venue, where more photos would be taken and possibly the bouquet is thrown before sitting down to dinner.
Dinner is typically a three course meal with wine or a non-alcoholic drink, during which the speeches are made. The speeches are traditionally made by the bride's father, introducing the bride and groom, the groom who thanks the bridesmaids for being beautiful and guests for attending, and then finally the best man who thanks the groom for saying the bridesmaids were beautiful and then proceeds to take the mickey out of the groom.
In the evening, after the dinner has been eaten, more guests may arrive to celebrate the new couple and a bit of a dance and a party.
And that's your average protestant wedding!
I’ve been to a few Chinese weddings in the 8 years that my fiancé and I have been together. These photos are from my h2b’s sister’s wedding, and she looked completely amazing! I love her Chinese wedding dress and the beautiful colours of gold and red.
The wedding was technically a Buddhist wedding although my in laws aren’t strictly Buddhists. The wedding didn’t take place in a Buddhist temple but a Buddhist wedding doesn’t have a set format and rather takes on the cultures of those taking part.
A Chinese wedding comes in two main parts, in my experience. I’m almost certain that different provinces in China will have different traditions for weddings, but I was a witness to Hong Kong weddings and those weddings have two main parts. The first is a tea drinking ceremony, which begins first where the groom has to pay the bridesmaids to enter the bride’s residence. Then he must complete several dares and forfeits to prove that he’s worthy of his bride. These days the dares are fun and a giggle, but in the olden days they were trials of strength and endurance. My h2b’s sister’s hubby had to limbo eating a chilly, choose romantic mah-jong tiles from a bucket of ice, and recite a joke marriage contract promising to do all the cleaning.
Once the bride appears, the tea drinking ceremony can commence. The bride and groom offer tea to the bride’s mother and father, and any older family members who are already married. During the drinking of tea, a lady called dai cum jeh, or big sister, says some blessing words while the older relatives drink the tea. The couple are traditionally presented with gold jewellery and lucky money.
Once the tea drinking ceremony is completed at the bride’s residence, the couple and their entourage leave the bride’s family behind and head to the groom’s residence and drink tea again. I was dai cum jeh for h2b’s cousin’s wedding and for that I presented the tea to my cousin who presented it to her mother, father, mother-in-law and father-in-law while I said a blessing, different to each person, in Chinese. I can tell you now, it was difficult to memorise all those sayings, and I was shaking so hard the cups rattled.I also had to cover the couple’s head with the red parasol while they travelled from home to home.
The second part of the Hong Kong Chinese wedding is a lavish banquet of numerous courses sometimes including a pig’s head, shark fin soup and pig skin. If this hasn’t already been done, the couple will sometimes sign the register at some point before or during the meal. Sometimes they play games with the guests with prizes at the end, some couples don’t.
To attend the evening banquet at a Chinese wedding it is traditional to present the couple with some lucky money. When I was in Hong Kong the going rate was HK$500 but I hear that has risen with inflation since I was last there.
The brides often change their dresses during Hong Kong weddings, some wearing as many as ten different dresses and just as many hair styles.
My fiancé and I are planning on having a Chinese wedding later in the year after our protestant wedding. I’m very much looking forward to helping plan his dares! I however won’t be having ten dresses, but I hope I will get to wear a beautiful Chinese wedding dress!
Roman Catholic Wedding
Your average Roman Catholic wedding is very similar to a protestant wedding, the difference is that they have a nuptial mass. The mass will happen first, and then the wedding part of the ceremony begins.
After this is the liturgy of the word, one or two passages from either the Old or New Testament (normally chosen by the couple) will be read, usually by the priest.
Next is the rite of marriage where the congregation will stand and the priest will turn to the couple and ask them three questions about their freedom of choice, faithfulness to one another, and acceptance and upbringing of children. The couple answers the three questions separately then declare that they know of no lawful impediment as to why they cannot be married. The Bride and Groom then clasp hands, exchange their vows, and then go onto exchange the rings.
Next is the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which is where the bread and the wine are brought forward for communion. Next is the nuptial blessing and finally the conclusion rite.
After the ceremony, the rest is the same as a protestant wedding, as long as that’s what the bride and groom wish for their wedding day.
There are many rituals associated with a Jewish wedding, many of them beginning before the wedding itself. The groom needs to ask the bride’s father for permission to marry his daughter and then there is a ceremony called tena'im where the couple break a plate to symbolise the destruction in Jerusalem.
The week before the wedding is when the wedding is announced by the groom in a ceremony called an Ufruf which is followed by a Kiddush where refreshments are served.
While this is going on, the bride will undertake a cleansing ritual called Mikveh, which involves having a bath while reciting a prayer.
Traditionally the bride and groom don’t see each other for a week before the wedding, but who has time for that when you have to plan a wedding?
Weddings are usually conducted under a canopy called a chupa, which I think looks very pretty and it symbolises the home that the couple will share. Jewish couples traditionally fast the day of their wedding, leading up to the ceremony to cleanse themselves, a bit like a special wedding detox.
Usually a rabbi conducts the ceremony but the couple could choose anyone to perform the ceremony as long as it’s supervised by a rabbi.
The bride and groom will start the wedding by signing a Jewish marriage contract called a Ketubah.
After this, the groom covers the bride with a veil in a ceremony called a Bedecken, symbolising how the groom is going to clothe and take care of his bride. Following this, the bride and groom drink seven cups of wine and have seven prayers said for them, then the groom will present his bride with a ring.
The guests finally move on to the reception which in modern times is similar to your Christian reception with a big party and refreshments.
Anand Karaj (Sikh Wedding)
he ceremony starts with a meeting of the two sides called Milni at which holyshabads (hymns from the Sikh Scripture, Guru Granth Sahib) are sung. Often an Ardaas (supplication) is also said at the Milni (not prescribed).
The marriage ceremony takes place at a congregational gathering in the holy presence of Guru Granth Sahib. Shabads(Sikh hymns) are sung and the officiating person apprises the couple of the duties of married life according to the Guru's teachings.
The main ceremony is very simple. The bridegroom wears a sash over his shoulder. The end of this is placed (by the bride's father, guardian or any other responsible person) in the hands of the bride. The officiating person reads the four lavan (stanzas) from Guru Granth Sahib. It sounds simple, but when my friend got married it seemed like her wedding went on for days. She was involved in a ceremony the day before her wedding where the women in her family, and family friends, painted henna patterns onto her hands and feet.
The ceremony itself involves a plethora of hymns and prayers and lasts a few hours.
Hindu Weddings (Vivah Sanskar)
The start of a Hindu wedding sees the ceremony, Jayamaala. The grooms family approach the boundary of the house the house in which the wedding will be held. This is where the sides of both families formally meet and the bride and groom exchange flower garlands called jayamaala.
The bridegroom is brought to a specially decorated altar called 'mandap' and offered a seat and a welcoming drink - a mixture of milk, ghee, yoghurt, honey and sugar.
Next is a swap of gifts or donations. In the olden days it used to be a cow, but these days it’s more like symbolic jewellery.
The bride’s father announces that the bride has accepted the groom and asks the grooms family to accept the bride.
A sacred fire is lit and the Purohit (Priest) recites the sacred mantras in Sanskrit. Oblations are offered to the fire whilst saying the prayers.
The couple walk seven steps reciting a prayer at each step. These are the seven vows which are exchanged.
The couple are blessed by the elders and the priest for a long and prosperous married life.
Muslim weddings vary enormously according to the culture of the people involved.
The actual Muslim wedding is known as a nikah. It is a simple ceremony, at which the bride does not have to be present so long as she sends two witnesses to the drawn-up agreement. Normally, the ceremony consists of reading from the Qur'an, and the exchange of vows in front of witnesses for both partners. No special religious official is necessary, but often the Imam is present and performs the ceremony. He may give a short sermon.
There are certain things which are basic to all Muslim marriages. Marriages have to be declared publicly. They should never be undertaken in secret. The publicity is usually achieved by having a large feast, or walimah - a party specifically for the purpose of announcing publicly that the couple are married and entitled to each other.
A lot of the traditions in Islamic weddings are to do with the culture of the people involved. If you saw Syed’s wedding on East Enders, he was riding a horse and he and his bride were on gilded thrones at the wedding. I think that was based on a tradition from the culture of the family and not necessarily Islamic traditions.