Something borrowed: Wedding traditions from around the world

Story highlights

Wedding rituals tie us to our cultures.

Objects and food often play a symbolic role.

Some of these have fallen out of favor, but couples still participate.

CNN  — 

For as long as couples have been tying the knot, the rites and customs of their cultures have been integral to marriage ceremonies. These rituals uphold tradition as time marches forth and families meld – and they’re a wonderful opportunity to celebrate ancestors, origins and faith.

While some of these traditions have fallen out of favor and are no longer the norm, couples around the world still incorporate these age-old outfits, sounds, foods and activities as they celebrate their wedding day … or days … or week.


Symbolic objects play an important role in a traditional Iranian marriage ceremony. The “Sofreh-ye Aghd” is a collection of items spread out on the floor on a luxurious cloth usually passed from mother to daughter. Two candelabras are placed on the cloth on either side of a mirror, representing the brightness of the couple’s future together. Seven herbs and spices guard the bride and groom against spiritual harm, and a copy of the couple’s holy book is included to represent God’s blessing over the proceedings. Married female family members hold a scarf or shawl over the couple’s heads while two sugar cones are ground over them to shower the union in sweetness and joy.


Weddings in Tunisia are typically lavish, joyous, raucous, multi-day affairs, including henna applications on the hands and feet of the bride in the company of her female friends and family, and thrones on which the happy couple sits for the bulk of the proceedings. While customs vary per region, the bride will usually be walked to the ceremony accompanied by the songs and zaghareed (ululations) of friends and relatives. She will often, on one night of the proceedings, wear a heavy gold dress (which is sometimes rented, though some girls start making one in their teens), on which shapes like fish or the hand of Fatma (daughter of the prophet Muhammed) are embroidered. While it is rarely the case these days, in centuries past, the bride-to-be would be spun around while wearing the dress, to finally face her future husband for the first time.

Sephardic Jews

These traditions have certainly faded over time, but some Sephardic Jews employ fish in various aspects of their wedding ritual. On the Balkan Peninsula, a bride may step or jump over a dish full of fish in order to encourage fertility. In Morocco, the seventh day at the end of the wedding week is the Day of the Fish. The groom, in his new role as the head of the household, will purchase an excellent fish from the market. Once it is prepared, he will take a bite, then give the rest to his wife – also a gesture toward fertility, and proof that he can provide for his future family.


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    San-san-kudo is a family affair, and it comes in threes. During a Shinto ceremony, the bride, groom and both sets of their parents each take three sips of sake from each of three stacked cups, for a total of nine sips. This ritual is meant is to create a bond between the two families and deepen the couple’s union.


    This modern pagan religion draws heavily from Celtic tradition when it comes to tying the knot. Some practitioners refer to the wedding itself as “handfasting,” but the specific ritual entails binding a couple’s hands to one another with a ribbon, cord, rope or cloth to form a unity symbol and seal their bond. Colors, patterns and charms may be specially chosen to represent various attributes wished for in the marriage.


    Mexican tradition also involves binding partners together. There’s it’s done with a “lazo” – often a ribbon or a rosary – draped in a figure eight around the couple’s shoulder after their vows in order to strengthen their connection and symbolize their never-ending love. It’s removed at the end of the ceremony, and given to the bride as a keepsake.


    “Anand Karaj” translates to “blissful union” and the joy may be spread out for anywhere from one to three days. The ceremony itself cannot take place at a hotel or banquet hall, but is usually conducted at a Sikh place of worship – a Gurdwara – or often at the bride’s home. Food often demarcates the start and finish of the religious proceedings. Families come together to greet one another over tea and light snacks during a “Milni,” and then enter the space where the rite occurs. After a gift of cash from the groom to the bride’s family, prayers, readings, vows and several walks by the couple around the room, Karah Prashad – a sacramental pudding – is distributed to all to indicate the end of the ceremony.


    Both brides and grooms in native Hawaiian tradition wear flower garlands as a physical manifestation of their love for one another, and to some, the twining of the stems is reflective of two families now becoming one. A more tourist-friendly version established in the past couple of decades involves winding the leis around the couple’s hands to bind them together. In the rarer ho’ao ceremony, the betrothed are draped in a blessed cloth (traditionally made of bark, but now more frequently fabric) called a kapa, to bring abundance, health, wealth and, if desired, many children.

    Is there a ritual that is particular to your culture, or did you incorporate any of these into your ceremony? Share your story in the comments below.