Online Class: Wedding Traditions Around the World
with CEU Certificate*
have taken this course
Have you ever wondered what weddings are like in other cultures? Perhaps you're planning a wedding of your own and want to incorporate some of your own cultural or religious traditions, but don't know where to begin. Maybe you've been invited to a traditional, culture- or religion-specific wedding and want to ensure you understand the ceremony and etiquette, or are searching for unique ideas for your own ceremony.
You can perform your own internet searches, but with the vast amount of information out there – much of which does not agree or coincide – it could take hours to research it all, and may end in frustration or confusion.
This course will introduce you to many wedding traditions around the world, including courtship, engagement, pre-wedding requirements and rituals, the actual wedding ceremony, and wedding attire. Among the many topics covered in this course, we'll explore wedding traditions from Asian, European, and African cultures as well as western traditions and influences, unusual weddings, and the costs involved in hosting a wedding. In our final lesson, we'll also discuss the multi-billion dollar bridal industry, which includes diamond engagement rings.
This course provides an excellent overview of a wide variety of wedding customs and traditions around the world, together in fourteen lessons. Whether needing personal information or looking for a course on wedding traditions for professional reasons, you're sure to find "Weddings around the World" interesting and helpful.
Holding a ceremony to commemorate the rite of marriage is nearly as old as the custom of marriage, itself. Called "marriage ceremonies," "wedding ceremonies," or simply "weddings," the actual event may differ greatly between cultures or individuals, but the basic reason for the ceremony is the same – to witness and celebrate the union of two people who wish to commit both emotionally and legally to one another (although the concept of "love" being the primary reason for matrimony is a somewhat recent addition to the equation).
There is no common authoritative source on wedding traditions around the world. This may be due to a lack of written records; in many cases, traditions were passed down from generation to generation, but never formally recorded. Traditions also change and adapt as time goes on, so what one family or group considers "the oldest tradition" may not agree with the opinion of others within the same group or community.
The first weddings are believed to have occurred about 4,350 years ago. Prior to this, "family groups" of several dozen individuals were the norm.
How people celebrate can be influenced by location, cultural traditions, societal norms, media and celebrity influence, social status, customs (both traditional and adopted), tastes or beliefs of the bride and groom, religious mores, a combination of any of these -- the list is nearly endless.
The origins of many current wedding traditions are unknown to or have been forgotten by most of us, as have many of the older (and sometimes darker) rituals marrying couples used to perform. Couples in nearby regions or cultures of old often had very different marriage ceremonies and traditions from their neighbors. The history of wedding ceremonies and marital customs is a large, fascinating topic.
In this course, we will present a detailed (but by no means complete!) overview of weddings, past and present, and some ideas on what the future of weddings may hold.
A Brief History of Marriage and Marriage Ceremonies
The notion that love and marriage are inseparable is a relatively new one. For much of history, the idea that one had to love the one they'd marry for a marriage to be successful was ridiculous, even abhorrent. Marriage was primarily a political union – the uniting or acquiring of new family members, allies, or kingdoms. Some cultures believed that one should love parents and family first, before loving a spouse, and loyalties were expected to be "family and children first, spouse last." If love grew in the marriage, that was seen as a "bonus," but couples were still expected to bridle their passions for one another. Many cultures expected, or encouraged, extramarital affairs for both men and women. A number of South American cultures practiced the tradition of multiple paternity, where all men who had sex with a woman while she was pregnant were considered partially biological fathers. Many cultures still practice arranged marriage as the preferred way to obtain a spouse.
Wedding ceremonies of old were elaborate affairs for the wealthy, and guests were there to witness the union of families or kingdoms, not to celebrate the couple's love (and usually, there wasn't any love between the couple to celebrate). Some couples did marry for love, but society considered such people foolish or mentally ill. Many of the traditions still practiced have their origins during this time, even though their original meanings are largely unknown to most brides.
Some Common Wedding Traditions and Their Origins
Many traditions marrying couples participate in are based on old superstitions, while others are a result of fashion in days long past.
Several of our common wedding rituals and dress were once thought essential for warding off or tricking evil spirits. For example, the custom of carrying the bride over the threshold, one of the oldest traditions, was common in Rome and done to prevent evil spirits from entering the soles of the bride's feet. Medieval European brides, however, were carried over the threshold under the belief they may be reluctant to go to their marriage bed – or at least give the appearance of reluctance. In Western Europe, it was considered bad luck if the bride trips as she enters her new home with her husband.
The tradition of the bride wearing a veil is also based on superstition. In ancient Greek and Roman culture, hiding the bride behind a veil prevented evil spirits, or glares from envious people, from cursing the marriage. Traditional veils of old were not the sheer netting of today, but long, opaque additions to bridal attire meant to protect the bride.
Bridal, or couples, registries are a 20th century invention. Marshall Field's department store began the tradition in 1924. Registries are now available from retailers everywhere, including online stores. (Should we thank or revile Marshall Field's for starting this tradition?)
White wedding gowns were considered the only choice for Western European brides for hundreds of years. In the 19th century, Queen Victoria chose a white satin gown for her walk down the aisle, setting the standard for Western European brides from that time on. The custom was adopted in the United States, as well, and for most of the 20th century, brides typically chose white, cream, or "winter white" shades for their wedding gowns. Choosing another color was highly unusual or frowned upon, but is becoming more common.
The 19th century also brought us the use of "The Wedding March" as a processional song. Actually it is the beginning portion of the piece, "Bridal Chorus" by the German-born composer Richard Wagner, and it became popular when Princess Victoria played it during her wedding in 1858.
The most common wedding recessional song was also chosen by Princess Victoria for her wedding. Written by Felix Mendelssohn for Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," the piece, called "Wedding March," has been used for the wedding recession ever since the princess made it popular. It is a more upbeat piece than Wagner's.
The diamond engagement ring is often considered an "American" tradition, but its origins date back much further. In the year 860, Pope Nicholas I (also known as Pope St. Nicholas), made engagement rings mandatory for all who wished to marry, and in 1477, Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I popularized the diamond engagement ring. The first recorded use of wedding bands dates back much further, to Egypt, in 2800 BC!
The traditions of the best man and having the bride on the groom's left are intertwined. In Ancient times, the groom often had to kidnap his intended bride from her family, fight off other suitors, or defend his bride against other men on her wedding day. For this reason, the bride stood on the groom's left to leave his "sword arm" free to defend her. The best man was also part of the defense of the bride; typically, the "best man" was the best warrior in the tribe, who stood on the groom's right, between him and any potential attackers. Additional groomsmen were also there for added protection. Today, the best man's role is not quite so dangerous.
The bride's attendants have a similar function to the groom's. The maid (or matron, if married) of honor is there to assist the bride on her wedding day. In ancient times, the bridesmaids and maid of honor all wore gowns like the bride's and groomsmen matched the groom's attire in an attempt to confuse any evil spirits or ill-wishers from sabotaging the future of the bride and groom.
Having the bride and groom kiss at the completion of their vows is thought to have originated in Roman times. Ancient Romans sealed all legal contracts with a kiss, including marriages. The custom continued, although the original meaning is mostly forgotten.
The tradition of the wedding cake seems to have an evolving origin. According to many sources, ancient Romans traditionally broke a wheat or barley cake over the bride's head for good luck at the conclusion of the wedding ceremony. The couple then partook of some of the crumbs, and the wedding guests took some home for good luck. Eventually, breaking the bread directly on the bride's head evolved into crumbling the cake, after which the guests were given handfuls of nuts and dried fruits. The guests often threw the handfuls of sweets at the bride and groom to help "sweeten" their marriage. It is believed the tradition of throwing rice evolved from this practice. Another possible explanation is the medieval tradition of stacking small cakes or rolls as high as possible. If the bride and groom could kiss over the stack without toppling it, the couple would have lifelong prosperity -- (no word on what was supposed to happen if you knocked the stack over).
The bride's garter has a slightly brutal history. In ancient times, the bride's dress was considered good luck, so following the ceremony, the wedding guests would tear at the bride's dress to obtain luck for themselves. Obviously, this resulted in many a scantily-clad bride. To protect the bride's modesty, the garter toss began.
Another, more common theory on the origin of the bride's garter stems from a French tradition dating back to the 14th century, where family members and friends of the couple would accompany the newlyweds to their wedding bed, to ensure the marriage was consummated. The entourage brought the garter out of the room with them to prove the deed had been done.
Bouquets of old were not the sweet, colorful flowers of today, but instead made of strong, aromatic herbs and spices to ward off evil. Again, Queen Victoria is responsible for making the switch, and it has been so in western culture ever since.
Many phrases are associated with weddings, as well. For example, almost everyone has heard the rhyme, "Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue" in reference to what a bride should wear or carry on her wedding day. The first item on the list represents the bride's past. "Something new" represents the happy future the couple has in store, while "something borrowed" should be something from someone older, who is happily married. The final item, "something blue," symbolizes love and marital fidelity.
Another item brides sometimes incorporate into their wedding attire is a coin. Many cultures have coin traditions. For example, the "something old" rhyme has a fifth line – "and a silver sixpence in her shoe." The bride's father traditionally puts this coin in his daughter's shoe prior to the ceremony to wish her prosperity and love in her marriage. In Sweden, the bride's mother gives her daughter a gold coin for inside her right shoe and the father gives her a silver coin for her left shoe in hopes she never want for money.
The honeymoon is thought to be named after an ancient tradition where the bride and groom consume mead, a honey wine, each day for one month after the wedding. This was known as the "honey month," which was marked off using the cycle of the moon. "Honey month" or "Honey moon" became "honeymoon", meaning a period of time following the marriage where a couple takes time alone to savor the sweetness of their new union.
One theory on the origin of the phrase "tying the knot" says it originated from Celtic "handfasting," where one of the bride's and one of the groom's hands would be tied together to symbolize their joining. There are other theories; however, this seems to be the most commonly accepted explanation.
At least one old tradition seems to have a practical origin. The "superstition," which states it is bad luck for the couple to see one another before the ceremony, originated in cultures where arranged marriages were the norm. Family members believed if the couple saw one another and didn't like what they saw, one or both would leave before the ceremony could take place. (In some cases, they were probably right!)
"after-wedding" tradition of sending the bride and groom off on their
new adventure by tying cans to cars, honking car horns as the newlyweds
depart, throwing rice (or, in some cultures, other objects), decorating
the couple's "get-away" vehicle, and following the newly-married couple
in a procession as they leave the church, all have long-forgotten
origins, as well. Most have to do with superstitions surrounding warding
off evil spirits. We'll explore all this and more in this class!
- Completely Online
- Printable Lessons
- Full HD Video
- 6 Months to Complete
- 24/7 Availability
- Start Anytime
- PC & Mac Compatible
- Android & iOS Friendly
- Accredited CEUs
Lesson 1: An Overview of Common Wedding Traditions
Lesson 2: Wedding Traditions of American, Native American, Pennsylvania Dutch, Amish, and French-Canadian Cultures
Lesson 3: Wedding Customs in Indian Cultures
Lesson 4: Weddings in Island Cultures
Lesson 5: Weddings in Australia, New Zealand, Iceland, and Greenland
Lesson 6: Weddings in South American Cultures and Mexico
Lesson 7: Weddings in Asian Cultures
Lesson 8: Weddings in Cultures of Romance Languages
Lesson 9: Wedding Traditions in Other Parts of Europe
Lesson 10: Wedding Tradition in African Cultures
Lesson 11: Judeo-Christian Religious and Orthodox Wedding Ceremonies
Lesson 12: Traditions of Turkey, Egypt, Greece, and Libya
Lesson 13: Unique Modern Ceremonies
Lesson 14: The Modern Side of Weddings: the Good, the Bad, and the Expensive
- Describe common wedding traditions.
- Describe Wedding Traditions of American, Native American, Pennsylvania Dutch, Amish, and French-Canadian Cultures.
- Describe Wedding Customs in Indian Cultures.
- Describe Weddings in Australia, New Zealand, Iceland, and Greenland.
- Describe Weddings in South American Cultures and Mexico.
- Describe Weddings in Asian Cultures.
- Describe Weddings in Cultures of Romance Languages.
- Describe traditions of Turkey, Egypt, Greece, and Libya.
- Demonstrate mastery of lesson content at levels of 70% or higher.
Additional Course Information
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