10 Fascinating Wedding Traditions from Around the World

By Corey Whelan

Thinking about getting hitched, tying the knot or jumping the broom? Wedding rituals around the world are as varied as ways to say “I do”.

10 Fascinating Wedding Traditions from Around the World
photo: iStock

1. Connecting with all five senses in the Andes Mountains of Peru

"Traditional Andean weddings take place outdoors, and are meant to elicit the natural world. At each ceremony, a small offering is given to Pachamama – a Mother Earth goddess, revered in Andean culture," explains global wedding experts Alex Pelling and Lisa Gant, who have gotten married 71 times in 65 countries during the past five years, including in the Andes Mountains of Peru. The Pellings' Andean wedding was illustrative of local customs. The bride and groom entered a garden from opposite sides, to represent the coming together of people from different villages. A shaman awaited their arrival, while chanting a blessing. There was also intense, rhythmic music playing. "There was a scent of burning herbs, and the shaman poured oil down the backs of our necks, to elicit physical sensation. Everything that occurs at an Andean wedding ceremony is designed to overwhelm the senses – sight, hearing, touch, scent, all of it. The ceremony is not just someone talking to you about your union," he explains. The Pellings gave offerings to each other, and buried a joint offering to Pachamama, which is meant to be there waiting for her, underground, until the end of time.

2. Searching for Ms Right in Germany

In some small villages in Germany, grooms aren't guaranteed that their brides will make it to the altar on time – or at all. Kidnapping the bride is an old custom, beloved by pranksters and friends of the betrothed. After the bride's friends kidnap her, the groom is tasked with looking for his one true love. The best hunting grounds (of course) are pubs. There, the locals might provide clues, provided they are invited to the wedding. If the invite isn't forthcoming, custom demands that the brideless groom pick up the bar tab – for the entire pub.

3. Showing them the money in Cuba

Since it is still a communist country, weddings in Cuba are nonreligious, civil ceremonies. Even so, they can be extravagant affairs, earmarked by interesting customs, such as the money dance. Meant to help fill the newlywed's coffers, this interactive tradition is also tonnes of fun for guests. After the formal ceremony's pomp and circumstance has been completed, men who wish to dance with the bride must first pin money to her dress. This (highly profitable) custom is also common in parts of the southern United States, Poland and Greece.

4. Stretching out the ceremony in Pakistan

Pakistani wedding ceremonies are comprised of many rituals, which take place over days, weeks, or even months. Pelling and Gant's wedding here was their most exciting, and fun, to date. "In Pakistan, there aren't many social outlets, like ice skating, rollerblading and socialising. Weddings are one of the top social events here, so they are extremely elaborate," explains Pelling. The colourful, flower-filled extravaganzas often start with the Nikkah, or signing of the wedding contract. Then comes the Mooh Dikhai. For this ceremony, the bride's face is completely covered, and ceremoniously revealed to her groom as he gently removes her veil. If this is not a deal breaker (many ancient weddings were arranged), other ceremonies will follow over many days, including the Mehndi, or henna ceremony, where henna and oil are applied to the bride and groom by their families and friends. The Mehndi is great fun, and features lots of dancing and sweets. After many more days of rituals, which include music, dancing and the presenting of scarves filled with sweets to important members of the family, the Baraat, a processional walk by the groom to the bride's home, takes place. This typically includes the groom's clan, and features drumming and fireworks. Finally, the Shaadi, or bride's reception, arrives. Unlike the white weddings so customary in many parts of the world, Pakistani brides typically attend this ceremony in red or purple. The final wedding ceremony is the Walima. It is often the most extravagant of all the events, and takes place after the couple has already consummated their vows and are technically husband and wife. For this ceremony, Western dress is sometimes worn.

5. Stringing it together in Thailand

Weddings in Thailand are filled with Buddhist rituals, meant to honour the bride and groom's ancestors and to sanctify their union. During the ceremony, the couple kneels next to each other in a prayer position. A trusted, beloved elder of their choosing (preferably one known to have had a happy marriage) places a traditional headpiece on their heads. The headpiece, called a Mong Kol, is made from a single piece of string, which has been blessed by monks. The bride and groom wear the Mong Kol for the rest of their wedding ceremony, to symbolise their union and oneness.

6. Live long and prosper in Sweden

In Sweden, brides are decked from head to toe in tradition. They often wear crowns, made of myrtle flowers, to symbolise virginity, marital fidelity and good luck on their heads. In their shoes, they tuck one coin each – silver in the left shoe from their father, and gold in the right from their mum. The coins symbolise hope for the couple's marital prosperity.

7. Dancing till dawn in France

Joyful, weekend-long French weddings bring new meaning to the phrase 'dancing the night away'. If you love kicking up your heels, you'll want to nab this custom for yourself. Eimear Lynch, author of Bridesmaids: True Tales of Love, Envy, Loyalty, and Terrible Dresses, reported in New York Magazine that French weddings feature non-stop dancing all night long, which doesn't stop until the guests fall down, or it's time to go to work. French marriages must have a civil ceremony in order to be legal, so French brides and grooms often opt for two events over a long weekend – one civil service and one religious ceremony. Either or both may be followed by a fabulous, champagne-filled fete, complete with a disc jockey, band and foot-tapping rhythms that keep guests on their feet for seven hours or more.

8. Jumping the broom in Ghana

According to the African American Registry, this joyful tradition, strongly associated with American slavery, has its origins in the West African country of Ghana. The broom was used to symbolise the sweeping away of evil spirits and past wrong doing by the bride and groom. Sometimes it was waved over the heads of the betrothed couple. Other times the bride and groom would jump over it at the end of the ceremony, and whoever jumped the highest was deemed the head of the household.

9. Tying the knot in South Africa

South African weddings are steeped in ancient tradition. Twelve symbols, meant to represent the couple's life together, must be present at every ceremony. These include wine, wheat, a broom, honey, bitter herbs, salt, pepper, a spoon, spear, a cooking pot and a shield, plus a holy book, such as a Bible or Koran. In addition to the 12 symbols of life, the bride and groom ceremoniously have their wrists tied together with grass to symbolise their coming together as a couple.

10. Finding harmony in Bali

Balinese weddings, called pawiwahans, are meant to generate harmony and create balance between the material and spiritual realms. The sacred ceremony provides a chance for the bride and groom to testify before the gods, creatures of the underworld, and their community. The ceremony also solidifies the couple's citizenship in their village. The ceremony includes gift giving and a procession through the streets. The couple undergo a purification ceremony, to clear their hearts and minds of negative thoughts and energy, and are then deemed ready to be married, in view of all of their neighbours, family, and friends.

Grab your copy of Reader's Digest magazine for more amazing travel articles ...

View All » Featured Products
Featured Articles
10 Small But Significant Romantic Gestures That Can Improve Any Relationship Almost Immediately Magazine
10 Small But Significant Romantic Gestures That Can Improve Any Relationship Almost Immediately
Expensive jewellery and trips to Paris? Nope. Ten women explain why the small, romantic gestures matter more.
The 15 Best Superfoods for Diabetics Health  
The 15 Best Superfoods for Diabetics
Include these nutrition superstars in your diabetes diet to lower blood sugar, burn fat, reduce inflammation and gain more health benefits.
13 Mind-Blowing Facts That Make Watching Star Wars Even Better Magazine  
13 Mind-Blowing Facts That Make Watching Star Wars Even Better
Which Star Wars character was gender-swapped, which was almost a monkey, and how George Lucas made the most expensive bet of his life.
Why Do Americans and Brits Drive on Different Sides of the Road? Travel
Why Do Americans and Brits Drive on Different Sides of the Road?
The British custom of driving on the left side of the road isn't a sign of eccentricity – there's actually a very sensible reason for it.