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Just like any Indian wedding rituals, the traditional American Christian wedding ceremony features the father of the bride "giving away" his daughter. This sure has an emotional flavor to the whole wedding ceremony, thought these days a lot of new women do not like this ritual as it makes them feel as a commodity rather than an individual. However, this ceremony provides a human touch to the otherwise modern presentation of today`s wedding ceremonies.
The Veiling and Unveiling of the Bride
Another similarity to a `ghunghat uthana` or `Mooh Dikhai` tradition in Indian wedding ceremonies is found in traditional American Christian weddings through the unveiling of the bride after the father of the bride escorts her down the aisle and she is "given away" to her groom. The unveiling is reminiscent of the Biblical story of Jacob, Rachel and Leah. Jacob worked for Lavon for seven years to earn the right to marry Lavon`s daughter Rachel. When it was time for the wedding, Rachel veiled herself as a sign of modesty, as was popular at the time. Lavon then veiled his other daughter Leah and tricked Jacob into marrying the wrong daughter. Jacob had to work another seven years before Lavon would agree to give him his other daughter Rachel. By unveiling the bride before she exchanges vows, the groom is sure to be marrying the correct woman!
In Judaism, there is a special ceremony, called a Badeken, just prior to the ceremony, to veil the bride. It is the first time the couple sees each other before the actual ceremony. This is an ancient custom and serves as the first of many actions by which the groom signals his commitment to clothe and protect his wife. The veil remains in place during a traditional Jewish ceremony, signifying that the groom is not marrying the physical beauty of the bride, but also her "hidden" inner beauty. The veil is removed when the couple is pronounced legally married, so that they can seal their union with a kiss.
The Wedding Canopy
Originating from ancient Jewish tradition, the "chuppah" or wedding canopy has become more popular with secular and interfaith couples as well, particularly with outdoor weddings. The canopy represents the home the couple will make together. In Judaism, instead of the traditional Christian ritual of the father of the bride walking the bride down the aisle, the parents of both partners escort their child to the Chuppah. The procession itself symbolizes the adult child leaving their parent`s home, and making their new home with their beloved. The canopy itself is symbolic, too. The walls of the canopy remain open to family and friends, while the covering overhead protects the couple from the harshest elements in life.
This is a similar concept to Mandap"in the Indian tradition.
Though western culture does not have a tradition of touching the feet of the elders, it sure has its own tradition of respecting elders and loved ones in their own ways. Parents, grandparents, godparents or other close relatives are honored for their love and support by each partner during the ceremony. These special people can each be recognized with the gift of a flower, a corsage, a special poem or a simple hug and kiss. This is a touching ritual for the beginning of the wedding ceremony, and is usually deeply appreciated and remembered by all.
Honoring the Deceased
The memory of a parent, grandparent, sibling, or other close person in the lives of the wedding couple is remembered by placing a photo on the altar, or by including a moment of silence, a special reading, a favorite song, or the lighting of a candle in their memory. Wedding flowers may have been chosen with that special person`s tastes in mind, and it may be mentioned in the program. Personal remembrances may be spoken to honor them and include their memory in the ceremony.
Community Vow of Support
Western culture is more practical than Indian culture or it appears so and hence it may not have the involvement of the extended relationships in the rituals and celebration of wedding more than being guests at the wedding day. However, it has its own way of contributing good wishes and support to the newly weds. The congregation may be asked, early in the ceremony, to support the union of the partners, and continue to support them as they journey through the natural ups and downs of married life. After the Officiant asks the guests to promise their love and support, the guests respond appropriately by saying "We will" or "We do". This simple act can have a profound impact on the couple, who may realize for the first time, their union has become a welcomed part of the larger community. It is very helpful if the couple has been through times when that support has been a question to have so many voices reassure them.
There are game like ceremonies which are some waysto have friends and family participate. They are as follows:
Pass around the rings with a ribbon tied to them early in the service. Ask each person to give them their own blessing and pass them on. Or, flowers are passed before the procession and ask each person to take one, think of a blessing for their marriage, and place it in the vase at the front of the room.
If the ceremony is to be held at the beach or by a stream or river bed, you can ask your guests to find a small pebble and make a wish on it for your marriage. The guests are then asked to place those pebbles in a vase, which will bekept to hold their wishes for the marriage. This vase then can be used to hold flowers on your anniversaries.
Wine and Bread Ceremonies
In the Jewish tradition, "kiddush" wine is used to sanctify a ceremony. The sweetness of the wine symbolizes the sweetness of life. The Officiant blesses the glass of wine and offers it to the couple to share. In Japan, Sake is sometimes used in a similar way. Many other communities around the world offer the bride and groom wine during the wedding ceremony, and some have a full Eucharist or Communion service. Wine can also be used for "libations" in an African-American wedding, where wine may be poured on the ground as an act of holiness, instead of being sipped by partners.
In many traditions, "breaking bread" and sharing bread together are central themes in a religious service, including religious weddings. In Judaism, the blessing of the bread, or "Motzi" is usually said at the reception, not at the wedding ceremony. In Christianity, Communion (or Eucharist), is sometimes observed during the wedding service with bread-like wafers. In other cultures, the bride and groom share bread with each other at the altar, symbolic of the sharing they will do throughout their lives together.
Although this ceremony is not historically Christian, it has become very popular in contemporary Christian and Interfaith weddings. Three candles are placed on the altar. The two side candles are each lit representing the individual lives of each partner. The center candle is lit by both partners during the ceremony, signifying their new life together as "One". This beautiful ceremony has become a standard in many American weddings in many faiths.
The Unity Bouquet
Like the Unity Candle, the Unity Bouquet is a similar concept, which does not involve a flame which might go out in a draft. The Mothers of the couple are each escorted into the room with a bouquet of flowers, which they place in a side vase before being seated, representing the life of their family member who is going to be married. The Officiant says that the flowers represent the ways in which each partner has blossomed and grown, up until this point in their life. The partners are then instructed to place their flowers together into one larger vase, creating a very special "unity bouquet". Although each bouquet, and each life were beautiful alone, they are even more beautiful together.
The Sand Ceremony represents the joining of two lives into a new dimension of unity. It is similar to the Unity Candle ceremony. Instead of each partner having their own candle, each partner has a vial of sand which represents their childhood and life before marriage. During the ceremony, each partner pours his or her sand into a larger vial to represent their new status as a married couple. Some couples use two different colors of sand, which make a third color when joined. Partners may wish to use sand from a lake or ocean close to where they grew up, or where they spent meaningful vacations together.
Covenant of Salt
The Covenant of Salt ceremony is used in many Biblical traditions. Salt is referred to in the Bible many times, since it was a very important and valued commodity (especially before refrigeration). There are many Biblical references to "the salt of the earth". The Covenant of Salt indicates a binding contract. In the Bible, when a contract was made, each party put a pinch of salt into the pocket of the other person. It was said that when each grain of salt could be sorted, identified, and returned to the rightful owner, the contract could be broken. Today, partners each take a vial of salt, and pour their salt into a container, joining the grains together for eternity. This tradition is popular with many religiously observant couples in place of the sand ceremony.
In traditional Jewish, Greek Orthodox, and Hindu traditions, there are customs where the bride circles her groom, or both partners circle each other. In the Hindu tradition, both partners circle the sacred fire. Check with the specifics of your own tradition when incorporating the circling ritual. In all of these traditions, the circling may represent each partner making their spouse the center of their world. It also represents that marriage is a journey, and the first steps of the journey are taken together at the wedding.
Symbolic foods are placed on the altar, to be mentioned and shared during the ceremony. In many cultures around the world, sweet foods are eaten during the wedding ceremony to symbolize the wish for a sweet marriage. Honey and almonds, dried fruit, or other foods may be shared by the couple. In some countries, special foods such as nuts and rice, are given to the bride and groom as a symbol of fertility. Sometimes, foods representing "four flavors" are given: the bitter, the sweet, the sour and the savory. These four tastes represent the many different "flavors" of marriage.
In the Greek Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox traditions, as well as on some Pacific islands, the Priest or Officiant has two ornate headbands or crowns on the altar. During the ceremony, the wreaths or crowns are placed on the heads of the bride and groom, and then transferred back and forth a prescribed number of times.
In some Native American communities, drinking from a goblet of water sanctifies the union. Water is a basic element, without which there would be no life. A two spouted water jug designed for this purpose may be used. The Wedding Jar is then displayed in the home as a reminder of one`s vows.
Water may also be used in a ceremonial washing of hands to purify them, before uniting one`s hands in marriage with another person.
The Blessings of the Hands Ceremony
In many cultures around the world, joining hands is an enduring symbol of marriage. In this ceremony, the couple each holds up his or her own hand, and offers it to their partner. Words are spoken which indicate the symbolism of the hand -- for holding, stroking, giving, sharing, working, communicating, building, loving, helping etc. As each partner accepts the hand of the other, he or she is joyfully accepting the many gifts of married life, and offers the same in return.
Blessing of Rings
Instead of having the Officiant bless the wedding rings before they are exchanged, sometimes the rings are tied to decorative fabric or ribbons or tied to a pillow, and passed around to the guests. The guests are each asked to bless the rings with a wish for the marriage. If this is done at the beginning of the ceremony, the rings usually make it back to the altar in time for the ring ceremony below.
The Ring Ceremony
The Ring Ceremony is perhaps the central, most popular aspect of American weddings. The rings represent the covenant between partners. As the ring is round and has no beginning and no end, the love between them knows no beginning and no end. The ring represents a sacred and binding covenant between both partners, and serves as a daily reminder of their love and devotion. The Ring Ceremony is usually associated with the exchange of the wedding vows.
In some countries, rings are not exchanged. Sometimes the exchanged items are white silk scarves (a Buddhist tradition), or leis (A Hawaiian tradition). In Hindu ceremonies, garlands of marigolds are usually exchanged. The ring ceremony is adopted by most of the Indian culture to represent engagement of the wedding, which is usually performed ealier than the wedding date. In many Indian cultures, the ring ceremony is the day when the marriage is officially fixed and on the same day, date for the marriage is decided.
Each partner offers the other partner a single rose as a token of their love. Like the opened blossom of the rose, their hearts are open to the other in full devotion. The Officiant asks the couple to find a special place in their home for roses. Each partner then makes a promise to use a rose as a symbol of their love for one another in the years to come. When words may be hard to find, the gift of a simple rose will be a symbol that they are still loved by their partner.
The Wedding Contract
In Biblical times, and in contemporary Judaism, as well, a wedding contract or "ketubah" is signed during the ceremony. Essentially, the contract is a written copy of the wedding vows. In Biblical times, it included the dowry and other family agreements, but contemporary ones are more spiritual/emotional and less practical. Each partner signs the contract during the ceremony, and it is displayed in their home during their marriage. This rituals is similar to have the marriage vows by husband and wife in Indian weddings, where they promise each other to spend their lives together and to take care of each other in all the ways possible.
Handfasting or "Tying the Knot"
Handfasting is a general term for the symbolic binding of hands in matrimony. It is a marriage ritual popular in numerous cultures outside of the United States. Historically, it was popular with the Celts and various Pagan communities. Hands are tied together loosely with a decorative sash or cord to signify the marital union, and then removed. Prayer beads are sometimes used instead of a sash or cord. Handfasting is becoming increasingly popular in this country. This again reflects similarity in Indian ceremony of tying a knot and taking seven steps together. Infact, in many Indian cultures, this is a big ritual where the groom`s sister ties the knot as a symbol of them coming together and staying together forever.
Whether the birth of the first baby is a few months away, or many years away, if the couple intends to have children, they may opt to include a parenting covenant in the vows. Basically, words are said to promise each other that their mutual intention of raising a family is cherished, and that each partner can be counted on by the other to strive to be an effective and loving parent. In this day and age when families are increasingly busy, this vow to always put the family first is a welcome and reassuring promise to one`s partner, and to one`s future children.
Family Vows Ceremony
When two families are blended, there can be many doubts about the roles the new partner will play in the children`s lives. After these issues are decided, they can be stated beautifully and sensitively in a Family Promises ceremony. The Family Vows Ceremony takes place after the couple`s wedding vows. Some families choose to exchange a piece of jewelry, such as a family ring. Others give the girls a necklace or earrings and the boys a bracelet or pendant.
The Tea Ceremony
Originating in the Orient, the tea ceremony represents a partner (traditionally the bride) honoring her new in-laws. The bride pours tea for the in-laws with a promise to honor them as she does her own family of origin. By serving them tea, she serves and honors their family. Today, some contemporary couples use this sentiment by having each partner "serve" their in-laws to honor their new ties to the family. In India too we observe that many cultures have their daughter in law to cook a sweet dish in the house first time when she enters kitchen. This symbolizes, spreading sweetness in the new world that she has entered and starting and keeping the relations on a sweeter note.
Honoring the In-Laws
This ceremony is beautiful when one partner does not have living parents, and wishes to communicate appreciation for his/her welcoming by the other family. It can also be used after a religious conversion.
Many Christian and nondenominational weddings now include the bride and groom hugging their parents before proceeding to the altar. In the Philipino tradition, the groom honors his Mother and Father-in-law-to-be by taking one of their hands and touching them to his forehead, as a sign of respect. In Asian countries, it is appropriate to bow to show respect to one`s elders.
Jumping The Broom
"Jumping the broom" is a charming African-American tradition reminiscent of the historical manner in which couples were united under slavery, when wedding ceremonies were not allowed. Partners jump over a broom to signify their new status as a married couple within their community of friends and family. The broom can be decorated for the wedding day, if you wish.
Breaking the Glass (es)
Another ancient Jewish custom that can be incorporated beautifully into interfaith weddings is the "Breaking of the Glass". At the end of a Jewish wedding, after the pronouncement of the new status as a married couple, the groom traditionally stomps on a wine glass wrapped in a cloth napkin or towel. It is said "Just as it would be impossible to return the glass to its original condition; the lives of the wedding couple are forever changed." The popping noise marks the end of the ceremony and the beginning of the new life together. Many couple save the pieces of their broken glass as a souvenir.
The Big Release
The release of doves, butterflies or balloons as an ending ritual, signifies the release of each partner journeying through life alone. It is a visual statement about the release of emotion that follows marrying the one you love. In Philipino weddings, two doves are released at the end of the ceremony. If the doves fly in the same direction, it is considered good luck for the marriage.
In another tradition from Judaism called "Yichud", the couple leaves to spend a few moments of time together before the post-ceremony celebration begins (in the Bible, this was to consummate the marriage to make it official. Now it is usually for a quick kiss, a brief dance, some refreshment, or simply to sit and relax for a minute or two.).
The Receiving Line
This is a very standard closing ritual after many American ceremonies. After the wedding ceremony is complete, the bridal party (the couple, their attendants and parents) stand in a line near the exit of the church or synagogue, or at the entrance of the reception hall, to receive well-wishes. Waiting in line can take a very long time, yet allows for guests to assemble and share comments about the wedding ceremony.
The couple usually leaves the site of the wedding while being showered with rice, bird seed, bubbles or flower petals. The "showering" is supposed to represent the showering of good wishes for their marriage. Hint-birdseed may be more environmentally friendly than throwing rice.
In America, the couple is usually "announced" at the beginning of the reception with a "grand entry", to cheering and applause. The tired couple then visits each table in the room, thanking their guests for coming, while their guests enjoy their meals.