HERE IS something about getting married which seems to make people do bizarre things.
We are used to our own rituals, but to an outsider it might be considered strange for a groom to smash a little glassware at the conclusion of the service, particularly as there seems to be no single explanation as to why we do this — the reasons given are as diverse as the commemoration of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and a husband taking his last-ever opportunity to put his foot down.
Non-Jews would also not be used to the sight of the bride and groom being bounced around the wedding venue while clinging on grimly to the chairs they are still sitting on, nor to the obligatory fevered discussion about the quality of the smoked salmon canapés.
In North African communities, things are done slightly differently. Instead of a hen do there is a henna do. Traditionally, the bride will wear a velvet dress embroidered with pearls and other jewels. The henna, which is painted in often elaborate patterns on the woman’s palm symbolises both fertility and protection against the evil eye.
The other main Sephardic pre-wedding variation is the pool party — actually a mikveh party. The women of the community accompany the bride-to-be and her mother and sisters to the ritual baths after which they enjoy a feast of sweets and cakes.
There are other wedding traditions which we think of as completely normal, but on closer examinations are less so. Why do we hold our weddings under an improvised canopy when at all other times we obey the talmudic injunction “thou shalt not go camping”? However our practices pale against some of the weirder customs around the world.
Take for example, the traditional Korean falaka ritual which involves the beating the groom’s feet with a fish. The foot beating takes place after the ceremony. The newly married man will have his shoes and socks removed by family members, who then proceed to thrash away at the poor man’s soles, not with a sole, sadly, but normally a dried cod or a fish called a corvina. If this is not enough, the groom’s general knowledge is tested by a quiz during the ordeal.
The pain of the foot beating is put in perspective by the traditional wedding rite of the Yugur people — a Chinese ethnic minority. Rather than an aufruf or henna party, their tradition is to shoot the bride three times with a bow and arrow. You will be pleased to hear that the arrows have the arrow heads removed, so that no permanent damage is done but even so it is still going to sting.
You would imagine that once the ceremony and the party is over, the happy couple would be free to retire privately to celebrate their love for each other in the time-honoured fashion. However, this would not be the case in parts of France where the custom of charivari was practised. Although rare now, charivari involves standing outside the newlyweds’ home on the wedding night and make as much noise as possible with a variety of implements including improvised drums made from cooking pots, in an attempt to disturb the couple and prevent them from making their own, er, beautiful music.
We are all familiar with the throwing of confetti at weddings and the launching of boiled sweets at the end of barmtizvahs. However, in the Czech Republic, the custom of chucking items at the bride and groom has reached a whole new level. It all starts gently enough with flower girls throwing petals as a symbol of fertility.
Then, in a slightly exaggerated version of the breaking of the glass, a plate is thrown at the feet of the bride and groom who then have to clean up the mess together to show unity. After that, it starts to get dangerous. When leaving the church, first peas are thrown, followed by a hail of figs, grains, nuts and even coins.
It all sounds painful, but presumably good natured and over in seconds. However, some practices exercise the ingenuity a little more. Spare a thought for the Fijian groom-to-be who is expected to present his future fatherin-law with a whale’s tooth before the happy event can take place.
Given that the world’s largest mammal is understandably reluctant to submit itself to improvised dentistry, it is surprising that Fijians ever make it to the altar. Let’s hope the bride is worth it.