The Jewish Chronicle - JC Magazine - - Customs -

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.

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