Wedding traditions from countries colonized by the British Empire.
Photos from Queen Elizabeth II’s 1947 wedding to Prince Philip have been flooding the internet since her death on September 8, 2022. No one has a bigger reputation for weddings than the British royal family, and many of today’s most popular wedding trends are because a British royal did it first (Queen Victoria is the reason bridal gowns are white). But there’s a darker side to Britain’s global influence on the world’s wedding customs as a result of Britain’s legacy of colonialism that spans over 500 years and six continents. In many countries, British rule has meant forced marriage, the criminalization of queer identities, and bans on interracial unions. These may sound like horrors from a distant past, but when Queen Elizabeth II took the throne in 1952, more than a quarter of the world’s population was still under British rule, which is why many activists are critiquing the Queen for her role in perpetuating global violence throughout her 70-year reign. Colonialism seeks to assimilate diverse cultures and destroy local customs, so instead of showing you British wedding photos you’ve probably already seen, today I'm bringing you fresh wedding inspiration from three of the fifteen countries (called “commonwealth realms”) still under British rule today.
Jamaica - Veiled Wedding Cake
In Jamaican weddings, the bride isn’t the only one who wears a veil–the cake does, too! Traditionally the groom’s grandmother soaks dried fruit in rum for the duration of the engagement, and one week before the wedding the bride’s grandmother or mother is responsible for baking the fruit into a wedding cake. On the day of the wedding, the cake is carried to the wedding in a silent procession by a group of matriarchs wearing white, and the cake remains veiled until it’s time to be cut. The reception is typically held in the backyard of the groom’s family’s home under a tent constructed by the community under the direction of the groom (lucky for him, he isn’t allowed to help). The celebration can be expected to resume the Sunday after the wedding when the couple attends church with their wedding party and everyone returns home with the bride’s family for a party known as Tun T’anks Sunday (“Turn Thanks Sunday”). This party can be an even bigger affair than the first, and at its conclusion the couple returns to their own home to start their life together.
New Zealand - Māori Cloak Ceremony
A traditional Māori wedding involves the groom wrapping the bride in a Korowai, a traditional Māori cloak woven with feathers that represents the honor and dignity of the wearer. The romantic gesture of wrapping the bride in the Korowai symbolizes how the groom’s love will surround her for the rest of their lives, and it originates from the Māori legend retelling the love story of Hinemoa and Tūtānekai. The newlyweds conclude the ritual by performing the hongi, a traditional Māori greeting where two people press their noses together to symbolize the mutual love and respect they share. During a wedding, performing the hongi takes on the extra significance of representing the joining of their breaths of life into one.
Belize - Mayan Spirituality
Traditional weddings in Belize draw from the ancient spiritual practices of the Mayan people who once lived there. Ancient Mayan weddings would take place in one of many sacred underground caves called cenotes, which were thought to be portals to another universe because they’re connected by underground water channels. Modern Mayan weddings don’t always happen in a cenote, but they still usually happen outside so that the natural world can witness the ceremony. An altar is erected for the ceremony to honor the four basic elements as givers of life, symbolized in the Four Elements Chant: earth is my body, water my blood, air is my breath, and fire my spirit. Copal, a sacred incense derived from tree sap, is lit in the four cardinal directions to ask Nature’s permission and blessing for the union. During the ceremony, the couple performs many sacred rituals: they share a ceremonial drink to nourish their souls, they exchange cacao seeds to signify the sweetness of love, they mix water with seeds to represent their future growth, and they wash one another’s feet in an act of trust and humility. The ceremony concludes with the newlyweds placing a floral offering in water.
Remember, imitation may be the best form of flattery, but copying rituals from other cultures can be appropriation. If you’re in doubt, try instead to let the symbolism of the rituals you like inspire you to invent your own unique rituals!
Something New Ceremonies is a new kind of wedding planning service that specializes in helping couples and first-time officiants design personalized wedding ceremonies with unique rituals. Want to know more about how I can help you plan the wedding ceremony of your dreams? Send me a message!