If you’ve ever watched shows like 90 Day Fiancé or Arranged, then you might’ve come across couples with mixed cultures and religions. This affects their relationship immensely because there are certain aspects of marriage between the wedding and the actual marriage that completely differ from us in the United States. No matter your religion or traditions, there can be beautiful aspects of all different ways of life, and it’s nice to be aware that our culture isn’t the only way of doing things.
Each continent or country is made up of multiple ethnicities and branches of religion, so keep that in mind while you read. Note: This was written with a broad sense of how each culture operates, but I understand that there are differences within the ethnic groups or various branches of religion.
I wanted to start with Indian culture because, personally, I was surprised at learning about some of their traditions. India is made up of many ethnic tribal groups, so within each group there are differences, but as a whole, they share similarities.
Finding a Spouse
Arranged marriages are common in Indian culture. The family of the person looking for a spouse plays a big role in finding them a husband or wife. The parents can choose a spouse, or they can meet with a matchmaker who uses an Indian database to help them find a potential match. Cultural India states, “Another survey by IPSOS in 2013, revealed that 74% of young Indians, aged between 18-35 years, said that they would rather let their parents choose their life partners than choosing themselves.”
The basic criteria the family seeks out in a potential spouse for their child are religion, caste (subdivision of religion), culture, horoscope, professional status, and physical appearance. They want the bride’s and groom’s families to share these things to preserve their ethnicity and to find someone with similar customs, traditions, morals, and even education. Cultural India explains horoscopes as “the birth chart or natal chart of an individual, based upon the positions of astrological luminaries like the Sun, the Moon, the Planets, and other stars at the time of the individual’s marriage.” The status of the groom is important to them because they want their children to find someone with a good job and reputation.
Indian wedding celebrations can last up to a week, depending on the ceremony and rituals involved. The average for an Indian wedding in the U.S. is about 400 guests in attendance, with the wedding cost being anywhere from $225,000 and $285,0000. This could be more or less depending on the family.
It’s common for the bride to wear red and gold rather than white on the wedding day. The colors are supposed to symbolize fertility and commitment. Modern Indian brides might wear other vibrant colors.
There are several ceremonies and rituals during the wedding week. The first two days are typically what’s called Ganesha Pooja, which is an intimate Hindu ceremony with only close family and friends attending. Also, the Sangeet or Mehendi ceremony, in which the bride is adorned with henna tattoos on her hands and feet, and the guests spend the night dancing away, celebrating the couple. The third day is the Hindu wedding ceremony, where the Saptapadi, or “seven steps,” takes place. The couple will walk seven circles around a fire pit, which represents seven sacred vows and promises that they make to one another.
After the Wedding
After the wedding, the wife takes on a very traditional role. She is the homemaker who will do most of the cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the children. It’s also a common practice in India for the newlyweds to move in with the husband’s parents as they learn their new role. Respect for elders is very important in this culture, even if it means taking unwanted advice from parents and family.
My husband has a good friend who is from China, and his friend was stunned to hear that my husband didn’t pay any kind of dowry to marry me. His friend had been dating a girl for seven years, and was working hard every day to save up for the dowry he owed his girlfriend’s family.
This is known as Pin Jin, meaning the bride’s price. This symbolizes the bride’s value to the groom’s family and is a sign of respect. There is no set price for the dowry; rather, it depends on the status of the family and the region. It’s usually in the thousands.
Finding a Spouse
Marriage in China holds some similarities to India. Young adults looking for a spouse have the option to marry for love, but this is sometimes overruled by the parents, who decide to choose their spouse for them. Criteria for a spouse are based on things like social status, good education, having a job, and owning an apartment (or home). It’s common practice for a girl to marry a man who is older and makes more money than she does.
One of the reasons marriage is important is because the grandparents’ and parents’ life is greatly affected by who or if their children marry. As they age, the children are expected to provide for and take care of them.
Also similar to Indian weddings, red and gold are the common colors for the wedding. The Double Happiness symbol is a common decoration for Chinese weddings; it’s made up of double the character “xi,” which means happiness. A tea ceremony is first performed at the home of the bride’s family, then they do it again at the home of the groom’s family. Tea is served to the elders of the family, and well wishes are shared with the couple.
Another tradition is with red envelopes, which are filled with jewelry or money, and are gifted to the bride and groom. The red envelopes are used in place of a wedding registry. Also traditionally, the groom’s family will give 12 gifts to the bride on the wedding day. Another tradition is touching oranges at the wedding. The Knot explains this: “Oranges are wrapped with red paper and placed on a red plate. Touching the oranges and gifting a red envelope in exchange is supposed to bring good luck and prosperity to the couple.”
Feasts and food are a large part of the wedding, and fish is usually a staple. Some Chinese families have separate feasts for the bride’s and groom’s families. And during the wedding, speeches are usually given. One ancient tradition that isn’t as common now is the preparation of the marriage bed. The “bridal chamber” was decorated in red and gold to encourage a more romantic setting, and this is where the couple went directly after the wedding.
After the Wedding
Traditionally (though it’s not always recognized now), the bride would get up the morning after the wedding and serve the groom’s family. She would kneel before the elders, and they would present her with a gift. She would be formally introduced to her new family. Then after three days, the couple would visit her family. She is no longer considered part of her birth family, but is welcomed as a guest. Having children is important to Chinese families, specifically a boy, to carry on the family name. In China, there was a limit to the number of children each family can have. As of recently, due to the decline in population, the government is allowing families to have three children.
Just like any other place in the world, there are different ethnicities that make up Africa, so traditions vary. But marriage in Africa looks different than in the West. If you watched season 3 of Love Is Blind, you might remember one couple performing a Nigerian-American wedding ceremony.
Finding a Spouse
Though it differs from region to region, dating in Africa can be pretty similar to the United States, but keep in mind that family has a big say in your relationship, and men and women play very traditional roles.
Africans also ask for permission to marry their bride. Locally it’s called “kookoo ko,” or the “Knocking on the Door” ritual. With his family, the prospective groom takes gifts to his potential in-laws and knocks on their door. If the door is answered, the wedding planning begins. In some parts of Africa, a dowry is a common practice before marriage. The groom’s family gifts the bride’s family a cow and $5k-$10k. Some more progressive families just give money, without the cow.
There are some distinct wedding rituals that many Africans practice, one being tying the knot, literally. The knot is made of cloth, a string of cowrie shells, or rope, and tied by the officiant at the wedding. The Yorùbá tribe, which makes up much of Nigeria, practices a ritual called “Tasting the Four Elements.” This represents the challenging phases of marriage. During the ritual, the bride and groom taste four flavors: cayenne for spicy, lemon for sourness, honey for sweet, and vinegar for bitterness.
Wedding attire differs across regions, but it can be anywhere from traditional to bright outfits, head coverings, embroidered capes, circular hats, and skirts.
After the Wedding
The husband’s and wife’s roles are very traditional. The wife is typically the one who does the cooking, cleaning, and raising the kids, and the husband is usually the breadwinner. The wife is supposed to submit to her husband; some even demonstrate this during the wedding ceremony by performing a ritual where the bride takes a drink, then kneels before her husband and offers it to him.
There are obviously many Spanish-speaking countries, each with their own way of life, but there are some things they have in common, such as Mexican wedding traditions.
Finding a Spouse
Dating in Mexico is pretty similar to the United States. Though there is no rule, it’s common for people to marry somewhat young in this culture. Several of my Hispanic friends would regularly ask me why I was still single, even in my early 20s before I had met my husband. As with many other places, there’s a lot of value placed on the family, and their opinion matters.
If you’ve ever been to a Hispanic event, usually it’s large and loud. They know how to celebrate and have fun! The main religion in this culture is Roman Catholic, so many weddings are held at a Catholic Mass. During the ceremony, the parents of the bride and groom present them with a lasso, which is a large Rosary or silk cord placed around the couple during prayer to represent unity. The couple keeps this lasso forever.
Another tradition is an ornate box, holding 13 gold coins, presented by the groom and blessed by the priest during the ceremony. This represents Jesus and his disciples, and the commitment to provide for his family. The rest of the night is filled with food, music, and dancing — you will probably see a mariachi band perform — and it’s not uncommon for the party to last all night long.
After the Wedding
After the wedding looks pretty similar to America. They go on as husband and wife, and often start having children sooner rather than later. Family is special to them, and they spend a lot of time together.
The Jewish traditions and customs largely depend on how religious the family is. Orthodox and other sects of Ultra-Religious Judaism have many more traditions and rituals that they follow compared to those of a more secular or modern Jewish faith. Here, I’ll explore the practices the Orthodox practices, as they have the most deeply rooted traditions. Those of the modern and secular Jewish faiths typically pick and choose which parts of the religion they want to recognize and are less legalistic.
Finding a Spouse
Orthodox Jews can find a spouse through modern ways, but sometimes they utilize a matchmaker. When dating, there is no privacy. In their eyes, being alone allows for temptation into sexual sin and is avoided at all costs. Dates are usually held somewhere in public or a place where a few people are around. Women are to dress modestly, and men are to be aware of their interactions and even eye contact with women. Some Orthodox men will avert their eyes when they’re around a woman who is not their wife.
The Torah (Jewish law) is the center of their lifestyle, so they try to follow it with all of their practices. One tradition is that the groom is not allowed to see the bride for a week before the wedding, though some Ultra-Religious Jews don’t see each other the entire engagement. The first part of the ceremony is called Kabbalat Panim. The groom meets with guests, makes toasts, and sings. The bride sits on a throne-like chair and meets with her guests. They can have refreshments during this time.
Before the procession, the bride is veiled. She sits in a chair, and the groom and groomsmen dance around her, and the groom removes the veil. They stand under what’s called a Chuppah, or arch, and then the bride walks around the groom seven times. The Rabbi gives a blessing, and the couple exchanges bands. Then the groom shatters a glass with his foot.
After exchanging vows, the couple is taken to a room where they can have a private moment as husband and wife … with the exception that there have to be two witnesses there! Following this, the reception begins, and the men and women sit on separate sides of the room and dance separately as dictated by Jewish law.
After the Wedding
After getting married, the wife has some lifestyle changes. She’s no longer allowed to show her hair, although she is allowed to wear a wig. Some Jewish women will actually shave their hair completely after getting married, while some Jewish men do not shave their facial hair. Something else that might come as a surprise to you is that married Orthodox couples do not share a bed. They also cannot be intimate during the wife’s period and for seven days after bleeding. Once the seven days pass, the woman has to go to the community mikvah, a ritual bath. There she has to complete a cleaning ritual before she can start being intimate again. Men are the head of the household, and women are the caretakers.
Marriage looks different all around the world, but one thing that multiple countries have in common is the importance of family. In the United States, gender roles and family values are decreasing, but it’s such a beautiful aspect of life. Knowing about the customs and traditions of other cultures is a great way to put things into perspective. Americans have so much freedom, but do we put enough value on tradition and family? Faith, family, and freedom put together makes for a wonderful life.
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