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Groom and Bride Standing at a TableWeddings often represent the joining of two families or villages through the union of a happy couple. It’s no wonder that many marriage ceremony traditions are based on family and other customs, often religious, ethnic, and cultural. For many Black Americans, family gatherings are paramount, and while there’s never a bad time to get together, weddings are a very special time. There are several wedding traditions that are common among Black communities and other members of the African diaspora. If you’re planning to tie the knot in the future, consider these customs for your special day.

Jumping the Broom

Perhaps the most commonly known Black American wedding tradition is jumping the broom. Although the roots of this tradition are up for debate, it’s believed that it began in the United States with enslaved Africans, who often were not able to marry openly. As a celebration of their union, they would jump over a broom, which symbolized sweeping out the old and embracing a new future together. Today, many Black couples jump together over a handmade, ceremonial broom after being pronounced as a married couple. Some couples also hold on to the broom as a keepsake from their special day.

Tying the Knot

While the phrase “tying the knot” is commonly used as a synonym for “getting married,” there’s an actual wedding custom of tying knots that originates in Africa. Prior to exchanging vows, the couple will tie a rope around their wrists. As the pair promises to love and cherish one another, the officiant ties a knot to seal their commitment. In modern ceremonies, many Black Americans may substitute other objects for a rope, such as Kente cloth, cowrie shells, or a decorative binding. Some religious couples will braid three cords into a rope, representing unity with each other and God.

Tasting Four Elements

Married life will come with its ups and downs, and a tasting of the four elements is a tradition that acknowledges this reality. Descending from the Yoruba people of West Africa, this ceremony involves the couple tasting four items with flavors that each represent different phases of marriage: sourness, bitterness, sweetness, and spiciness. While the actual foods may vary, the most commonly used are lemon for sourness, vinegar or unsweetened chocolate for bitterness, honey or fruit for sweetness, and cayenne powder or chili peppers for spiciness. Before the couple eats each item, an officiant may talk a little about each phase of married life. It’s a tasty spin on “for better or for worse.”

Honoring the Past

Ancestral veneration is a tradition that manifests in various traditions of Africa and the African diaspora. Some Black Americans will have a libation ceremony honoring those who have come and gone. This ceremony usually involves a couple sharing alcoholic beverages in honor of the deceased. Many of these traditions also involve pouring out some alcohol in four directions, north, south, east, and west, while toasting or offering prayers of honor to the ancestors. Libation rituals can be conducted differently, but in many ways, they are analogous to Holy Communion as well as toasts made in honor of the couple at the reception.

Showing Them the Money

Originating in Africa, a money dance involves wedding guests tossing money at the couple as they dance at their wedding reception. In some traditions, well-wishers may pin dollar bills onto the couple. In either case, giving money is a way for friends and family to wish good fortune on the new marriage. Members of the bridal party may help collect the cash at the end of the dance or the reception.

Wedding traditions can be found in nearly every corner of the world. Black Americans have several customs associated with matrimony. These include just a sample of the traditions that Black Americans can incorporate in their nuptials as a link between their ancestral past and a bright wedded future.

Category: Universal Life Church Ceremonies

ULC culture

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