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Matrimonial Rituals Lexicon

Increasingly, couples are incorporating traditions from several cultures and religions into their ceremonies. From our list, take your pick.

Breaking the Glass

The most beloved part of a Jewish wedding. The shattering of the glass underfoot symbolizes the suffering of the Jews. Usually followed by a hefty, communal “Mazel Tov!”

Handfasting (Also: Hand-Binding)
The couple’s hands are tied together to represent their union, with ribbon (Pagan Celtic), a special rosary (Buddhist), a prayer stole (Catholic), kente cloth (African), or red silk (Chinese).


Jumping the Broom
The couple jumps over a broom to the beat of drums. When slaves weren’t allowed to marry, they devised this simple ritual as a public declaration of matrimony. The decorated broom, sometimes a gift from their grandparents, is later kept on display at the couple’s home.

Sake Ceremony, or San-San-Kudo
After their aura is cleansed by the haraigushi (purification wand), the couple formalizes their vows with nine meticulous sips of Japanese rice wine from three cups. Not totally unlike the wine exchange in a Jewish ceremony.

Unity Candle
The groom’s parents light one candle; the bride’s parents light another. The couple lights their candle with the flames of their parents’. An interfaith-friendly ritual that usually follows the exchange of vows.

Chuppah and Mandap
A four-pillared canopy beneath which the couple marries in the Jewish and Hindu religions, respectively. It represents the home they’ll make, their future marriage bed, and protection from (the) God(s).

Chinese Wedding Cups
The couple drinks wine from two wedding cups that are tied together with a red ribbon, symbolizing the invisible thread that, as Chinese legend has it, connects soul mates from the time they are born (over time the thread shrinks until the two marry). This true-love theory is not completely different from its Jewish counterpart, B’shert, which says that spouses are chosen in heaven 40 days before they are born.

Saptapadi, or the Seven Steps
The Hindu version of the exchange of vows. The couple takes seven steps around a sacred fire lit for the fire god, Agni, and makes a promise to each other with every step. Not totally unlike the Seven Blessings in a Jewish ceremony, where the Rabbi, or families and friends, read blessings in Hebrew or in English.

Hebrew for “union,” the fifteen-minute pause between the ceremony and the reception, when the couple meets in private. In the old days, this was when they consummated their marriage.

From the Fall 2005 New York Wedding Guide


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