Weddings traditions around the world: From kimonos to lehngas to vodka

[Photo: Saori Tanoue/Bureniusz/Denis Butnaru Photography/hocusfocuscaptures]


The summer season brings heat, bugs, barbecues... and weddings.

According to Statista, the most popular marriage months are August, September, July and June - they made up nearly 60% of all British weddings in 2018.

We’re pretty used to the formula in the UK for a Christian wedding - an hour-long ceremony in a church followed by a meal, speeches and then plenty of drinking and dancing.

The average British wedding costs £30,355, as reported by Bridebook.

But how differently do they do it in other countries?

We spoke to four brides to find out about the unique traditions they followed:

Japan

Saori entering the shrine with her family. [Photo: Saori Tanoue]

Saori Tanoue, an accountant from Tokyo, knew she wanted to have a traditional Japanese wedding at a Shinto shrine.

The first thing to be decided was the date. Japanese people are often superstitious, especially when a huge personal milestone is about to happen.

A process called rokuyo (six days) takes place, based on a system of good and bad luck, and is used to determine the best days for a wedding.

“Even though we weren’t able to get the most auspicious day, we still managed to miss the worst days,” said Saori.

A Shinto priest blesses and purifies the families. [Photo: Saori Tanoue]

“The reason why I chose to do my wedding in a shrine was because I’m not a Christian and from a long time ago I’ve always wanted to have a wedding in an environment that’s familiar to me.

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“Also I love the atmosphere at a shrine, the Shinto faith of Yaoyorozu no Kami (Eight Million Gods), the thought that there is a God in all things. And I really wanted to wear traditional Japanese clothing.”

The irouchikake is so long it has a padded hem. [Photo: Saori Tanoue]

The garment she wears isn’t any typical kimono - it is an irouchikake, one of the most formal type of clothes in Japan and only worn by brides.

As it consists of multiple layers and a heavy outer robe, it weighs about five kilos in total.

The core of the wedding is the san san kudo (three three nine times) - three sakizuki, ceremonial sake cups, are filled in three pours and are then swallowed in three sips by both the bride and groom. This is thought to bind the couple together.

Taking part in the san san kudo. [Photo: Saori Tanoue]

A Shinto wedding is an intimate affair, usually only for immediate family members - afterwards the couple can have a reception where friends are invited.

Japanese weddings are usually small affairs and have 50-100 guests, in total Saori had about 80 people at the party.

The average cost is ¥3,575,000 (£27,000).

Poland

Kaja Bronowska in her wedding dress. [Photo: Bureniusz]

Kaja Bronowska got married in the summer of 2017 in the village of Otomin in the north of Poland.

While there may not be too many deviations from the type of weddings done in the western world, there were some notable departures.

One particular custom is that the mother of the bride holds out a plate with bread, salt and two shots of vodka, and she asks her daughter who she chooses.

The ritual with bread, salt and vodka. [Photo: Bureniusz]

“The bread represents life and the salt is the hardships to come, it’s meant to show the couple will stick together through the good and bad,” said Kaja.

The newlyweds then break off a piece of bread, dip it in the salt, eat it, do the shot, then throw the glasses behind them. They should break for it to be an auspicious marriage.

Afterwards comes the meal, where all the guests sit together on a connected table.

The guests eating together. [Photo: Bureniusz]

“The food served are typical Polish Sunday meals,” explained Kaja. “Meats, potatoes and lots of soups like borscht. Also there is lots of vodka, I had to tell my British friends to pace themselves.”

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Then come some recognisable features, as speeches are made and after the meal the couple enjoy their first dance.

Once that all happens, the party truly begins.

The wedding-goers enjoy themselves on the dance floor. [Photo: Bureniusz]

Well into the festivities, the bride and groom come forward and give speeches of thanks to their parents, surprising them with thoughtful gifts.

Kaja said: “That for me was one of the best moments, giving a photo album to my parents of childhood photos of me and my husband, thanking them for all they’ve done for me.”

Another moment everyone looks forward to is the ‘competition’ dance.

The guests rush to be first in line to have a spin with either the bride or groom, but to do so they must first pay - though not a large amount, usually around 1 to 5 zł (20p to £1). The winner is the person who manages to collect the most money.

The girl with the money basket standing to the right. [Photo: Bureniusz]

Even the bouquet throw has a Polish twist.

At midnight the bride throws her flowers behind her, and then the groom throws his bow tie. The two people to catch the items become the ‘new newlyweds’ and enjoy a dance together.

All throughout the celebrations, wedding games are played and songs are sung, most which are “very cheesy, but that’s the point”, according to Kaja.

“There’s one particular song where the guests chant saying the vodka is bitter, and the only way to make it better is for the bride and groom to kiss, to sweeten the drink.

The throwing of the bouquet and bow tie. [Photo: Bureniusz]

“We only invited 76 guests, normally there are between 60 to 150 people. We also managed to keep the costs down by doing it in the countryside and not the city. My best friends made all the decorations, the food was simple, plus there were the guests’ gifts.”

Instead of wedding presents, the guests bring money - the amount they think will cover their cost.

The wedding and reception take place during one day, and festivities go on until well into the night. The next day is a slightly more subdued event, Kaja had a barbecue, but still plenty of partying happens.

“We started the ceremony at around half three in the afternoon and I think we finally got to bed at half six in the morning.”

In total they spent around 40,000 zł (£8,468), an amount that Kaja says is more on the modest side.

India

The bride and groom with his family. [Photo: hocusfocuscaptures]

Abhilasha Daga Lakhani, 30, a PR and events consultant from Mumbai, India, got married earlier this year to Aniruddha Lakhani, 31, an equity trader.

Although it was an arranged marriage, Abhilasha was keen to address the misconceptions some may have about it.

“Our families knew each other very well, they were not total strangers. Throughout the process, we had the right to call everything off if we didn’t like each other, both my parents and in-laws wanted to make sure we were happy.”

The groom with haldi on his body. [Photo: hocusfocuscaptures]

Turmeric, or haldi in Hindi, is considered to be very special and there is a whole pre-wedding ritual dedicated to it.

The spice is mixed with water, milk or rose water to be formed into a paste and applied onto the bride and groom’s body before the wedding, in order to give the skin a natural glow.

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Abhilasha and Aniruddha held their wedding in Igatpuri, a town and hill station three hours away from Mumbai, and the whole ceremony lasted for four days.

The bride's family gathered around the sacred flame. [Photo: hocusfocuscaptures]

And the number of guests? 500.

“That’s actually a small number of people, my brother had 1,500 people at his wedding,” Abhilasha said.

Feeding 500 was no mean feat - a whole wedding catering company of about 80 cookers and servers joined them for the celebrations.

And to make the venue ready required at least 40 decorators.

Abhilasha and her family. [Photo: hocusfocuscaptures]

“I was exhausted by the end, not only because there were so many rituals, but the whole wedding trousseau was also incredibly heavy. The dress itself weighed for about six kilos. Then there’s the jewellery and hair ornaments.”

The wedding dress was a beautiful red lehnga embroidered with gold thread, but that’s not the only thing a bride wears - in fact she can have up to another six or seven dresses for different functions and rituals.

Abhilasha wearing a wedding lehnga. [Photo: hocusfocuscaptures]

An integral part of the ceremony is the Kanyadan, where the father of the bride washes his son-in-law’s feet in milk and entrusts his daughter to her husband.

As both families are Maheshwari-Marwadi, a linguistic minority group in India, they had their own customs to adhere to.

The main one is Mama Phera where the aim is for the bride to throw flower petals at her husband’s face, while someone from the groom’s family protects his face using a shield. If one of the petals touches his face, that means that the wife would be the dominant figure in the marriage.

Mama Phera. [Photo: hocusfocuscaptures]

And finally, one of the most important features of a Hindu wedding is the Saat Phere. The couple go around a sacred flame seven times, each time praying to God for various good fortunes and oaths they will keep for the rest of their lives.

“I have no idea how much my wedding cost, it’s paid for by the fathers of the bride and groom,” said Abhilasha.

According to EventsWedo, an Indian wedding planning site, the average wedding costs 3,330,000 INR (£39,730).

Israel

"It was out dream to get married under the stars," said Cara Lever. [Photo: Denis Butnaru Photography]

Cara, an arts therapist, and Josh Lever, a web designer and toastmaster, got married in Pardes Hanna, a town in the north of Israel.

“Our choice to get married in Israel was an easy one. With us both being Jewish, my husband and I both feel a connection to the land, which holds a very powerful energy,” said Cara.

Three nights before the wedding, Cara and Josh separated to spend time with their closest friends and family, and also to increase the anticipation of seeing each other at the ceremony. It is considered a good omen if the couple misses each other.

According to Cara, they had an ‘intimate’ Israeli wedding that had only 200 guests - usually weddings over there can have 600 attendees.

The signing of the contract. [Photo: Denis Butnaru Photography]

The day begins with the tisch, when the groom’s male friends and family father to witness the signing of the ketubah, the Jewish marriage contract, where it specifies the groom’s commitment to the bride.

It is followed by the bedeken, the ceremony where the groom veils the bride and they see each other for the first time, before the ceremony begins - normally a private ritual, witnessed only by friends and family, but Cara and Josh deviated a little from tradition.

“We chose to do this at the aisle, inviting guests to join this intimate and emotional moment. Both my parents accompanied me to the aisle, instead of just my father.”

The veiling of the bride. [Photo: Denis Butnaru Photography]

The marriage ceremony happens under a chuppah, a four-posted canopy and Cara’s cousin, Rabbi Yosef Richards, performed the ceremony.

Then comes the ‘seven circles’, where the bride and groom circled each other, symbolising equality in a relationship and binding themselves to one another.

In a traditional wedding, only the bride would have done it, but Cara and Josh wanted a modern version.

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“Our rabbi advised silently setting seven vows of intention to one another each time a circle is made, which was a lovely touch and also helped me to keep track of how many circles I had done,” Cara added.

The bride and groom then drink from a cup of wine to reflect on the life commitment that they are making to their future together. The groom places the wedding ring on the bride’s right index finger, which is believed to be connected by a special line directly to the heart.

Drinking the wine. [Photo: Denis Butnaru Photography]

This is followed by seven blessings, or shevat brachot, which are recited for the bride and groom.

To bring the ceremony to a close, the groom breaks a glass under his foot to remind everyone that even in the creation of marriage, they should not forget the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

As the glass breaks, it is customary for the wedding guests to shout “Mazel tov!”, a wish of congratulations and good luck.

The breaking of the glass. [Photo: Denis Butnaru Photography]

Once the ceremony has concluded, the bride and groom share their first few moments of married life alone together before joining the guests to celebrate with an abundance of food and dancing.

When the party is in full swing, a tradition is that the couple are hoisted into the air while they are sat on wooden seats and the guests dance around them. They can hold the edge of a handkerchief to remain connected to each other.

The couple sit on chairs and are lifted into the air. [Photo: Denis Butnaru Photography]

In Israel, weddings can cost from £10,000 for an intimate setting, which includes venue hire, catering and bar, to £70,000 for a bigger celebration with a band and decorations.