With countless couples getting married every day in every corner of this titanic earth, we know one thing for absolute certain: Love is universal, and we all want to spend our lives in marital bliss with the one we love.
However, while love is the same all around the world, weddings are most certainly not, and different cultures all have their own deep-rooted traditions and ceremonies that symbolize health, blessings, and everlasting love for the newlyweds.
And so, here are ten of the most beautiful wedding traditions from lands near and far, to give you an idea of how brides and grooms around the globe say “I do.”
1. South Africa: Old Fire for the New Home
In a truly heartwarming tradition in South Africa, the parents of the bride and groom bring embers and ashes from their own fireplaces, and the newlyweds use those flames from their childhood homes to light their first fire in the hearth of their new home to symbolize the two families coming together as one in blissful matrimony.
2. Turkey: Henna Night
Generally held the night before the ceremony, Turkish weddings (and weddings in some other cultures) have a henna night, called Kına Gecesi, usually held at the bride’s home with her closest friends and family. During the henna night, loved ones gathers to eat, sing, dance, and of course, use henna. And the mission? To get the bride so emotional that she can’t help but cry tears of joy and simultaneous melancholy.
On the henna night, the bride is adorned in a red outfit with a red veil draped over her head, and guests place gold coins on her palms on top of a dollop of henna, and sing traditional Turkish songs meant to make the bride emotional (in a good way) about leaving her old life and entering her new married life.
3. Philippines: Kissing Doves
At traditional Filipino weddings, the bride and groom make a pair of white doves kiss as they themselves are kissing, and then release the doves into the air as a way of signifying their love for each other and their aspirations of a peaceful and harmonious life together.
4. Germany: Baumstamm Sägen
In some areas of Germany, newlyweds seal the deal and prove their love and compatibility in a different way: By sawing a log in half in front of their guests in a tradition called Baumstamm Sägen. The log represents the first obstacle in the marriage, and by working together to saw the giant log in half, the bride and groom prove their bond and their ability to solve problems and overcome obstacles together with teamwork.
5. Poland: Couples Who Arrive to the Wedding Together, Stay Together
Unlike weddings in the United States where it’s considered bad luck for the bride and groom to see each other the day of the wedding until the ceremony, Polish grooms pick up their blushing brides from her home, arrive at the church together, and walk up the aisle side-by-side, showing that they’re coming to God in holy matrimony as equals.
6. Thailand: Rod Nam Sang
At traditional Thai weddings, the couple officially becomes husband and wife during a water pouring ceremony called Rod Nam Sang, making it the most important part of the wedding.
During the ceremony, the bride and groom kneel together at the water pouring table, called the Dtang Rot Naam, with the bride to the left of her new husband. To symbolize their spiritual union, a holy string is draped from one head to the other, thereby forming a circle and connecting the couple.
Then, they “Wai” by clasping their palms together as a gesture of respect to one another, and place their hands over a bed of flowers, as one by one, guests gently pour holy water over the couple’s hands from a conch shell called a Sang Rot Naam, which blesses the newlyweds.
7. Spain: A Piece of Tie, Please!
At many Spanish weddings, the bride and groom aren’t the only ones getting all the attention! It’s believed to be good luck for the groom to chop his tie into itty bitty pieces and auction them off like party favors to his friends, and likewise, the same is done with the bride’s garter. Anyone who gets a chunk of tie or garter is blessed with good fortune.
8. Japan: San San Kudo
Dating back to the 1600s, San San Kudo is one of the oldest Japanese wedding traditions, and is a ceremonial drinking of sake by the couple, and oftentimes their parents, that signifies the binding of the two families, thereby linking them together as one new happy family.
For San San Kudo, three ceremonial sake cups, called sakazuiki, are stacked in a tier, and both the bride and groom take a sip from each cup three times. If the parents are participating, they, too, take three sips from each of the cups, hence the literal translation: “three three nine times.”
In Japanese culture, three is a particularly lucky number that cannot be divided by two, since two — or other even numbers, for that matter — are considered ill-fated since “two” means to divide or separate.
9. Korea: A Goose for the Mother-in-Law
In a delightful Korean tradition that took place more so in the olden days, a groom would present his new mother-in-law with actual wild geese or ducks – which are monogamous animals, interestingly — to symbolize his fidelity and pure intentions to his betrothed. So sweet.
As you can imagine, having live geese and ducks at a wedding might get pretty rowdy, so now, in modern times, the bride and groom simply exchange wooden figurines that are very much not alive, as a sign of their undying love and commitment.
10. Guatemala: Break the Wedding Bells
At Guatemalan weddings, the mother of the groom welcomes the bride and groom to the wedding by breaking a white bell filled with flour, rice, and grains, in a custom meant to bring a lifetime of luck and prosperity to the happy couple.
Zeynep Yenisey is a relationship, grooming, and travel journalist based in New York. Her work has been featured both online and in print for publications including Maxim, Cosmopolitan, Seventeen, and Dr. Oz The Good Life.