Jumping the Broom: A Beautiful Symbolic Wedding Tradition

Modern Day Ceremonial Brooms
Modern Day Ceremonial Brooms

 

 

Jumping the Broom! A fascinating tradition that seems to have spread to so many areas around the U.S. and internationally.

When I was planning my wedding(s) I had not even considered this tradition and actually thought that it was a bit odd; why would I want to get all dolled up and then hold hands with my new spouse and just jump over a broom! Really?!

Then all of a sudden, movies are made about folks getting married and having this African tradition inserted into the day’s activities. Not to mention, Harriette Cole actually authored “Jumping the Broom” a book that cites history and helps you with your planning.

What has become a very special addition to the ceremony is symbolic of your new life together. The use of a small broom filled with delicate twigs is to sweep away the past and welcome the joining of two families and their ancestors.

Now, the thought of its purpose is quite appealing and after researching the brooms for today’s wedding brooms, I might want to reconsider—the next time I marry.

These ceremonial brooms are absolutely stunning and make quite the fashion statement. While they are still made with natural wooden handles and bristles, they’re kept as treasured keepsakes and are passed on like wedding dresses to their children.

Some brides prefer to create their own brooms, while others purchase ornately decorated brooms ready-made. Far from ordinary, these brooms are outfitted beautifully with silk ribbons, fresh or silk flowers, bows, beads and more.
During the ceremony, broom jumping can be paired with a prayer, song, poem or simple explanation of the tradition. One song, “At an Ole Virginia Wedding,” was frequently used in the U.S. in the early 1900s as an accompanying tune. The passage’s sentiment warns others to respect the couple’s union and encourages the couple to cherish each other [Source: Cole]. Today, many brides attach the verse to their wedding brooms.

The broom can even be used to include guests in the ceremony: A couple can have guests write their names on pieces of decorative paper attached to ribbons, and then the ribbons are tied to the broom before it is jumped. This symbolizes that the guests—and their associated well wishes—go into the marriage with the couple.

In Christian ceremonies, ribbons on the broom may be considered symbolic of the tie that binds the couple, while the broom handle represents God and the straw signifies the couples’ families [Source: Kerby]. In pagan ceremonies, the broom represents a perfect balance between the male and female, with the handle symbolizing a phallus and the bristles symbolizing female energies [Source: Pagans Path].

Regardless of the ways in which the broom is incorporated into a wedding, it should be accompanied by a full understanding of the custom’s historical significance.

For those who are strict historians and want the actual information, please note the History of the Jumping Over the Broom Ceremony according to African American Registry, a nonprofit education organization; there’s no definitive answer as to where jumping the broom originated.

The significance of the broom to African-Americans heritage and history originates in the West African country of Ghana. During the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade most of Ghana, in the 18th century, was ruled by the Asante of Ashanti Confederacy. The Asante’s urban areas and roads were kept conspicuously clean according to visiting British and Dutch traders with the use of locally made brooms. These same brooms were used by wives or servants to clean the courtyards of palaces or homes. The broom in Asante and other Akan cultures also held spiritual value and symbolized sweeping away past wrongs or removing evil spirits.

All that aside, this is where the broom comes into play regarding marriage. Brooms were waved over the heads of marrying couples to ward off spirits. The couple would often, but not always, jump over the broom at the end of the ceremony. Jumping over the broom symbolized the wife’s commitment or willingness to clean the courtyard of the new home she had joined.

Furthermore, it expressed her overall commitment to the house. It also represented the determination of who ran the household. Whoever jumped highest over the broom was the decision maker of the household (usually the man). The jumping of the broom does not add up to taking a “leap of faith.”

The irony is that practice of jumping the broom was largely discarded after Emancipation in America which was consistent with the eventual fall of the Ashanti Confederacy in Ghana in 1897 and the coming of British customs. Jumping the broom did survive in the Americas, especially in the United States, among slaves brought from the Asante area. This particular Akan practice of jumping the broom was picked up by other African ethnic groups in the Americas and used to strengthen marriages during slavery among their communities.

People of African descent weren’t the only ones who jumped the broom during that period in history. The wedding custom was a common practice in Welsh, Scottish and Roma cultures [Source: BBC]. In pre-Christian Wales, couples who wished to commit to each other followed pagan tradition: A broom was placed across a home’s doorway and, like jumping a hurdle, the groom leapt over it, and then the bride followed. If neither one of them made the broom fall—or took a face-plant on the floor—the marriage was meant to be. If the broom took a tumble, so did hopes for their marriage: The wedding would be cancelled altogether [source: Jones]. The ceremony was widespread enough (especially among couples who didn’t want or weren’t given the legal right to have a court- or church-sanctioned wedding) that Charles Dickens mentioned it casually in “Great Expectations” in 1861; he wrote that a couple was married “over the broomstick.”

Today, jumping the broom is still an important wedding tradition for many—whether they wish to pay homage to their ancestors, signify a fresh start or add a personal twist to their special day. Conceptually, it is beautiful and can become a family tradition, beginning with you.

Marsha Reeves-Jews
Marsha Reeves Jews is the Editor-At-Large for World Bride Magazine and is a wedding planner at the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park Museum in Baltimore, MD and for private clients.

Ms. Jews is the host and Executive Producer of Keep It Moving w/Marsha Jews, a weekly radio show on WEAA 88.9 FM, a national public radio station on the campus of Morgan State University.

Ms. Jews was the President/COO/Associate Publisher for Career Communications Group, Inc. (CCG), a ten million dollar multimedia company. As Associate Publisher, Ms. Jews managed the day-to-day operations for all aspects of two publications: the Black Engineer and Information Technology magazine and Hispanic Engineer and Information Technology magazine; co-produced and designed the conference workshops, panel discussions, awards ceremonies and plenary sessions for The Black Engineer of the Year Awards Ceremony and Conference; and was co-founder and co-producer of Women of Color Technology Awards and Conference.

As former Executive Director of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre Foundation of Maryland, Inc., Ms. Jews was responsible for the overall management of the statewide organization and for presenting the world renowned Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre’s annual Baltimore performances, community outreach, fundraisers and the year-round AILEY/Camp for at-risk middle school children.

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