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...Walking Down the Aisle


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Never-ceasing and still growing number of emails with questions on German wedding traditions prompted this article's uprise. Indeed, Germans respect and love their traditions and maintain them through time and distances. Foreigners travel to Germany and marry there, Germans living abroad wish to get married in accordance with their native rituals, so it is high time to get brides and grooms acquainted with what they will have to do on their German-like Hochzeit (wedding).

Wedding traditions in Germany differ from region to region. Here are some of the highlights:

Car Procession - after the wedding a car procession is formed and drives through town honking their horns - others honk back wishing the couple good luck.

Costs - the father of the bride has to pay the wedding. This is an old custom but today normally both parents and the couple itself divide the costs for the wedding.

Dance - the first dance is danced by the bride and the groom, it is traditionally a waltz. The next dance is only for bride with her father and groom with mother, while bride's mother dances with groom's father.

First Night - to make the first night as difficult as possible, friends of the couple do lots of funny or sometimes cruel things. They fill up the rooms with balloons, hide lots of alarm clocks in the bedroom, take apart the bed, and so on.

Flowers - besides the flowers for the bride and in church, the hood of the wedding car is decorated with lots of flowers.

Junggesellenabschied - a few days before the wedding the groom and his male friends go to a pub or sometimes other places to drink and have fun. (the last time?)

Kidnapping of the bride - in some areas (mostly in small villages) friends kidnap the bride and the groom has to find her. Normally, he has to search in a lot of pubs and invite all people in there (or pay the whole bill). Sometimes this ritual ends badly.

Polterabend - this is an informal (informal dress and food) party at the evening before the wedding where plates and dishes are smashed (the broken pieces are thought to bring good luck to the bride). The bride and groom have to clean up everything.

Rice - after the wedding when the bride leaves the church, friends throw rice on them and it is said that they will get as many children as rice grains stay in the hair of the bride.

Veil Dance - this is a popular game for a wedding evening. Every woman or man who wants to dance with the groom or bride, has to pay for it.

Wedding Cake - the wedding cake, mostly a large cake with lots of ornaments, has to be cut by the bride and the groom together.

Wedding Evening - at the wedding evening a lot of games are played, speeches are held (the first normally from the father of the bride), sometimes a wedding newspaper is handed out. Songs are sung, and so on.

White Ribbon - the bride carries lengths of white ribbon with her bouquet, and after the church ceremony is over and the guests are leaving the church, she hands each driver a ribbon that they tie to the radio antenna.

Wedding Rings - Germans wear wedding rings on the right hand - the groom and the bride have normally identical rings (wedding "bands" -- no diamonds).

Wedding Shoes - another tradition is to collect pennies for years and buy wedding shoes for the bride with this money.


Part 2: More wedding traditions from Germany

Here are some more wedding tips prompted by an American of German descent:

Wedding Attire (Bride) - as in America, the bride usually wears white with one difference: the gowns usually do not have any trains, and if they do, they are very short, and just a little sweep. Most brides prefer the good old ballroom style gowns, some of them have crinolines to be worn under the dress. Most German brides want the newest style wedding gown, and they browse the bridal boutiques and check out what is new and which style is best for them. However, I have been to weddings where brides wore short dresses or even a white suit.

Veils are usually fingertip length, and very seldom worn over the face when a bride walks down the aisle. Some brides (especially Catholic) wear veils that are the same length as their gowns. Some brides take their veils off during the reception, but NEVER before the first dance with their husband and their father. A veil is not a must. Some brides wear only a flowery headband with ribbons hanging down the sides or the back of their head, some prefer both the headband and the veil. Tiara's, little crowns and hats are also a often seen addition. Most brides carry a little draw string purse down the aisle, and also wear gloves. A bride stays in her wedding dress all day, not only a few hours as they do in America. Most receptions last until the early morning hours, and most brides will not change into a different outfit, but wear their gown the whole time. It is also customary for the bride to get dressed at home (most choose their parents home), and then drive to church already dressed in their gown. Most have a beautician come to the house to fix their hair, veil and make up as well.

Wedding Attire (Groom) - the grooms usually wear a black suit.

Wedding Party - bridesmaids, groomsmen or flower girls etc. are seldom to be seen at a German wedding. It is not customary. Also, usually the bride and groom enter the church together and walk down the aisle together. The reason for this is that in Germany it is not legal to marry "only" in a church ceremony. The couple has to be married by the justice of peace, or as in Germany called "Standesbeamte" first. This usually takes place a few days before the actual church ceremony. So when they marry in church they are actually already married by law. For this ceremony the couple, the closest family members and friends get together in the court house, and then the couple will be married by the "Standesbeamte." Usually afterwards is a dinner. For this type of wedding brides mostly either wear a 2-piece outfit (skirt and jacket) or an informal dress. Some choose white, especially if they don't have a church wedding to follow. Courthouse Weddings last about 30 minutes, church Ceremonies can last up to 1 1/2 hours and more. There is a lot of singing, praying, and a sermon as well.

I was also lucky to get the impressions of the witness who attended a wedding in Salzburg, and he described the event. The marrying couple had chosen a small church not far from Salzburg for the wedding. This is a rule to choose a "special" place for the Hochzeit, rather than the general rule in America of always having the wedding at the bride's family church. The groom's family have arranged everything for this wedding. There was a Catholic Mass, in German of course, and afterwards everyone went to a restaurant for wedding cake and tortes and coffee, then there was beer and "fun music" outdoors with a band from 4pm to 6pm, followed by a formal dinner, and then more music and dancing until midnight. It was truly a day-long party, and everyone had a lot of fun.

This is what a typical German wedding is like in general. But still there are special little details necessary to mention, like bride should carry salt and bread as an omen for good harvest, and the groom - grain for good luck and wealth. Before the wedding, the German bride's possessions would be transported to her new home. The belongings traditionally included linens which she had collected, a cradle into which a doll had secretly been placed, and the second-best cow from her parents' farm. These are only a few of authentic German wedding traditions, one of the most interesting and curious of the being Polterabend, when dishes are broken to scare away evil spirits. Take care: only china is used, as broken glass would bring bad luck. The tradition requires the bride and groom clean up the mess - the first mess to cope with!

Log-sawing is another wedding tradition from Germany. It is done after the wedding ceremony. There will be a log on this log sawing horse and when the newly wed couple comes out of the church it awaits them as the first task they have to accomplish together as a married couple. It is supposed to show how they will manage to accomplish tough tasks in the future. It might be really interesting if bride and groom were not dressed in a white gown and tuxedo...

Another tradition coming from Germany involves the bride and groom carrying candles trimmed with flowers and ribbons. However, even in Germany traditions differ from town to town.


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