From the bride tossing her bouquet to wearing something old, new, borrowed, and blue, American wedding customs are still so popular today that even the most non-traditional couples happily take part. (Why tempt fate and start off your new marriage with anything other than good luck vibes?) But Americans don't have a monopoly on such rituals—pretty much every other country and culture also has its own beloved wedding customs.
Some are sweet, like how wedding guests in Sweden kiss the bride or groom anytime their new spouse leaves the room. Some are perplexing: Couples in the Congo, for example, are forbidden to smile on their wedding day. And some are seemingly strange, such as the way engaged pairs in Mongolia must kill and butcher a chicken to find a healthy liver before being allowed to wed. But what binds these seemingly disparate customs from near and far is one simple thing: love.
If you follow these traditions, the theory goes, you will find eternal joy with your soulmate. So, even if some Hindu brides must first marry a tree or some South Korean grooms have to tolerate getting their feet whipped by family and friends, hopefully, it's all worth it in the end. When love and happiness ever after are the outcomes, it's usually a win-win for the newly wedded couple.
Keep reading to learn about 45 of the most awe-inspiring rituals from around the globe to give you an idea of the many traditions that go far beyond the bouquet toss.
Norway: Brides Wear Crowns to Deflect Evil Spirits
One Norwegian tradition states that the bride will wear an ornate silver and gold crown that has small charms dangling all around it. When she moves, the tinkling sound is supposed to deflect evil spirits.
Mexico: Wedding Lasso
During the ceremony, as a Mexican couple is exchanging their vows, a "lazo," or lasso, made of rosary beads and flowers is draped around their shoulders in the shape of a figure eight. Not only does "el lazo" represent the union of the couple, but its shape also resembles the infinity symbol, signifying just how long they're hoping the marriage will last.
Armenia: Balance Bread
Want to keep evil spirits far away from your marriage? Balance lavash flatbread on your shoulders. That's what newly married Armenian couples traditionally do. According to the custom, when the bride and groom enter their wedding reception—typically at the groom's house—they break a plate for good luck, then are given lavash and honey by the groom's mother. They balance the bread on their shoulders to ward off evil and eat spoonfuls of honey to symbolize happiness, and then the party really starts.
Congo: No Smiling on the Wedding Day
While most about-to-be marrieds brim with excitement and anticipation, Congolese couples must keep their happiness in check. During their entire wedding day, from ceremony to reception, the two are not allowed to smile. If they do, it would mean they aren't serious about marriage.
China: Bow and Arrow
Let's hope the groom remembers to remove the arrowheads. In China, a prospective husband will shoot his bride with a bow and (head-less) arrow several times, then collects the arrows and breaks them during the ceremony, to ensure their love lasts forever.
Fiji: Presenting a Whale's Tooth
In Fiji, when a man asks a woman's father for her hand in marriage, he must present his future father-in-law with a whale's tooth.
China: Carrying the Bride
In China, a bride's family will hire a "good luck" woman to take care of her as she travels from her home to her groom's in an elaborately decorated sedan chair. Even more, attendants are busy shielding the bride with parasols and tossing rice (a symbol of health and prosperity) at the chair.
Centuries ago, England restricted marriage to couples who were 21 and over. But that didn't stop young lovers from finding a loophole—in this case, a nearby Scottish town without such limitations. Today, that village, Gretna Green, is still popular for couples who want to elope.
Greece: Shaving the Groom
Taking the term "groomsman" literally, on his wedding day, a Greek groom's best man, or "koumparos," becomes his barber when he pulls out a razor and shaves his pal's face. But the groom's day also has a sweet side. After he's been freshly shaved, his new mother-in-law will feed him honey and almonds.
Guatemala: Breaking a Bell
As wedding reception hosts, the parents of Guatemalan grooms can do whatever they want, including smashing things. When the newlyweds arrive, it's a tradition that the groom's mom breaks a white ceramic bell filled with grains like rice and flour to bring prosperity to the couple.
Japan: A White Tsunokakushi
On her wedding day, a Japanese bride celebrating a traditional Shinto ceremony wears white from head to toe, including makeup, kimono, and a hood called a "tsunokakushi." White denotes her maiden status, and the hood hides the so-called "horns of jealousy" she feels towards her mother-in-law.
Lebanon: Music and Dancing Before the Ceremony
In Lebanon, the wedding celebration, known as the Zaffe, gets off to a rowdy start with music, belly dancing, and shouting at both the groom's and bride's homes courtesy of the couple's friends, family, and, occasionally, professional dancers and musicians. Eventually, everyone ends up at the bride's house, where the couple is showered with blessings and flower petals as they leave for the ceremony.
In their first bit of housekeeping together, German couples traditionally clean up piles of porcelain dishes that their guests have thrown on the ground to ward off any evil spirits. The lesson of this "Polterabend": While working together, the two partners can face any challenge thrown their way.
Ditch the white wedding cake and switch things up. It's typical at Norwegian weddings to serve a towering special-occasion cake called a "kransekake." It's made with iced almond cake rings to form a cone shape, and a wine bottle is often placed in its hollow center.
Czech Republic: Placing a Baby on the Couple's Bed
Before a Czech bride and groom tie the knot, an infant is placed on the couple's bed to bless and enhance their fertility. Once they've wed, guests shower them with rice, peas, or lentils—also to promote fertility.
Now this is a sweet tradition. Newly married Russian couples share a wedding sweetbread called "karavay," decorated with wheat for prosperity and interlocking rings for faithfulness. Whoever takes the biggest bite—husband or wife—without using their hands is considered the head of the family.
India: Joota Chupai
On the day of the wedding, in a ritual called "Joota Chupai," an Indian bride's mischievous sisters and female cousins make off with the groom's shoes and demand ransom money for their safe return. That's one way to kick things up a notch!
China: Wedding Door Games
In this lighthearted tradition, Chinese bridesmaids give the groom a hard time on the morning of the wedding day by putting him (and sometimes his groomsmen) through a series of tests and challenges, called "wedding door games," to prove that he's worthy of the bride. Then, he must pay off the girls with envelopes full of money. That's what friends are for!
Niger: Camel Dance
You've heard of the chicken dance, but in the West African country of Niger, the camel dance is done at the reception in the desert by a real camel. The humpback animal gets his groove on to a rhythmic drumbeat, all while surrounded by wedding guests.
Philippines: Releasing White Doves
After tying the knot, happy brides and grooms in the Philippines release a pair of white doves—one male, one female—into the air. The birds are said to represent a harmonious life together for the newly married couple.
Cuba: The Money Dance
It's a Cuban custom that every man who dances with the bride must pin money to her dress to help the couple pay for their wedding and honeymoon. Bank on it!
Russia: Weddings Photos at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
In a gesture of respect, couples in Moscow often take wedding photos at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier near the Kremlin, then lay down flowers afterward.
Turkey: Hanging Flags
Friends of the groom plant the Turkish flag, which features a red crescent and star, in the ground at his home on the day he is to wed. Depending on the area, objects like fruit, vegetables, and even mirrors are placed on top, signifying that the wedding ceremony has begun.
Venezuela: Couple Leaves Before the End of the Reception
Don't wait until the reception's over to chat up a Venezuelan couple—they could be long gone. It's good luck for the newlyweds to sneak away before the party has come to an end without getting caught; it's also good luck for whichever guest catches on that they're gone.
Wales: Myrtle in the Bridal Bouquet
Welsh brides think not only of themselves on their wedding day, but also of their bridal party. The bridal bouquet includes myrtle, an herb that symbolizes love, and the bride gives a cutting to each of her bridesmaids. (Kate Middleton even included myrtle in her bouquet!) The theory goes that if a bridesmaid plants the myrtle cutting and it blooms, she'll be the next bride.
Mongolia: Chicken Liver Tradition
A Mongolian couple hoping to set a wedding date must first kill a baby chicken and cut it apart, holding the knife together, to find a healthy liver. They keep at it until they're successful.
China: Three Dresses
In China, brides typically walk down the aisle in a slim-fitting, embroidered dress, called a traditional qipao or cheongsam. For the reception, they typically change into a more decked-out gown with Western flair. But the bridal fashion show doesn't end there. To cap the night, Chinese brides often make a final change into a cocktail dress. Triple the dresses, triple the fun!
Russia: Groom Must Prove His Worth
According to custom, a Russian man must go to the bride's parents' home on the morning of the wedding and prove his worth by either paying a "ransom" for his lady, showering the bride's family with gifts, or simply humiliating himself by dancing and singing until the family has had enough.
Ireland: Keep One Foot on the Ground During First Dance
In Ireland, when the bride and groom are dancing, the bride must keep at least one foot on the floor at all times. Irish folklore states that if she doesn't, evil fairies will come and sweep her away.
Right before the wedding, it's common for Indian women to gather their closest girlfriends and sit for hours at a time to have their skin intricately painted, in tattoo fashion, with mehndi, a type of paint made from henna. The elaborate and beautiful skin art lasts about two weeks.
French Polynesia: Newlyweds Step on Relatives
On the Marquesas Islands of French Polynesia, once the wedding has come to an end, the relatives of the bride lay side-by-side, face down on the ground, while the bride and groom walk over them like a human rug.
China: Crying Before Wedding
Brides of the Tujia people in China take tears of joy to a whole different level. Starting one month in advance, the bride starts to cry for one hour every day. Ten days into the waterworks, her mother joins the picture, and 10 days after that, her grandma does the same. By the end of the month, every female in the family is crying alongside the bride. The tradition is believed to be an expression of joy, as the women weep in different tones, reminiscent of a song.
Germany: Sawing a Log
After getting married, couples in Germany are presented with a large log and a saw. By sawing the log in half as a team, it is believed they are proving their ability to work together in overcoming tough obstacles.
Peru: Cake Pull
In Peruvian weddings, the cake is typically assembled with ribbons attached to charms, one of which is a fake wedding ring. During the reception, all the single women in attendance participate in the "cake pull." Each participant grabs a ribbon, and the single lady who pulls out the fake wedding ring, per tradition, will be the next to get married.
Romania: Hiding the Bride
In Romania, before the wedding, guests work together to playfully "abduct" the bride, whisking her away to an undisclosed location and demanding a "ransom" from the groom. Typical requests? A few bottles of alcohol, or—for those looking to really make the groom sweat—singing a love song in front of the entire party.
Scotland: Covering the Bride and Groom
Scottish brides and grooms are captured by their friends the day before their ceremony and covered in everything from molasses and ash to flour and feathers before being paraded around town. The goal may seem to be ultimate humiliation, but the ritual stems from the practice of trying to ward off evil spirits.
Sweden: Stealing Kisses
In Sweden, whenever the bride leaves the table, all the ladies at the reception are free to steal a kiss from the groom. Whenever the groom leaves the room, all surrounding gentlemen are free to plant a peck on the bride, too.
Back in the day, when a Welshman fell in love and was ready to commit, he carved spoons from wood, called "lovespoons," and gave them to his beloved. Decorations included keys, signifying the key to his heart, and beads, symbolizing the number of children he was hoping for.
India: Marrying a Tree First
If you're a Hindu woman born during the astrological period when Mars and Saturn are both under the seventh house, you're cursed; according to custom, if you marry, be prepared for early widowhood. Fortunately, there's a remedy: Marry a tree first, then have it cut down to break the evil spell.
South Korea: Falaka Ceremony
As part of the "Falaka" ceremony in South Korea, the groom's friends and family hold him down as they beat the bottoms of his feet with a stick or dried fish. In between beatings, he's asked trivia questions, so the custom is said to help strengthen his memory and his feet.
Italy: La Serenata
The night before the wedding, an Italian groom may traditionally throw a surprise party outside his bride-to-be's window. "La serenata" begins with the groom, backed by musicians, serenading his fiancée. Then, it turns into a full-blown bash, complete with a lavish buffet and all the couple's friends and family.
Spain: Cutting the Tie
At some Spanish weddings, the groom's friends will take scissors and chop up his tie, then sell the pieces to guests to raise more money for the newlyweds. The same practice is sometimes applied to the bride's garter, as well. Anything for a few extra bucks!
Canada: Money Dance
At French-Canadian ceremonies, the couple's older, unmarried siblings traditionally perform a dance, all wearing wacky, brightly colored socks. As they dance, guests throw money at them which is then collected and presented to the newlyweds.