Many cultures have traditions that are integrated into wedding ceremonies as a way to pass down customs throughout generations. For the Black community, jumping the broom is one that is steep in decades of history. As many Black couples may already know, in contemporary nuptials, jumping the broom happens after exchanging vows and saying “I do." According to wedding planner Nicole Harris of Dreams in Details, the officiant will either provide a prayer, poem, or a brief explanation of the meaning of the tradition, and the broom will be placed on the ground for the newlyweds to jump over it. Anyone can place the broom on the ground, as there is no traditional person who bears this role, but a couple may choose a significant person to take on this responsibility.
While jumping the broom has become a familiar practice within many Black nuptials, the origins of the tradition are often unknown. That's why we consulted with Harris to help explain the rich history and meaning of jumping the broom, and why this custom has become an important wedding day practice within the Black community today.
Meet the Expert
Nicole Harris is the owner and creative director of Dreams in Details based in Los Angeles. She plans luxury events and weddings, several of which have involved couples jumping the broom.
The History of Jumping the Broom
The history of jumping the broom is a bit complex, with several conflicting accounts about the origin of the ritual. Some argue that it originated in West Africa, as brooms were used as a way to ward off evil spirits. Specifically, family members or members of the community would wave a broom over the couple's head, and then place it on the ground for the couple to jump over it. It's even said that a good-natured joke was whoever jumped the broom the highest was designated as the household decision-maker.
Alternatively, others claim that it originated in Wales. In Wales, Roma people’s marriages were not recognized by the church, so they would have “Besom Weddings,” referring to a type of broom. At these weddings, couples would jump over the broom without touching it to get married; and to annul the marriage, couples would jump over the broom backward as a way to end their partnership. Some accounts even note that brooms were placed as a hurdle for couples to jump over separately, and if the broom fell—or if either party did not make it over the broom—the union was considered "not meant to be" and the wedding was canceled.
As it pertains to jumping the broom within the African American community, brooms were used during slavery in the United States as a way for enslaved people to get married since they could not legally wed in the country. However, it's important to note that there are two accounts for this origin. It's generally reported that people who were enslaved decided to jump the broom themselves since brooms were typically available. On the contrary, others argue that enslavers would force enslaved people to get married in this manner. Once slavery ended, though, some Black people decided that they would continue to jump the broom if an officiate was not readily available, and make their marriage legal at a later date. This was due to the fact that formerly enslaved people did not feel the need to get legally married and believed jumping the broom years prior was valid enough.
Lastly, in regards to the non-secular significance of this tradition, within Christian ceremonies, the broom handle represents God, the straw bristles signify the couple’s families, and a ribbon around the broom symbolizes the ties that bind the couple. In Pagan ceremonies, it is said that the broom handle represents the male phallus and the bristles represent female energy.
Modern-Day Practices and Meanings
A resurgence of jumping the broom occurred after it was featured in Alex Haley’s novel about slavery, Roots: The Saga of an American Family, in 1976, and in the television mini-series in 1977. While there are different feelings about the tradition, today, many Black people incorporate jumping the broom into their ceremony. “When African Americans incorporate jumping the broom, it is to pay homage to their culture and legacy,” says Harris. “It is a tradition of the ancestors of African Americans and they want to keep it going because ‘jumping the broom’ is a major part of their heritage. They also decide to jump the broom to bless the marriage.”
What's more, the broom can be a family heirloom that is passed down through generations, allowing for an even more personal touch to a wedding ceremony. And while the broom is not the typical household tool that you have in your home (it is usually three feet long and has a wooden handle with natural bristles), according to Harris, most brides customize their brooms. The broom typically has silk ribbons, flowers, intricate beading, or lace, and several online retailers, like Etsy, even sell pre-made or customizable pieces for couples. It's also a popular practice to have guests write their names on decorative paper to attach to the broom before being used in the ceremony. This symbolizes the guests and their well-wishes for the couple entering a marriage.
Nonetheless, even though the tradition comes from a robust history, there are various reasons why couples may decide not to jump the broom. Some people believe that it's archaic and don't like its ties to slavery, while others simply don't want to jump the broom at their ceremony. Ultimately, it's a personal choice.