Black Wedding Traditions You May Not Have Heard Of

July 23, 2013  |  
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Looking for a way to add a little more soul into your wedding?

Black weddings have always had a unique flair. From jumping the broom to pouring libations, there are plenty of wedding ideas to take from. We’re willing to bet that not even African-American history majors know them all. So check out our list for a refresher course on the most popular black wedding traditions.

The Taste of the Four Elements

“For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.” These vows originate with the Catholic church but the Yoruba tradition has a more literal interpretation.

The taste of the four elements incorporates four flavors to represent the flavors of married life: lemon for the sour, vinegar for the bitter, cayenne for the hot and honey for the sweet. Many couples have the flavors baked in cupcakes. Then the groom and bride take a bite of each to remind them of their commitment.

The Kola Nut

Before the vows, the bride and groom and both pairs of in-laws eat a kola nut. In Africa, the kola nut is used for medicinal purposes. When families share it in the wedding tradition, it symbolizes their commitment to heal each other physically and spiritually in their new connected lives.

Jumping the Broom

Slaves weren’t allowed to marry. So instead of having a ceremony, the couple jumped a broom. The tradition has deep African roots and the broom is a symbol to show that all of the old problems have been swept away.

Today many couples jump the broom at the end of their ceremony before they walk back down the aisle. But they don’t jump any old broom. These ceremonial brooms are hand made and beautifully decorated. After the wedding, couple’s display the broom in their home as a symbol of their love.

Crossing Sticks

Crossing sticks is another symbolic gesture that originates from slavery. The bride and the groom would each bring a tall stick. When they cross the two sticks, it symbolizes the beginning of a new life with a strong and grounded beginning — like the trees the branches came from.

Want to incorporate this tradition into your wedding? Traditionally couples choose one stick from the groom’s property and one stick from the bride’s. Alternatively, you can both choose sticks from places that are significant to you individually or as a couple.

Tying the Knot

Tying the knot symbolizes the unbreakable bond between husband and wife. Before the vows, the officiant loosely ties the bride and groom’s wrists together with a strip of kente cloth or a string of cowrie shells. Once tied together, the couple says their vows to confirm their commitment to one another.

The Libation Ceremony

We know all about pouring out a little liquor. But did you know that it has roots in African tradition? Pouring libations is all about honoring your family members — those who have passed and those who are still here.

During the wedding ceremony, an elder member of the family pours alcohol in four spots: to the north, east, south and west. As the alcohol is poured, the names of family members who have recently passed are recited. Some people also take the time to acknowledge the elders in the family and ask them to pass on their wisdom and advice.

Kente Cloth

Many brides use Kente cloth in their wedding. The good stuff is hand made in Ghana and contains red (for the blood shed in captivity), gold (for prosperity) and green (for the land). Many brides incorporate the fabric into their bridesmaids dresses, invitations, decorations or even the groomsmen’s vests. The key to incorporating the colors is minimalism. An accent or two can make a big statement without looking overwhelming.

Knocking on the Door

This wedding tradition has its roots in Ghana and it’s a lot of fun. Soon after the engagement, the future groom and his family buy a few gifts and knock on the door of his fiancee’s family’s house. If “the knock” is accepted, the bride’s family opens the door and welcomes their future in-laws in. Then both families celebrate by going out to brunch or having a small get together at the house.

Purple and Gold

Purple and gold symbolize royalty in many African cultures. And they’re popular wedding colors. We recommend going heavy on the gold and saving the purple for an accent color. It’s the perfect way to feel like a queen on your wedding day while embracing your culture.

The Gele’

The gele is a traditional head piece from the Yoruba tradition — where many African-American wedding traditions originate. And when done right, these head pieces are beautiful. They have more flair than a traditional veil and make the bride look positively regal when she walks down the aisle.

Feeding the Family

Marriage is about joining two families as much as it is about joining two people. This tradition honors that union. After the couple tastes the four elements, they feed each other’s family members from baskets of unleavened bread.

Cutting the Cord

When a couple “cuts the cord”, they symbolize their break from their old family ties and their commitment to their new ones. The eldest member on the grooms side and the eldest member on the bride’s side sit in the first row on either side of the aisle. When the couple walks back down the aisle after they say their “I do’s” they cut the cord and end their old lives to start their new ones.

Ditching the Diamond

This is a new tradition that’s gaining traction because diamonds aren’t always a girl’s best friend. Many of them are mined in Africa by people living in quasi-slavery who look just like you and me. Not every bride wants to think about her participation in that cycle when she looks down at her finger. So some of us choose other precious stones or manufactured diamonds. It’s an opportunity to think outside of the box and choose a ring that you think is beautiful without focusing on the stone.

Cowrie shells

Cowrie shells are beautiful. And once upon a time in Africa, they were used as money. Today brides use them in their weddings to  symbolize beauty and power. They make gorgeous headpieces or table centerpieces. Some brides even accent their dresses with the white shells.

The Electric Slide

It’s electric! If you don’t have at least one go-round of the electric slide at your wedding, we’re pretty sure they come to take your black card away. At the very least, your grandmother will be disappointed. So go on ahead and tell the DJ to make sure that he brings this classic wedding jam to the reception.

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