German Wedding Traditions, by Katie Jones
German weddings are one of those times when the real culture and tradition of Germany comes to the fore. We live in the age of globalization and because of this a lot of our traditional practices have become ancient. But during weddings, these customs come alive and add that extra bit of fun and grandeur to the occasion.
Traditionally, weddings in Germany are not a one day affair and last up to three days. First, the bride and groom are to be married by the Justice of Peace. This is required by law and you cannot just do with a church marriage. Subsequently, a civil ceremony is held in which only close friends and relatives are invited. Finally, there is the grandstand church ceremony.
If you are about to take part in a German wedding, here are a few wedding traditions you should know about:
Meaning “eve of making a racket”, polterabend is a huge party thrown by the bride and groom on the day before their wedding. Everyone is invited – invitations can be formal or through word of mouth. Anyone can show up and do their part.
The concept behind polterabend is for guests to break any porcelain dishes that they can get their hands on. This is supposed to bring good luck to the soon-to-be-married couple. Hundreds of dishes are shattered over the pavement, which is a whole lot of fun for those doing the shattering. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the couple.
Once the party is over, the bride and groom are to work together to clean up the mess that their guests leave behind for them. This symbolizes how the couple must stick together and face life’s hurdles as partners.
The Bachelor Party
The German version of the bachelor party called Junggesellenabschied works just like any other bachelor party where the bride or groom’s friends go to a pub and celebrate their friend’s impending doom.
It starts by the friends picking up the groom from home and taking him to a bar. Everyone may wear the same T-shirt carrying a funny slogan signifying the party. The groom may be put in a costume and made to carry out certain tasks. One of the most popular bachelor party customs is to have the groom sell things like lighters and condoms to people passing by. The money is then used to fund the drinks.
One of the noisiest and most fun traditions in a German wedding takes place right after the wedding ceremony. As the guests and the married couple make their way from the ceremony to the party venue, they form a wedding procession and honk their horns the whole way there. These cars have been decorated with white ribbons tied to their antennas beforehand.
The honking and the white ribbons are to signify that this is a wedding procession. People who aren’t in the procession will often honk back wishing good luck to the couple.
The Log Cutting Ceremony
Germans do like their games, and what would a German wedding be without the right amount of games. The log cutting ceremony is a wedding tradition that brings this gaming spirit to the mix. Called baumstamm sägen, the ceremony involves the bride and groom sawing a log in half. The couple must stand on opposite sides of the log, and work the saw together to cut it completely. The game is meant to represent that they can overcome anything as long as they are together.
Guests clap and hoot throughout the ceremony. Rice is thrown at the couple. It is an ancient German belief that the couple will have the same number of children as the grains of rice that stick in the bride’s hair.
Kidnapping the Bride
This German wedding tradition is not very common and is mostly confined to small villages but is worth knowing about because of its uniqueness. Brautentführung or kidnap the bride is about friends kidnapping the bride right after the wedding and taking her with them to different pubs across town. The friends drink and party at each destination, even offering drinks to strangers. They leave behind bills for the groom to foot. As the groom chases after them he must pay all the bills they have left behind.
In some parts of Germany, the traditional toast given at the reception is done using a special bridal cup or brautbecher. The brautbecher is a cup in the shape of a woman holding a small cup in her hands above her head as if asking the lord to bless it. The brautbecher is filled with wine, and the bride and groom drink their first toast out of it together.