February is Black History Month so I thought I’d blog about a few African-American Wedding traditions starting with one of the most popular, jumping the broom:
1) Jumping The Broom: This wedding tradition is nearly synonymous with African-American weddings. There are several interpretations including that it represents sweeping away the past and the beginning of a fresh future. Another interpretation is that the broom represents the feminine principle and the bride’s willing acceptance to maintain her new household.
2) The Dolla Dance aka The Money Dance: Versions of this dance are popular at African-American, Hispanic, Pilipino and Polish Weddings. Traditionally, male guests take turns dancing with the bride after presenting her with a dollar bill. In modern weddings it’s becoming more common for female guest to also dance with the groom after presenting him with a dollar.
3) Honoring the Elders: In many West African cultures, it is considered proper to ask the blessing of the oldest person in attendance before proceeding with any weddings or similar ceremonies. This practice is becoming more prevalent among African-American weddings.
4) The Electric Slide: You’d have to look far and wide to find an African-American wedding reception that didn’t include the Electric Slide, a dance first made popular in the late 1970s and featured in just about every African-American wedding themed movie made in recent years. If you haven’t seen this dance you can check it out on YouTube.
5) Tasting the Four Elements: In this mini-ceremony, the bride and groom take turns tasting honey, lemon, cayenne and kola nuts to represent that all marriages will experience times of sweetness, sourness, hotness and bitterness and to demonstrate that the couple has the strength to make it through the good as well as the not-so-good times.
Jumping the broom is a tradition typically associated with African-American weddings. There is debate as to whether it dates back to Africa or if it is totally African-American but regardless of its orgins it is a custom used by many African-American couples to honor their ancestors.
As a symbolic rite of passage jumping the broom represents many things: It is a leap into the unchartered realms of matrimony, it is symbolic for sweeping away past wrongs and clearing away negative energies and it is a symbol of the beginning of a new home.
Though considered by most to be an African-American custom, jumping the broom is practiced by other groups as well. Wiccan, Gypsy and Celtic themed weddings frequently include jumping the broom as a modern day version of the “besom wedding” that was once prevalent in Wales. This practice has been described as a type of legally sanctioned elopement ritual in which a birch broom (besom) was placed at an angle in the open doorway of the house, with its head on the doorstep and the top of its handle on the door-post. First the groom jumped over it, then his bride, in the presence of witnesses. If either touched or knocked it in any way, the marriage was not recognized.
In this kind of marriage, a woman kept her own home and did not become the property of her husband. A child of the marriage was considered to be legitimate. If the couple decided to divorce, they simply jumped back over the broomstick again, but this could only be done in the first year of marriage. If a child had come, it was the father’s responsibility. Mischievous boys played with this symbolism by placing a birch broom over a doorstep before an unmarried lady went out of the house. This was supposed to make her pregnant before marriage.
In the Welsh version, the broom was a viewed as a masculine, phallic symbol that facilitated the fertility of the bride. In contrast, the African version views the broom as a symbol of housekeeping and domesticity, making it a symbol of the feminine.
Photo credit: Artist Annie Lee’s work can be seen at It’s A Black Thing.Com