How Other People Marry in 1907
A Chinese Bride in Costume. The Quiver, 1890. GGA Image ID # 15f4b81b0f
A glance at the marriage customs among other peoples and in other ages may cause the women of our favored land to feel that they, too, were "born in the most estimable place in all the world, and in the very nick of time, too."
Only by comparison can one measure one's advantages. These customs give one a fair idea of the position of women, as the wedding day is the time in every woman's life when she is the centre of interest and the object of some consideration.
Among the French (France), who claim to be the "most civilized people of Europe," a mutual friend is the chosen means of carrying an offer of marriage. If the proposition is well received, the parents of the young man go and make the offer in form. The suitor is admitted into the home of his lady-love that he may make himself agreeable to her—always in the presence of others. The parents in the meantime make the arrangements about settlements, dowry, etc., and a day is selected upon which to sign the contract, which is prepared by a notary and read in the presence of both families.
A few days before the wedding the groom-elect sends his fiancée what is called the “corbeille de mariage” —a fancy basket containing his wedding-gifts of jewels, ornaments, laces, etc. The day is fixed for the civil and religious ceremony and the friends of both families are invited by letter. They go to the mayor's office, the bride and groom in separate carriages, with their respective parents. The mayor requires the consent of the parents, as well as that of the young couple, reads to them the law relative to marriage, and the register is signed.
After a wedding-breakfast, they go to the church or defer the ceremony for several days. The father conducts his daughter by the hand to the altar; the groom follows with his mother. A canopy is held over their heads by two of their witnesses. On leaving the church the groom goes in the first carriage with his new mother-in-law, and the bride follows with her father-in-law. A banquet is usually given in the evening.
In the seventeenth century, at a marriage feast in France, the bridegroom, stood behind the bride, who sat at the head of the table, and he waited upon her.
A Scene at a Christian Chinese Wedding. The Quiver, 1890. GGA Image ID # 15f524210e
Among our antipodal neighbors, the Chinese (China), when two families have agreed upon a marriage—though the young people are not consulted—the priests are asked to appoint a propitious nuptial day. The bride is put into a sedan—in fact, locked into a sort of latticed cage, magnificently adorned with festoons of artificial flowers. She takes her seat amid the sound of fire-crackers, music, and the lamentations of her family, who are required by custom to indulge in grief. The chair is followed by those who carry the dowry, which consists of furniture and clothes. Numerous servants follow if the family is wealthy, carrying lanterns. Those in modest circumstances hire men to form a cortege, but all carry lanterns, lighted even in broad daylight. Relatives, friends, and musicians surround the chair.
A confidential servant is entrusted with the key to the sedan-chair, which he may deliver only to the bridegroom, who awaits them at the threshold of his own door. The groom then opens the door of the chair. If he is satisfied with the appearance of the young woman whom he sees, for the first time, he invites her in, and the marriage takes place. If not, he may shut her in again and send her back with the entire company, but he forfeits the money and presents which the parents of the girl had given him before she was brought to him. When the young woman is accepted, she is ushered into a room, where she meets only the women invited to the feast.
The celebration of a wedding in China is preceded by three days of sadness, for they think that the marriage of the children is a presage of the death of the parents—that their day is over.
In Poland, a girl is not married until she has made with her own hands certain stuffs and clothes destined for her future husband. When this is done, some friend of the family steals the bride and then asks the consent of the parents to the marriage.
In Lapland (Finland), the dowries of bride and groom are counted in heads of reindeer. They defer the ceremony as long as possible after the engagement because the groom-elect is expected to bring presents each time he comes to see his fiancée.
In Georgia (Russia), a marriage usually takes place at night. Before the ceremony the groom, dressed in his finest attire and accompanied by his relatives and friends— all carrying torches—goes to the house of the bride, to the sound of music. The bride awaits him, loaded with finery, seated in an armchair, a diadem on her head and covered with a veil. As the groom arrives, they throw a veil over him and seat him silently at the side of his bride. Then a relative of the bride unites their hands and begins to praise her to her future husband, congratulating him upon having secured such a treasure. They then rise, and a lighted taper is placed in the hand of each by a personage called the "father of marriage," and they start for the church, music playing and shots firing. At the church, the priest and the "father of marriage" braid two cords of white silk with which they tie the bride and groom together, loosely fastening the ends of the cords with wax, stamped with a cross. These cords are not removed for three or four days.
This custom also exists in many of the Greek provinces. Upon their return to the house of the bride's parents, her father gives them each a bit of sugar to eat—emblem of the sweetness of existence that awaits them together. The rejoicings occupy three days. On the fourth the silk cords are untied, the "father of marriage" raises the bride's veil with his sword, and the young couple is at last left to themselves.
In Circassia (Russia), the priest sews the garments of the couple together and crowns them with garlands. At the close of the ceremony, he cuts the thread by which their garments were united.
In the Muscovite provinces of Russia, the father of the bride gives her a light blow of a whip, which he thereupon presents to the groom for future emergencies. In some parts, it is the custom for wives to present their lords on the wedding day with a whip of their own making, as a token of submission.
In some parts of India, the marriage ceremony requires five days for its performance. The auguries are consulted, a pavilion of verdure is erected for the god of marriage, and a banquet is served to the guests. The next day nine Brahmins sacrifice to the nine planets. The ancestors are invited with all the gods and the eight guardians of the world. A second repast is made to the guests—the gods and ancestors making no claim. The groom prays to his gods to pardon his sins, makes charitable gifts, and then, attiring himself as a pilgrim, starts to go toward the holy city of Benares, followed by his friends. But the father of the bride meets him on the road and deters him from his journey by proposing to give him his daughter, and they all go to his house.
The prospective father-in-law, seeing in the bridegroom a momentary incarnation of Vishnu, washes that young man's feet three times and offers him sacrifices of fruit and flowers. He then places his daughter's hand in that of the bridegroom. After many preliminaries, the newly wedded are conducted to a tent, where a repast is spread for them alone. Husband and wife eat off the same banana-leaf, but it is the last time that the wife is permitted to eat with her husband in terms of equality.
At a Hindu marriage, the bridegroom pours a ladleful of clarified butter on the bride's head and hands.
At a wedding at Benares (India), the man and woman go into a stream of water together, a priest being present. This official performs the ceremony of marriage by pouring water on a cow and tying the couple together by their clothes. They then walk around the cow, and a few other forms complete the union.
Among one tribe in Upper India the maids and bachelors erect a hut in an enclosed space of ground, with a thick hedge around it, so that the women within the enclosure and the men without cannot see each other. The females go into the hut, and the men thrust long sticks through the fence. Simultaneously, the women rush out, and each one catches hold of a stick, the owner of which becomes her husband. It reminds one of a figure in the German cotillion.
In Japan, children are affianced in their cradles. The bridegroom receives his bride with but the clothes she wears, asking no dowry, and even making her presents, which she distributes among her relatives. On the wedding day the bride and groom place themselves in a chariot, and accompanied by friends, kinsfolk, and musicians, ascend a hill where a temple stands, or, in default of a temple, a pavilion is erected with an altar to the god of marriage. The bride and groom, each holding a lighted torch, stand before the priest who gives them a kind of blessing. In the meantime a big bonfire has been lighted, into which are thrown all the dolls and toys belonging to the childhood of the bride, and into her hands is given a distaff, and a spinning-wheel is placed before her.
They then conduct the young couple to the home of the groom, which is decorated with flags, foliage, and lanterns. A Japanese husband has as many wives as he pleases, and divorces them with the greatest facility. The married women shave off their eyebrows, blacken their teeth, and dress in sober garb—which may encourage divorce!
The Javanese (Indonesia), marriage begins with a grand procession, which goes through the streets to the accompaniment of much loud music, the bridegroom at their head, magnificently dressed. The bride stands at the doorway of her home, near a tub full of water.
The groom dismounts from his horse, the young girl approaches him, kneels and washes his feet. After which he carries her off to his home, where rejoicings take place. In some parts of Java the groom treads upon a raw egg, and the bride wipes his feet.
Eastern Russia Weddings
The good people of Kamschatka, (Eastern Russia between the Sea of Okhotsk and the Pacific Ocean,) are very anxious to assure themselves of the genuine affection of the suitor for the young woman, so he is obliged to serve in the house of his future father-in-law for a certain length of time, when the family have an excellent opportunity of observing him and learning his character and disposition. The custom might be introduced among us with advantage.
When the young man is accepted the father leads him to where his bride awaits him surrounded by women, and so loaded with clothes, nets, straps, etc., that she cannot move. "Touch her, if you can," he is told. From that moment the man is on the alert to tear off her superabundant clothes, which the girl and her friends try to prevent until he manages to touch some part of her person. Then ensue real fights, and he has some times to try for weeks before he succeeds. He is taught that a thing worth having is worth working for.
Northern and Central Asia Weddings
Among certain peoples of Tartary, (northern and central Asia stretching from the Caspian Sea and the Ural Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, inhabited mostly by Turko-Mongol peoples), the bride is covered with a veil and enjoined to keep perfect silence. Then her young girlfriends surround her and try to prevent the married women getting possession of her.
Then ensues a combat in which teeth and nails play a conspicuous part, and the poor little bride gets knocked about so that she is often covered with bruises, when finally she is put in a chariot, well closed, and taken to the home of her future husband, where guests are assembled. At midnight the bridegroom comes upon the scene, and the young couple sees each other for the first time. The Mongols and Tartars used to bind or relate hostile tribes to each other, in case all the children of the two families were dead, by marrying the deceased son of one to the deceased daughter of another. These of the dead marriages were held in great veneration.
Among the Bedouin tribes of Arabia a young man, having heard of the attractions of a girl, persuades her father to allow him to secrete himself in a tent where he may see her. She, being forewarned, if she is disposed to be gracious, drops her veil as though by chance. On the wedding day, after being bathed, perfumed, and adorned, the bride is mounted upon a camel, and, accompanied by musicians and friends, goes to a tent where she is to meet the bridegroom, who arrives on horseback. She prostrates herself three times at his feet, and a banquet follows.
Wedding Ceremonies in Central Africa
In Central Africa one affiancing custom is for the woman to bring water to the man, who is seated on a mat. After he has washed his hands, she drinks the water, in token of her love and devotion. A story is told of a missionary who, being a widower, wrote to the community to find him another wife, and desired that she be short and stout in person because his late wife had left many good clothes which he did not wish to have wasted.
At Caithness (Scotland), early in the present century, when a man wished to be married, and could not repeat the Shorter Catechism, the Session required him to produce two "cautioners" to the amount of £12 Scots that he would learn it within six months after his marriage.
In some parts of Mexico when a man wishes to be married, he enters a temple and signifies his wish to a priest, who cuts off a lock of his hair. He is obliged to take the first woman whom he meets afterward, as she is assumed to be sent from heaven to him.
Muslin Wedding Ceremonies
At Muslim marriages the bride humbly waits upon the bridegroom at the nuptial supper, in token of her servile condition.
Aboriginal Australian Wedding Traditions
A writer, in 1864, says of the Australian blacks: "Courtship is unknown upon them. When a young warrior desires a wife he generally obtains one by giving in exchange for her a sister of his own; but, if there should happen to be no eligible damsel disengaged, he hovers around the encampment of some other blacks. When he sees a woman that pleases him his mode of paying his addresses is simple and efficacious. With a blow of his war-club, he stuns the object of his 'affections' and drags her, insensible, away to some retired spot. When she recovers her senses, he takes her to his home in triumph.
"Sometimes two join in an expedition. Waiting for a dark night, they, quite naked, crawl stealthily to the camp-fires near where their victims are sleeping. Slowly and silently they creep closer to one of them, and one of the intruders, stretching out his spear, inserts its barbed point among her thick locks, turning the spear round, and then, pulling with a sudden jerk, she is aroused from her slumbers to feel a sharp point pressed against her throat. She neither faints nor screams, knowing that the slightest attempt to escape will cause her instant death; so, making a virtue of a necessity, she follows her captors. They are highly honored for their gallant exploit in their own tribe. Occasionally an alarm is given, but the wife-stealers easily escape in the confusion.
Swedish Wedding Customs
In former times the customs were even worse. Those of Sweden were of a very barbarous character. It was beneath the dignity of a Scandinavian warrior, with whom monogamy was the rule, to court a woman's favor by gallantry and submission. He generally waited until she was on her way to her marriage with another man, when, collecting his followers, he fell upon the bridal party, and the stronger carried away the bride.
Southern Siberian Wedding Customs
The ancient Scythians (Southern Siberia), being a warlike people, would not marry a maiden who had not killed an enemy. We favored ones of earth and time have only ourselves to thank, if we do not make of marriage that which it was meant to be—the joining of two lives and hearts for their mutual joy and benefit, ready for love's sake to meet whatever comes, so they may bear it together.
Mrs. Burton Kingsland, "How Other People Marry," in The Book of Weddings: A Complete Manual of Good Form in All Matters Connected With the Marriage Ceremony, New York: Doubleday, Page & Company 1907