Germany's different states have many traditional wedding customs, some dating from pre-Christian times, and those celebrated in one region may never even have been heard of in another. However Wonnemonat Mai - the Blissful Month of May is the most popular month to marry throughout the country, so although the English speaking world refer to Marry in May and you'll rue the day this obviously does not include German speakers.
The weeks leading to the Hochzeitstag, wedding day, are often filled with tradition, which in Bavaria can begin with the invitations delivered by a Hochzeitslader. An official invitation carrier who, dressed in a ribbon and flower covered outfit and black hat, travels from place to place passing on a rhyming invitation to intended wedding guests.
All those who accept an invitation take a ribbon, fix it to the Hochzeitslader's hat and offer him a drink which, if the beverage is alcoholic and there are many invited guests, can lead to the delivery of the invitations taking days rather than hours.
A wedding newspaper, die Hochzeitszeitung, designed to have fun with the "Happy Couple" as well as bring back memories, is put together by families and friends and filled with childhood photos, reminiscences, some that perhaps one or the other of the bridal pair would rather forget, mock advertisements, poems and limericks. Professionally printed and bound, or handmade, copied and fastened, this will be a souvenir of the wedding day not only for the bride and groom but everyone attending.
There are bachelor parties, Junggesellenabschied, but more often there will be Der Polterabend, a party held in the bride's home on the evening before the wedding, which both bride and groom attend and where anyone knowing the couple can take part without needing an invitation.
Poltern is the loud noise made when something falls or has been thrown, and that describes it perfectly, a noisy party where china and porcelain dishes and other items, but not glass as that is "unlucky", are thrown onto the outside pavement.
Dating from pre-Christian days noise drives away evil spirits and bad luck, and the couple clear away the broken pieces by themselves, symbolizing both a life working together as well as although dishes break their marriage never will.
A pre-wedding celebration it might be, however there is no point in wearing a favorite outfit because in some regions this will be stolen at midnight, the groom's trousers burnt and buried together with a bottle of schnapps to be dug up and enjoyed on the first anniversary.
By tradition in Germany weddings taking place before noon as the sun is rising are believed to be lucky, so marriage ceremonies are not only crowded into May they also fill the mornings.
While, as a church wedding is not considered legal, some days or hours before a religious ceremony can take place the bride and groom must first be officially married by a registrar, "Standesbeamte", normally with just close family, friends and witnesses present. So the wedding celebrations sometimes last days.
There is no giving away of the bride by her father because the couple are already man and wife by the time of the church service, instead they enter the church and walk down the aisle together behind the celebrant, unaccompanied by bridesmaids or groomsmen although sometimes by a young flower girl.
Both the church and wedding car or carriage are decorated with fresh flowers, and traditionally the bride will wear a white wedding dress, but more a ball gown style than something "over the top", while she will carry a little salt to add flavor to life and bread for a future without hunger, as well as a long length of white ribbon in her bouquet, and the groom will have grain hidden somewhere for Good Luck.
Then as soon as they leave the church the newlyweds might have to face their first obstacle in married life. Baumstamm saegen, log sawing. A heavy log is balanced on two sawhorses which they must slice through with probably the bluntest saw that could be found, and as the saw is able to cut only when pulled in either direction the necessary teamwork signifies a future life solving problems together.
Log successfully sawn, and so free to continue walking, it is time for flower petals and/or rice throwing, both pre-Christian rituals to attract the fertility goddess, and any rice grains left in the bride's hair represent the number of children the couple can expect to join them at some time in the future.
While Fichtenzweige, boughs from a fir tree, placed along the way to their car means the newlyweds first steps are accompanied by fresh greenery, symbolizing hope, luck and fertility.
Wedding photographs are an art form in Germany, and as the bride and groom leave for their photograph session, which can take place anywhere from the middle of a field ready for harvesting to a railroad station, the white ribbon carried by the bride in her bouquet is cut into lengths and handed to guests to tie on their car antennas, for der Autokorso. A procession of honking cars, where once again the noise is to frighten away evil spirits while at the same time attracting good fortune, which first follows the couple then continues on to die Hochzeitsfeier, the wedding feast.
A German wedding reception is more about celebrating the occasion with as many people as possible rather than having a luxury meal shared with a few, and the couple's simultaneous drinking from a Bridal Cup, cutting of the wedding cake with both hands on the knife, and child guests, are all "Good Luck" charms.
Hochzeitssuppe, which originated in the 16th century, is a traditional first course for the wedding meal. Literally "wedding soup", and a clear chicken or beef consomme with vegetables and small spoon sized dumplings, the name might not have changed much since the Middle Ages but the ingredients and the customs surrounding it have.
In those days a whole ox was boiled in the largest pots available to produce enough Brautsuppe, Bride Soup, for hundreds of guests, each of whom was expected to bring their own spoons and dishes to the wedding celebration.....or go hungry.
No doubt present day wedding guests are very grateful that this German wedding tradition is one of those which has not survived the passage of time.
1905 Spreewald Hochzeitslader, Wedding Invitation Carrier, and the outfit hasn't changed in those 100 years - Log sawing after the wedding ceremony, photographer Grotefendt, both courtesy de.Wikipedia
Bridal Bargains: Secrets to Throwing A Fantastic Wedding On A Realistic Budget is a great 'go to' book for anyone who is planning a wedding, or is just helping someone else plan one. It is jam packed with tips and advice which not only making planning easier but save a fortune.
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