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October 23, 2002


Multicultural traditions making their way into wedding ceremonies

Some marriage traditions express unity of families, as well as individuals

By Agostino Bono

(CNS) — What do reggae music, jumping over a broom and walking around a lamp have in common?

They are multicultural customs finding their way into Catholic weddings in the United States.

Reggae music comes from Jamaica, jumping the broom is an African-American custom developed during the slave era, and walking around the lamp is an Indian tradition adapted from Hindu ceremonies.

Jumping the broom comes from the time when slaves were prohibited by their masters from marrying, said Father Raymond East, pastor of Nativity Church in Washington.

Slaves would marry in secret and seal the ceremony by jumping the broom as a sign of their unity, he said.

Today, the broom is decorated with ribbons and brightly colored cloth, he added.

At the end of the wedding ceremony, the broom is held by the newlyweds' "sponsor couple," Father East said.

"The newlyweds kiss and jump the broom. Then they go down the aisle and leave the church as a sign that they are beginning their new life together," he said.

The sponsor couple of the bride and groom, a custom traced to Africa, "are the godparents of the marriage," he said, adding that they help in preparing the couple for marriage and commit to help afterward in solving practical problems that arise.

"The sponsoring couple stays with you for at least a year and hopefully for life," said Father East.

Father East's Nativity Parish is about evenly divided between African-Americans and African immigrants. He has noted a cross breeding of customs. Many of the African-American couples will wear traditional dress from a specific African country at their wedding ceremony, while African couples are adopting the American tradition of a white wedding dress and black tuxedo, he said.

Nigerian Father Pius Ajiki, who works out of Nativity Parish as the chaplain to the Nigerian community in the Washington Archdiocese, said he is integrating Nigerian practices into ceremonies, especially the participation of the parents of the bride and groom. "In Africa, a wedding is also between two families and two communities," he said.

One practice is to invite the parents at the beginning of the service to give testimony about the bride and groom. Another practice is to have the parents of the bride ask the groom's parents if they want their son to marry the daughter. The parents of the groom answer that they accept the daughter into their family.

The families of the bride and groom are also important in Vietnamese traditions which see marriage as a blending of two families, said Franciscan Brother Rufino Zaragoza, a liturgical music composer who writes English lyrics for Vietnamese hymns.

Prior to the church ceremony, there is a series of elaborate rituals between the two families, usually at the home of the bride and in the room where there is an altar dedicated to the family's ancestors, he said. The ceremonies are influenced by Buddhist traditions, he added.

The blessing of the ancestors is requested and there is a presentation of gifts by the groom's family to the bride's family, he said. "This is the union of the families."

India-born Father James Parappally has been incorporating Hindu-influenced traditions at Our Lady of Help Parish in the Miami Archdiocese since he arrived in 1984. The parish now has 400 families of Indian descent.

One tradition has the bride and groom placing flower garlands over each other and then walking around a lighted lamp to symbolize that they are starting a new life together, said Father Parappally, a priest of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Eastern rite indigenous to India.

"After the exchange of vows, the priest gives a rosary to the bride to show that it is the responsibility of the wife to make sure there is always family prayer," he said.

The groom places a golden medal in the shape of a heart with a cross attached around the neck of the bride to symbolize that real love involves commitment, said Father Parappally.

"The groom also covers the bride with a saree, a wedding garment to show that he is the main provider," he said.

June Chin hears "a little of the reggae touch" in music at wedding ceremonies involving Jamaicans. She said that a marriage canticle has even been composed in reggae rhythms. Chin recently retired as adviser to the Miami Archdiocese on evangelization among the growing Jamaican population in southern Florida.

Chin said that there are many marriages in the Miami area between Jamaicans and Cuban Americans and this has spawned a lot of informal contact between the families of the couple. A favorite type of get together is dinner at your future in-laws' home.

"We are rice and peas and they are rice and beans," said Chin.


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