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Carry Me Over the ThresholdA Christian Guide to Wedding Traditions
By Kristina Seleshanko
ZondervanCopyright © 2005 Kristina Seleshanko
All right reserved.
Chapter Oneannouncements and banns
Long ago, engagements and betrothals were much more public than they are today. In biblical times, Hebrews declared their matrimonial intentions to the entire community. Neighbors, friends, and family witnessed the couple's promise to marry and watched as the groom offered gifts to the bride. Often the groom's friends also gave presents - sometimes in the form of money, which helped pay for the wedding. A grand feast followed, including eating, drinking, music, and dancing.
During the Middle Ages, parents of the bride hired "barkers" - men who shouted out the wedding news for all the town to hear. Newspaper announcements of engagements and weddings started to appear in the eighteenth century. These were brief news accounts naming the couple and their parents, and sometimes stating the time and place of the wedding. Photographs didn't accompany such announcements until the early twentieth century; at that time, a photo of the bride - all by herself - was sometimes seen. Showing the couple together is a modern tradition.
Throughout most of the nineteenth century, newspaper announcements were rare; most Victorians were horrified to have their picture in the newspaper - although some engagements found their way into gossip columns. Formal handwritten notes from the bride's mother were considered the best way to announce the engagement to family and friends.
Since ancient times, "banns" have also involved the public in couples' engagements. Banns (an old English word meaning "to summon") are announcements of wedding intentions read from the church pulpit. They are still used in many parts of the world. Banns are said to have originated with Charlemagne - the first king to create what was called a "Christian nation." In the first several years of Charlemagne's reign (around AD 800), the number of children of dubious lineage was vast; Charlemagne was concerned that people were marrying half brothers or sisters without realizing it. Not only did this pose moral difficulties from the Christian standpoint, but it resulted in birth defects. Therefore, the king ordered that all marriages must be announced publicly so that anyone with information about the couple's lineage could come forward and stop the marriage, if necessary. Banns also helped prevent bigamy and lapses in betrothal agreements.
Banns continued as a tradition in most Christian nations - though today such readings are usually just a way to spread the good news. Although banns are virtually unknown in the United States (they largely passed out of fashion in the 1930s and '40s), they are still usually required if a couple wishes to be married in the Church of England. In Canada, couples must either obtain a state license or have banns read in church.
Chapter Twobachelor parties
traditionally, bachelor parties are thrown by the groom's friends to good-naturedly poke fun at his "last night of freedom." Some experts believe bachelor parties began in the fifteenth century, when Spartan military men would feast and toast each other the night before they married - the same way they'd feast after a soldier's death in battle. Nonetheless, while there hasn't always been a name for it, some form of the bachelor party has probably existed for most of history.
Even though drinking and philandering are closely connected to the bachelor party tradition, a more meaningful element has always graced them: the bachelor party is a way for the groom to pledge his continued friendship to his male friends, despite his change in status.
No modern groom should feel he must offend or be unfaithful to his bride at his bachelor party. In fact, today's grooms often opt for bachelor parties centered around sports or events (such as taking in a baseball game or going fishing), Bible retreats (getaways to somewhat remote areas to focus on Christian fellowship and Bible study), barbeques, or some adventure the groom has always wanted to try (such as skydiving). Whatever is chosen for the party, it should be something the groom is comfortable with, and it shouldn't keep him up late the night before the wedding. (Trust me, weddings are exhausting all by themselves!)
Bachelorette parties began popping up in the 1960s and '70s; some women felt bridal showers were dowdy and boring and wanted the alleged fun of drinking and strippers instead. Today bachelorette parties are less in fashion, and more creative bridal showers tend to be favored.
A new twist on the bachelor party is the coed get-together. Designed as a way to celebrate with friends and family of both sexes, the coed party often includes the bride as well as the groom.
in biblical times, betrothals were a vital part of marriage custom. Although betrothal is sometimes defined as "engagement," a betrothal is actually a different and much more serious affair. An engaged person can break off the engagement at any time without much consequence. A betrothed person cannot legally break off the betrothal, except in rare instances.
Betrothals were binding agreements - just as binding as the marriage itself. They were agreed to among witnesses, and a contract was signed. The groom sealed the contract by giving the bride gifts; in many ancient cultures, this included a betrothal ring, a forerunner of the modern engagement ring. Sometimes, in lieu of a ring, a coin was split in two; one half was given to the groom, and one half to the bride. The betrothal ceremony was followed by a party to celebrate the upcoming marriage.
Among the ancient Hebrews, betrothals could be broken only for the biblical reasons given for divorce. For example, consider Mary and Joseph, Jesus' earthly parents. Because they were betrothed but not yet married, they didn't have the right to be sexually intimate; therefore, when Mary told Joseph she was pregnant, Joseph assumed she'd been with another man. A betrothed woman who was intimate with another man committed adultery, which is why Joseph considered "divorcing" Mary (see Matt. 1:18-19). Similarly, if a betrothed man promised to marry a second woman, he was considered a bigamist.
The Hebrew word for betrothal (kiddushin or qiddushin) means "to be set apart, or sanctified." Ancient accounts of betrothals indicate they were considered real and binding - but incomplete - marriages. In fact, betrothed couples often called themselves "husband" and "wife." Betrothal was the first step toward being married, with the wedding ceremony and consummation being the final steps. In most cases, at least twelve months elapsed between the betrothal and the wedding.
Many scholars believe ancient Hebrews used the betrothal as the beginning of courtship. If a young man noticed a young woman who pleased him, he'd either go to his father (so the marriage could be arranged by the parents) or go directly to the girl's father (to see if he was willing to have his daughter married). If the fathers approved, the young man approached his chosen bride with a cup of wine - and in some cases, a marriage contract. The young woman read the contract (which included everything from monetary issues to promises the man made to her on a personal level), and if she liked him, she drank from the wine glass, indicating a betrothal could be formed. If she pushed the glass away, she refused his offer.
Until that time, most brides and grooms didn't know each other; therefore, the year between betrothal and marriage was a chance for the young man to woo his soon-to-be wife.
Today there is a growing trend in the Christian community to bring back betrothals; because they're a serious commitment, they protect both parties from engagements made too lightly. In some areas of the western world, a non-binding betrothal is made between couples as a public way to make a pledge of marriage; this is not the strict, legally binding action it was during biblical times. Similarly, in modern Eastern Orthodox and Jewish weddings, the betrothal has taken a back seat; it now occurs on the same day as the wedding ceremony.
Excerpted from Carry Me Over the Threshold by Kristina Seleshanko Copyright © 2005 by Kristina Seleshanko. Excerpted by permission.
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