Oh happy day! Wedding customs in Germany
Getting married in Germany without any wedding tradition or custom whatsoever is virtually unthinkable. Germany’s regions each have their very own traditions. But international wedding customs are becoming increasingly popular here, too.
In 2015 some 400,115 marriages were registered in Germany. It makes no difference whether the wedding takes place at the registry office or in church – most of the bridal couples want to celebrate this important day with their friends and families. There are many traditional (and new) wedding customs in Germany that can vary greatly from one region to the next.
Beside those customs that are widespread throughout Germany like the wedding-eve ‘Polterabend’ where guests throw and break crockery as a symbol of good luck; forming a guard of honour outside the church; or the act of kidnapping the bride, there are some very distinct traditions, especially in rural regions, that have often been performed at weddings for several hundreds of years.
Wedding customs from German regions
In the Lower Rhine area, i.e. on the border with the Netherlands, the so-called ‘Letsch’ is celebrated three weeks before the wedding. This celebration has to do with the banns of marriage, i.e. the public proclamation of the intent to wed. After the first of three such proclamations in the church, the congregation meets in the house of the bride’s parents for a drink, or even for a proper party that might often last until the next day. No invitations are issued for a ‘Letsch’; people just come.
In Bavaria and some parts of Austria, the ‘Maschkern’ is a traditional wedding custom. The word itself is derived from the terms ‘Maske’ meaning ‘mask’ and ‘maskieren’ meaning to ‘put on or wear a mask’. In this tradition, friends and acquaintances of the bride and groom dress up and perform songs and recount anecdotes from the couple’s lives. The masked entertainers are led by a harlequin, who acts as compere throughout the show. A very important figure is the ‘old flame’, a woman who tries to regain the heart of the groom at the very last minute.
In Münsterland and in Emsland, the ‘rooster is fetched’ on the day after the wedding day. Originally the newly-weds were fetched for a walk on this day and a live cockerel was taken along, too. On their return the bird was slaughtered and eaten. Today a wooden rooster is generally put on show and people tend to tuck into the food left over from the previous day’s wedding, although some additional delicacies are also served for good measure.
Wedding customs are becoming more international
At German weddings today you can generally find a lot of games and customs that originate from other countries, mostly England or America. This probably has a lot to do with the many Hollywood films in which weddings play a major role. As a result, a lot of couples no longer celebrate the ‘Polterabend’ together before their wedding day, but chose instead to have a stag party or hen night, where things can get quite wild.
The throwing of the wedding bouquet, which generally takes place at the end of the wedding, was originally an American and Central European custom. In this tradition, all of the unmarried women stand in a semi-circle around the bride who throws the bouquet backwards over her shoulder into the waiting crowd. According to this tradition, the woman who catches the bouquet will be the next to marry.
Wedding customs from Germany and around the world (in German)
Even if traditional German wedding customs are now mingling with international elements: on the day of their wedding every couple has the right to choose freely from the wealth of traditions and customs that exist. After all, the marriage is supposed to last forever – and that’s why every bride and groom do their best to organise their own dream wedding.
Discussion on ‘Traditions and Festivals’ in the Community
Have you noticed wedding customs changing because of growing international influences? What do you think about this? In your country too there must be certain special wedding traditions. Why don’t you share them with us in the ‘Traditions and Festivals’ Group – the Germany-Alumni in other countries will most certainly be pleased if you upload a picture of a traditional wedding!
Update: May 2016