What would a wedding be without traditions and if you’re thinking of getting married abroad you might want to look into the customs and traditions of the country you’re getting married in! Some things stay the same, even if you’re thousands of kilometers away from home. The bridal dance, the throwing of the bouquet and cutting of the cake, all of those things are common traditions in most countries. However, couples getting married in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland engage in practices you might have never heard of.
Luckily these three countries share a lot of the same traditions and I would like to give you an overview of some of the most common practices before, on and after a typical wedding day.
While a destination wedding is already an amazing way to make your wedding day special and experience another country in a totally different way, incorporating some local traditions into your wedding will make it stand out even more.
The bride’s parents
The bride’s parents have a very special role in a traditional German and Austrian wedding. Just like in the weddings you see in Hollywood movies; the bride’s mother will support her daughter with picking a wedding dress and with Hairstyling and Make-up on the day of the wedding. The bride’s father has the honor to walk his daughter down the aisle and have the first dance with the bride after the official wedding dance of bride and groom. He will also hold the first speech.
The couple also traditionally spends the night before the wedding apart in their parent’s houses. Since most couples have been living together for a while before they are getting married nowadays, the groom typically spends the night somewhere else while the bride gets to stay at their shared home.
Most often the groom and bride will also have their bachelor and bachelorette parties the night before the wedding and might not want to share that with their parents.
Bridesmaids or Zubraut/ZuBräutigam
Not every Austrian knows what a Zubraut or Zubräutigam is but in Styria, Upper Austria, Tyrol and Carinthia they are known as the first bridesmaid and best man and have the task to support the bride and groom to be in their wedding preparations.
A bridesmaid was traditionally someone dressed similarly to the bride to confuse evil spirits and to keep them away from the bride. This clearly shows how times have changed since everyone knows it would be an absolute No-Go nowadays to show up at a wedding in a white gown.
The agape is a traditional catholic custom that is celebrated with bread and white wine. The bible describes it as a meal of love between the poor and the rich. Most people have the agape directly after church or nowadays, after their ceremony at the courthouse. It is a great way to celebrate with people that are note invited to the wedding party afterwards or to just round up the ceremony with a glass of wine and some snacks. Most of the time canapés are also offered as well as champagne or sparkling wine.
Waking the bride
In Germany, Switzerland and Austria the bride to be doesn’t get any rest! The bride will spend the night away from her husband and traditionally in her parents’ house and this is where the fun starts – the man of the neighborhood will wake her very early in the morning with a three shot gun salute or very loud music which is supposed to protect her from bad spirits and initiate a new chapter of her life.
Kidnapping the bride
This might be quite an usual custom for some of you. In the past, the bride was kidnapped before the wedding, since most people believed that if the groom couldn’t watch his bride, he didn’t deserve to marry her. It used to be quite a serious procedure and the groom to be sometimes even risked his life to protect his bride from being kidnapped. Nowadays it serves as a fun way to drink a couple of glasses with the bride in a tavern close by. The groom has to go from tavern to tavern and pay all the open bills until he has found his bride. He should watch the bouquet closely since it is the only way to get out paying for getting his bride back.
This tradition is practiced and well known in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
However, in recent days most people abstain from this tradition at their weddings since the mood can suffer greatly if it takes the husband too long to find his bride.
The christening candles of the wedding couple are lit by the Easter candle and then light up the wedding candle. This candle will remind the couple of their wedding day and the happiness they both felt. The couple gets to take the candle home and is often lit during difficult times. This custom is also practiced during symbolic ceremonies where couples will bring a candle they have designed together and light it with two candles that are handed to them by the celebrant.
Wedding almonds and other sweet surprises
In the 17th century, it was common for the richer population to give each other candy wrapped in gold, silver or crystal as a wedding present.
The not so fortunate weren’t able to afford these presents and therefore came up with their own tradition. Candied almonds were wrapped in the tulle of a wedding dress and up to now it is common to give each guest 5 almonds, each with a different meaning: Love, Luck, Trust, Success and Fertility.
In Switzerland, it is also common to throw firestones out of the carriage, or car. Don’t worry, firestones have nothing do with stones but are actually sweet delicious candy that is colorfully wrapped. The kids love this one, but unfortunately more and more couple seem to have forgotten about this custom and many supermarkets have removed the firestones from their assortment.
It is a common practice that the groom gifts his bride with something the day after the wedding. It used to serve as a way to provide the bride with financial stability and therefore, even countries and castles were gifted in the past.
Today, the husband will mostly give his bride jewelry, and, by the way, the bride can give her husband a present as well. In Switzerland, a marriage is supposed to be especially happy if the groom puts the present under the brides’ pillow.
Underwear and money
A very old and maybe silly Austrian tradition is usually not visibly accessible to most guests. The bride will wear one piece of underwear inside out to confuse evil spirits. I am not entirely sure how many brides actually do this but it is certainly something that is discussed often at weddings and guests have great fun guessing if the bride is wearing her underwear the right way round or not.
In Germany, the bride is supposed to put a coin into her shoe to free the couple from any financial trouble they might be in. Since this can become rather painful, especially in gorgeous white high heels, the bride usually attaches the coin to the outside of her shoe. This is actually a pretty common custom and hey, who doesn’t want to be freed from any worries about money?
Destroying the apartment
This is something that only good friends can do to each either. It is supposed to prepare the couple for the stony journey of marriage they’re about to embark on.
And that’s how it works: some of their best friends will gain access to their apartment while the couple is spending the night away in a hotel, and move furniture, distribute dishes across the entire house, take their bed apart or fill the whole house with water balloons. The options are endless…
Singing the bride a song
This is truly a beautiful tradition that is mostly known in the more rural areas. Since the bride and groom to be will spend the night before the wedding apart in their parents houses, friends and family will gather around the bride’s parents’ house and sing her a song called: “Die Sonne neiget sich” which means the sun is going down or bowing down.
The bride will thank them with a hearty snack and it usually leads to a comfortable evening together that will distract her from the excitement before her big day. Sometimes the groom will join the singers too.
Cutting a wooden stem
This is another practice that will test the new bride and groom. The stem of a tree is put up on a wooden cross and the wedding couple will cut it together synchronously. It requires a great amount of effort and team work to do this task together and will reveal if the couple is able to overcome obstacles together. The Swiss, Germans and Austrians share this tradition and it is often seen at weddings.
All of these customs are used during, legal, symbolic and church weddings alike. Since a lot of our couples get married symbolically, I would also like to share a couple of customs that are practiced during symbolic ceremonies. Some of these are adapted versions of catholic ceremony traditions and others are purely artistic:
Letting your vows fly
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to let all the beautiful words that you said to each other during the wedding ceremony fly into the sky? After exchanging your rings, you could let your vows, that you have previously written on some nice writing paper, fly away and live forever within the clouds and stars! Okay, maybe that sounded a little cheesy but you know where I am coming from.
Blessing the rings
If you’re planning on getting married with guests and are a little superstitious, this is going to be something you will love! The bridesmaid or flower girl carries the rings, that are tied to a ribbon, through the rows and everyone will bless them with their good wishes and hopes for the couple.
Tying the knot
One or three ropes are placed over the couple’s wrists during the ceremony while the celebrant will explain the meaning of the ropes to the guests. Alternatively, the guests can come to the front one by one and bless one of the ropes. The knot is quite literally tied at the end of the ceremony and the couple can place it into a frame and take it home as a reminder of the day their marriage began.
This is one of the most classical rituals of a symbolic ceremony.
The bride and groom are given some different colored sand each and will alternately pour it into a vase to create a unique pattern that represents togetherness. This is a fun way to incorporate kids or bridesmaids and the best man and add some more colors to the sand pattern.
Laying the foundation
The couple will press their hands onto a plate of clay and if they ever build a house together, this plate can be used as the foundation of the house to bless it and symbolize the wish of being together in eternity.
Planting a tree
Okay, it doesn’t have to be a tree but planting something together and creating live together can be a beautiful ritual and great memory. You could use the location where the ceremony takes place, if allowed, or simply plant something into a pot, for example rosemary since it symbolizes love.
Let your guests write their thoughts and feelings down and put it into a little box. This will be opened on the 5th, 7th or 10th wedding anniversary to travel back to your special day and remember the love and promises you gave each other.
Witness of Love
Since a symbolic ceremony doesn’t necessarily need any witnesses, there are other ways to give the ceremony a more official feeling.
You could have your guests sign some form of statement during the ceremony or have them seal it with a fingerprint.
A more creative way would be to pass around a clay bowl in which each guest presses his fingerprint. It’s a great memory and I am sure you will cherish this bowl forever.
If you’re invited to a German, Austrian or Swiss wedding you might also be interested in knowing what to gift a wedding couple. It is common to give money in an envelope as a form of reimbursement for the wedding ceremony or contribution to their honeymoon.