Marriage is felt to be of the utmost cultural importance for the survival of the nation. The community is interested in the couple’s fertility, hence rituals such as throwing rice, grain or confetti (symbols of seed). Speakers who express their hope for numerous kids are rarely missing t the wedding. The Chinese put fruits on the four corners of the wedding bed, Muslims in Eastern-Europe roll a little boy across the wedding bed. Fertility has always been associated with economic prosperity. After all, fertile land also means products to sell and income to spend.
Another aspect of marriage is the exclusive unifying bond between two people, which means that sexual desire (romantic love) will be confined to the one and only partner in marriage. This is symbolized during the wedding ceremony by the exchange of rings (in Europe, the US, India and parts of Africa). The ring is a symbol of eternal obligation. In Ethiopia, New Guinea, and classic Rome the hands of the couple were put on top of each other; in Portugal this ritual is reinforced by binding the hands together with a cloth, in Sri Lanka the same is done with yarn or a chain. In some places a small amount of blood is exchanged. In Brittany (France) the bride used to cut herself under the breast after the church service, and her spouse sucked up the blood.
Eating is a common symbol to underline the unity of the bride and groom. In some Indian tribes in America this was the only thing that happened. She made some food for him and after that they were considered husband and wife. In our culture a wedding without dinner is unthinkable. Drinking, often from the same cup, symbolizes the unity of the couple as well. In ancient China, a melon was cut into two halves, and bride and groom each drank from one half. They had to complete this in order to be considered one body. The Russian church prescribes the priests to mix water and wine in a silver ladle, from which the couple drink three times, taking turns, so the man and woman will share everything, in joy and sorrow.
Another way to accentuate the public unification and the exclusive monogamous relationship of the couple, is to publicly prove their sexual bond. In Germany until the 18th century, a marriage was not legal unless witnesses had seen the couple lying in one bed. In Sweden the couple had to undress in the presence of the wedding guests. The Bantu tribe required the couple to have sexual intercourse in the presence of the wedding guests. It will be clear that this kind of ritual does not indicate sexual freedom or low moral values (as foreign visitors often thought), but links sex to monogamy and thus is meant to help control unbridled sex.
Sex and procreation, together with marriage and family, are such deeply rooted functions of the survival of the species, that it is not surprising that culture expresses the fear of unknown powers and influences which may threaten the happiness of the sexual union, which the wedding celebrates A line of loudly honking cars forms a contemporary wedding parade in various countries in the world. Americans like to tie a row of cans and other noise-producing items behind the car of the newlyweds. In Siberia, Marocco, and previously in England as well, people shot guns, in China arrows. All this commotion is originally meant to chase evil spirits away.
Religious rites serve the same function, so in the majority of cultures of the world they are almost always part of the wedding. Religions have taken older marriage traditions and claimed them as their own. All religions consider marriage and family as good institutions, which they defend against the emancipatory forces of sexual reform.
All over Europe, Roman Catholic priests used to come into the bedroom of the couple with incense to expel ghosts. Other ways to protect the couple against the influence of bad spirits is for the bride to wear a veil or umbrella, or to have a canopy or cloth above the couple, or to let the couple pass under a hedge of branches, swords or guns. Because danger can also come from below, the ground is covered with a carpet (the red carpet on the staircase in the English church), the couple is sometimes carried (Indians in Guatemala), and the groom carries the bride over the doorstep (all over the world).
There are other superstitions that come out at a wedding. What to think about all men kissing the bride, a tradition we find all over Europe? Undoubtedly the bride brings good luck, because she represents happiness in the middle of all kinds of dangers and threats. Why do brides, and especially their mothers, cry during the wedding ceremony? Why are signs consulted and taken as guidelines, like the constellation of the stars, position of the moon? Why are certain days of the week or months of the year considered as more suitable, while others are avoided? In this respect there is so much variation that every day or month is considered unfavorable somewhere on earth. A Scottish saying warns that unhappy children are born from a couple whose wedding takes place in May. All of this ritual thinking originates in the intensive involvement of the whole community with the wedding as a public symbolic affirmation of a sexual relationship, which is intended to be permanent, and with which the continuation of the tribe is linked.