A Marvelous Living Side-by-Side

When working with a couple on their wedding ceremony, I always ask about their family backgrounds. Sometimes it doesn’t resonate for them, it just isn’t important, many identify as a big mix, which they call simply, American. But for others, the history of their families does matter.

With about 58 million Americans claiming to be solely or partially of German descent, I want to talk about German customs. That’s a large number of Americans with ancestors who immigrated from Germany, about 17% of the total U.S. population, so it comes up a lot. It’s especially true here in Pennsylvania, where we have ‘Pennsylvania Dutch,’ a term, by the way, that came about because the word ‘Deutsch,’ meaning German, sounds like ‘Dutch.’

Quite a while ago I wrote about the custom of ‘sawing the log’ – so I won’t go into too much detail on that. But simply stated, it involves the couple using a two-person saw, to saw the log in half. This action shows cooperation and taking on the first difficult task as a married couple. Although it’s usually done after the ceremony I have done this right in the ceremony itself – which was quite fun!

In contemporary Germany, one can have either a civil ceremony or a religious one, and about 70% of Germans are Christians. In earlier times, a horse-drawn carriage with black horses brought the couple to and from the church. I love this! But today, limousines are used, just like here. I would sure love to see the horses, though, anytime, anywhere.

Here is an interesting German church ritual. When the priest joins the hands of the couple, a pre-planned struggle ensues. The bride tries to get the upper hand, and the groom does the same. This is sometimes settled by the priest placing the man’s hand uppermost. One of the pair, generally the bride, then tries to put her foot on top of the groom’s shoe with the same purpose. Then when the couple kneels during the ceremony, the groom might kneel on the hem of the bride’s gown, to symbolize he will keep her in order.  BUT – the bride may then step on his foot when she rises, to assert herself. This sounds pretty wild, yet seems to balance itself out.  It speaks to the classic ‘battle of the sexes,’ and I hope with modern couples it is done strictly in jest. A healthy relationship does not depend on someone having the upper hand or struggling for it. Having said that, I might not mind adapting this in some way, because it is kind of crazy and fun. I could see it ending up with them simply joining hands. Could be cute, what do you think?

Germans tend not to have attendants, that is, bridesmaids and groomsmen, or occasionally just one, but most often, none. Flower girls are popular, though.

Besides the flowers for the bride and in church, the hood of the wedding car is decorated with lots of flowers. May is the most popular month. After the wedding, a car procession is formed and drives through town honking their horns – others honk back wishing the couple good luck. We used to do this here, but it seems to have fallen out of favor.

Junggesellenabschied is a mouthful, but means that a few days before the wedding the groom and his male friends go to a pub to drink and have fun, so I guess it’s simply the bachelor party. Anything that involves German beer is ok in my book!

And polterabend is another German wedding custom — a big, all-night party prior to the wedding itself — where guests smash porcelain objects in order to bring luck to the couple’s marriage. It reminds me of the Jewish custom of ‘breaking the glass,’ and I’d love to incorporate breaking a piece of pottery into a German wedding ceremony.

Kidnapping of the bride – I wrote about this in depth recently, but I didn’t realize is was also popular in Germany. In fact, in some areas (mostly in small villages) friends still kidnap the bride and the groom has to find her. Hide and seek for adults. Normally, he has to search in a lot of pubs and invite all people in there to attend the wedding, or pay the whole bill. Sometimes this ritual ends badly.

Germans wear their matching wedding bands on their right hands. And diamond engagement rings aren’t really a thing in Germany, by the way.

There is lots to draw upon for German ancestry.  From my perspective as a Celebrant, I always look for meaningful readings from a culture, and Rainer Maria Rilke is considered one of the greatest poets of the German language. There are many quotes from him I have frequently used.

I leave you with this one: ‘The point of marriage is not to create a quick commonality by tearing down all boundaries; on the contrary, a good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his solitude, and thus they show each other the greatest possible trust. A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development. But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.’

     

Thank you Lisa Rhinehart   and Kathryn Croskey  for the great photos.

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    Lois Heckman

    Lois Heckman is a certified Life-Cycle Celebrant who officiates at weddings, funerals, and other ceremonies in the Poconos and beyond. She has performed hundreds of ceremonies and brings a wealth of knowledge to her work. Visit her website: ... Read Full
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