Wedding Traditions & Symbols

Weddings are symbolic events full of tradition. Some of these traditions are known and observed world-wide, whilst others are specific to South Africa. Read on to find out more about wedding traditions and decide which ones you want to observe. Whilst you’re browsing, why not visit our Myths section to find even more information?

Libation Rites:

Ahead of the wedding, the couple would traditionally chant a prayer to their ancestors before blessed water or alcohol on the ground.

12 Symbols:

12 symbols are traditionally present during a South African wedding, and represent what the couple should expect and will be willing to endure during marriage. The 12 symbols are salt, pepper, wheat, wine, bitter herbs, a holy book (such as the Quran or Bible), a broom, honey, a spoon, a spear, a shield and a pot.

Tying the Knot:

As well as exchanging rings, African tradition sees the couple have their wrists tied together by grass or material.

Dedication Prayer:

Similar to the Catholic tradition, the couple light a candle together following their vows.

Lobola :

A dowry payment made by the groom to the family of the bride to pay for her hand in marriage. At one point the payment was in the form of cattle, although now when it is still used, cash is more common.

Karamu :

Also known as the wedding feast, this is the post marriage ceremony celebration.

Wedding Car:

The father of the bride would traditionally tie a shoe to the back of the wedding car. This symbolises him passing the responsibility of his daughter on to the groom.

Zulu Wedding Traditions:

A bride at a traditional Zulu wedding can change her outfit up to three times throughout the course of the day, as a way of impressing her new in-laws. She would also wear a traditional red headdress which would have at one time been made from her mother’s hair.

Following the marriage ceremony, the wedding party would head to the groom’s home where a cow is slaughtered. This symbolises that the bride is welcome in her new home, and she becomes a member of her new family when she puts money in the cow’s stomach.

After the wedding the bride gives out blankets to her new family, in a ceremony that is known as ‘ukwaba’.

Ndebele Wedding Traditions:

Ahead of a Ndebele wedding, the mother of the groom will make a special jocolo, a goatskin apron adorned with beads. This apron will be worn by all married women during the wedding ceremony.

Xhosa Wedding Traditions

The groom sits amongst the craal to protect his wealth – typically his animals – as the bride is led to him. The couple stay apart during the day, with the men sitting in chairs and the women together sitting on the ground. As the bride accepts the marriage proposal, she inserts a knife into the ground.

Lighting the Fire

The parents of both the bride and groom light fires in their own homes then carry some of that fire to the newlyweds’ house in order to light their fire.

Worldwide Wedding Traditions:

Something old, something new...

A common wedding tradition used across the world, this poem represents lots of traditional ways to bring luck and fortune on your wedding day.

Something Old: The use of something old symbolises the bride’s past and her life with her family before she joins a new one. Taking something old on her wedding past means she can bring her past forward with her.

Something New: Usually the wedding dress, something new represents the new future and life the bride is facing.

Something Borrowed: Traditionally the something borrowed would be loaned by a happily married woman and lend some of her luck to the bride.

Something Blue: The colour blue is traditionally thought to represent love and fidelity, so the bride should have something blue to ensure she gets this.

And a silver sixpence in her shoe: A lesser known part of the rhyme nowadays, the bride would traditionally put a sixpence in her shoe to represent prosperity and wealth.

Having Bridesmaids:

Bridesmaids were originally used as decoy brides! It was thought that evil spirits may sabotage the newlyweds’ happiness, so having bridesmaids dresses similarly and standing next to the bride, the spirits would be confused.

Throwing Confetti:

Traditionally grain and rice were thrown over the newlyweds in a bid to encourage fertility, but this is now replaced with confetti or dried flower petals for a pretty effect.

Being Carried Over the Threshold:

The groom should carry the bride over the threshold of their home following the wedding as this was the traditional way to ward off spirits and bad luck – if the bride trips on the way in, she will have bad luck!

Wedding Cake:

A wedding cake is thought to have traditionally symbolised fertility and children. At one point it was crumbled over the couples’ heads, but now they cut it together and can feed it to each other.