Wedding Traditions From Around The World Explained

In many cases a marriage is recognized both by a church and the state. While the legal requirements for a wedding are established by the state, many couple wish to follow certain religious traditions to have their marriage recognized in their church as well. In the Catholic religion marriage is considered sacred and is one of the sacraments of the faith. The Catholic Church puts forth their own requirements for a marriage to be recognized in the eyes of the church.

The Claddagh ring has a special meaning in a traditional Irish wedding. The Claddagh ring is a traditional ring that looks like two hands holding a heart that is adorned with a crown. Tradition holds that Claddagh rings be passed down from mother to daughter. As these rings are meant to be passed down for generations, it is not considered proper to buy a Claddagh ring for yourself. Yet another tradition involving the Claddagh ring relates to how it is worn. An engaged or married woman or man would wear the ring with the tips of the crown facing towards their fingertips. In this position the ring is considered to be turned inward and symbolizes that the heart of the person wearing the ring is taken. A man or woman who is not involved in a romantic relationship would wear the ring with the tips of the crown facing towards their wrist. This outward position of the ring symbolizes that the person wearing the ring is reaching out for companionship.

Traditional Irish weddings also adhere to several unusual superstitions in an attempt to ward off bad luck. A rain or overcast day might be cause for concern at a traditional Irish wedding. This is because one of the strange superstitions is that the sun must shine directly on the bride to ensure that the couple will be blessed with good luck. Birds also factor into some of the traditional Irish superstitions. Hearing a cuckoo bird or seeing three magpies are also considered to be signs of luck for the couple.

Another Catholic wedding tradition requires that previous marriages receive an annulment before the couple can be married in the church. Even if the previous marriage was not held in the church or recognized by the church, they still require an annulment before they will perform a marriage ceremony. In this situation a divorce decree is not enough. The previously married party will have to seek an annulment that verifies that the previous marriage was not valid.

A traditional Irish wedding usually concludes with a toast that has been recited for many years. At the end of the reception the guests will gather around the couple for the final toast. The couple will begin the toast by saying, “Friends and relatives, so fond and dear, ’tis our greatest pleasure to have you here. When many years this day has passed, fondest memories will always last. So we drink a cup of Irish mead and ask God’s blessing in your hour of need.”

The guests then respond to the toast with the following answer: “On this special day, our wish to you, the goodness of the old, the best of the new. God bless you both who drink this mead, may it always fill your every need.” “Friends and relatives, so fond and dear, ’tis our greatest pleasure to have you here. When many years this day has passed, fondest memories will always last. So we drink a cup of Irish mead and ask God’s blessing in your hour of need.” The guests respond: “On this special day, our wish to you, the goodness of the old, the best of the new. God bless you both who drink this mead, may it always fill your every need.”

Of course, no traditional Irish wedding complete without the presence of bagpipes and kilts. It is customary for friends and family members to bring along their bagpipes and pipe the couple into the mass and into the reception. They may also continue to charm the guests with an assortment of bagpipe tunes suitable for dancing. Not only do friends and family members enjoy performing for the couple and the other guests but they also enjoy taking the opportunity to dress in traditional kilts for the occasion. The look and sound of the bagpipers creates the feel of a truly traditional Irish wedding.

A traditional Irish wedding is a festive occasion filled with good friends, food and music. In addition to these traditional elements the Irish people also have traditions regarding the Claddagh ring and standardized toasts that are used to wish the new couple well. Superstitions also play a role in a traditional Irish wedding. Many of the traditional superstitions relate to objects or occurrences that are thought to bring the couple good luck.

The Coffee Culture in the USA

It wasn’t until I moved to the US that I started drinking coffee regularly and became what they call in the Netherlands a ‘koffieleut’, which translates literally into ‘coffee socialite.’ Although the average European drinks more coffee per year than the average American, the cultural importance and its effects on the average European seems to me smaller than that on the average American. After all, coffee is a cultural obsession in the United States.

Chains with thousands of branches like Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks dominate US daily street life. Especially in the morning (90% of coffee consumed in the US is in the morning), millions of white foamy cups with boldly imprinted pink and orange logos bob across the streets in morning rush hour and on the train. Coffee drive-ins are a saving grace for the rushing army of helmeted and tattooed construction workers. During lunch break, men and women in savvy business suits duck into coffee shops.

Students chill out from early afternoon till late evening on comfy couches at coffee lounges around campus. Police officers clutch coffee cups while guarding road construction sites on the highway. In short, coffee drinkers in the United States can be found just about anywhere you go.

This mass-psychotic ritual causes Americans to associate Europe above all with cars that oddly do not contain cup holders (to an American this is like selling a car without tires), or with the unbelievably petite cups of coffee European restaurants serve, so small that my father-in-law had to always order two cups of coffee. It is my strongest conviction that the easily agitated and obsessed nature of the ‘New Englander’ can be blamed on the monster-size cups of coffee they consume. Not without reason is the word ‘coffee’ derived from the Arab ‘qahwa’ meaning ‘that which prevents sleep.’ Arabs have cooked coffee beans in boiling water since as far back as the 9th century and drank the stimulating extract as an alternative to the Muslims’ forbidden alcohol.

These days coffee is second only to oil as the most valuable (legally) traded good in the world with a total trade value of $70 billion. Interestingly, only $6 billion reaches coffee producing countries. The remaining $64 billion is generated as surplus value in the consumption countries. Small farmers grow 70% of world coffee production. They mainly grow two kinds of coffee beans: Arabica and Robusta. About 20 million people in the world are directly dependent on coffee production for their subsistence.

Table 1: production in 2002/3

country % 70% Arabica

30% Robusta

Brasil 42.03% Arab/Rob

Colombia 8.88% Arabica

Vietnam 8.35% Robusta

Indonesia 4.89% Rob/Arab

India 3.74% Arab/Rob

Mexico 3.54% Arabica

Guatemala 3.1% Arab/Rob

Uganda 2.53% Rob/Arab

Ethiopia 2.44% Arabica

Peru 2.24% Arabica

Table 2: consumption in 2001/2world consumption % kg per capita (2001)

USA 30.82% Finland 11.01

Germany 15.07% Sweden 8.55

Japan 11.47% Denmark 9.71

France 8.89% Norway 9.46

Italy 8.59% Austria 7.79

Spain 4.90% Germany 6.90

Great-Brittain 3.63% Switzerland 6.80

the Netherlands 2.69% the Netherlands 6.48

Although the consumption of coffee per capita in the world is decreasing (in the US alone it decreased from 0.711 liter in 1960 to 0.237 liter presently), world consumption is still increasing due to the population explosion. Considering that coffee consists of either 1% (Arabica), 2% (Robusta) or 4.5%-5.1% (instant coffee) caffeine, the average American consumes at least 200 to 300mg (the recommended maximum daily amount) of caffeine a day through the consumption of coffee alone.

The place I frequent to down a cup of coffee is the Starbucks in Stamford, Connecticut. The entrance can be found on the corner of Broad Street and Summer Street, to the left to the main public library with its plain pediment and slim Ionic columns. The location right next to the library harmonizes with Starbuck’s marketing plan. At the entrance of the coffee shop a life-size glass window curves around to the left, providing superb voyeuristic views of pedestrians on the sidewalk. As you enter, you step directly into the living room area with stacked bookshelves against the back wall. Velvet armchairs face each other with small coffee tables in the middle, creating intimate seating areas. The velvet chairs near the window are the prime seats, which people unfortunate to score a wooden chair prey upon. At the back of the long rectangular room is the coffee bar and a small Starbuck’s gift shop. There is a dark wooden table with electrical outlets suited for spreading out laptops and spreadsheets, dividing the living room area from the coffee bar.

Since I have been cranky for weeks I hesitate to order a regular black coffee. It is very easy to get cloyed with a favorite food or drink in the US because of the super-sized portions served. The smallest cup of coffee is a size ‘tall’ (12oz.=0.35l.), after which one can choose between a ‘grande’ (16oz.=0.5l.) and a ‘venti’ (20oz.=0.6l.). Half a liter of coffee seems a bit over the top, and it sounds absolutely absurd to my European mind. I finally end up choosing a ‘solo’ espresso.

Sitting in one of the booth-like seats against the back wall, unable to obtain a prime seat, I feign to read my book while eavesdropping on conversations around to me. Three middle-aged men sit in three ash gray velvet chairs and converse loudly. A vivid dialogue develops, exchanged with half roaring, half shrieking, laughter. They mock a colleague in his absence and then clench their brows in concern while discussing the teeth of one of the men’s daughter. Two African-American women sit at a small table opposite the reading-table in the murky light, one of them with a yellow headscarf with black African motifs. Close to the entrance, in the seating area next to the animated conversation, a vagabond is playing solitaire. One by one he places the creased cards with rounded backs over one another, as if he attempts to stick them together. He rendered a couple of dollars in exchange for a small coffee to feel, in the warmth of the front room, nostalgia for a cozy living room and relives a sense of intimacy of having your own house.

It’s a bright, sunny, early autumn day, a typical New England Indian summer. Sunbeams radiate through the coloring, flickering foliage, and throw a puzzle-shaped shadow into Starbuck’s window. Autumn’s hand turns her colorful kaleidoscopic lens. The green ash tree near the sidewalk resembles, with its polychrome colors, somewhat a bronze statue: its stem sulphur bronze, its foliage intermittently copper green and ferric-nitrate golden. On the other side of the cross walk the top of a young red oak turns fiery red. These are the budding impressions of the autumn foliage for which Connecticut is ‘world famous’ in the US.

In the world of marketing and entrepreneurship, Starbucks is a success story. It is one of those stories of ‘excellence’ taught as a case study at business school. Founded in 1971, it really began its incredible growth under Howard Schultz in 1985, and presently has 6,294 coffee shops. But what does its success really consists of? A large cup of coffee at Starbucks is much more expensive than at Dunkin’ Donuts: $2.69 compared to $3.40 for a Starbucks’ ‘venti’. But while Dunkin’ Donuts offers only a limited assortment of flavors like mocha, hazelnut, vanilla, caramel and cinnamon, you will find exotic quality beans at Starbucks like Bella Vista F.W. Tres Rios Costa Rica, Brazil Ipanema Bourbon Mellow, Colombia Nariño Supremo, Organic Shade Grown Mexico, Panama La Florentina, Arabian Mocha Java, Caffè Verona, Guatemala Antigua Elegant, New Guinea Peaberry, Zimbabwe, Aged Sumatra, Special Reserve Estate 2003 – Sumatra Lintong Lake Tawar, Italian Roast, Kenya, Ethiopia Harrar, Ethiopia Sidamo, Ethiopia Yergacheffe and French Roast. So Starbucks offers luxury coffees and high quality coffee dining, reminiscent almost of the chic coffee houses I visited in Vienna.

Every now and then, I grin shamefully and think back at my endless hesitation choosing between the only two types of coffee available in most Dutch stores: red brand and gold brand. Even up to this day I have no clue what the actual difference is between the two, apart from the color of the wrapping: red or gold. Not surprisingly, Starbucks appeals to the laptop genre of people: consultants, students, intellectuals, the middle class, and a Starbucks coffee is a white-collar coffee, while a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee is a blue-collar coffee. In Dunkin’ Donuts you will run into Joe the Plumber, Bob the barber, and Mac the truck driver. But what is it exactly, that attracts the white collared workers in the US to fall back into the purple velvet chairs?

I imagine their working days filled with repetitive actions and decisions within a playing field of precisely defined responsibilities. How many of the players in these fields get through the day with its routines for simply no other reason than being able to enjoy their daily 30 minutes-escape into the Starbucks intimacy where, for a brief moment in the day, you regain the illusion of human warmth and exotic associations of resisting the coldness of high finance?

For 15 minutes you fall back into the deep, soft pillow of a velvet chair and randomly, and alas how important is that moment of utter randomness, pull a book from the shelves. While, in the background, soothing tones resound of country blues, with its recognition of deep human suffering, a blaze of folk with the primary connection with nature and tradition, or of merengue reviving the passionate memories of adventure and love, you gaze out the window and ponder about that simple, volatile reflection in the moment, strengthened by the physical effect of half a liter of watery coffee that starts to kick in and the satisfaction of chewing your muffin, bagel, cake, brownie, croissant or donut.

It is, above all, that bodily ecstasy caused by a combination of caffeine, sugar and the salivating Pavlov effect. You remember the struggling musician behind the counter taking your order, the amateur poet as you pay her for the coffee and give a full dollar tip, feeling a transcendental bound in your flight from reality. You stare with a fastened throbbing of the first gulps of coffee at the advertisements and poems on the bulletin board, and dauntlessly you think: They are right, they are so right! and what do I care? Why should I care?

But then you look at your watch and notice you really have to run again. ‘Well, too bad, gotta go!’, or people will start gossiping for being so long away from your desk. And while you open the door, an autumn breeze blows in your face, the last tunes of the blues solo die out as the Hammond organ whispers: ‘I throw my troubles out the door, I don’t need them anymore’.

Coffee in the US is a subculture that massively floated to the surface of the consumer’s society. Starbucks is more than coffee, it’s more than just another brand on the market, it is a social-political statement, a way of perceiving how you would like to live, in other words it is a culture. Starbucks is the alternative to Coca-Cola and so much more than just coffee: it’s chocolate, ice-cream, frappuccino, travel mugs with exotic prints, cups and live music, CD’s, discounts on exhibitions and even support for volunteer work.

Planning a Wedding? Don’t Forget the Officiant!

My husband and I have been pastors for over sixteen years, serving in Protestant congregations and as campus ministers at a large university. During that time we’ve presided over a lot of weddings – probably close to a hundred between the two of us. And one of the things we’ve discovered is that unless a couple is an active member of a church or already friendly with a minister or judge, one of the last things couples tend to think about as they do their wedding planning is who will do the ceremony.

Most couples work hard to find the perfect dresses for the bride and bridesmaids, and the appropriate tuxes for the groom and ushers. They ask nieces and nephews to be flower girls and ring bearers, and book space for the wedding and reception months in advance, in addition to arranging for catered food, the cake, beautiful flowers, and a professional photographer. They order the perfect invitations to be sent the appropriate weeks in advance of the big day, select rings, and book the piano player, organist, string quartet, and soloist. But one of the last things many couples plan for is who will officiate at their wedding. In fact, for many, it’s not even on the “to do” list until the last minute.

I can’t even begin to count how many times someone has called our office asking if we do weddings for non-members of our congregation. We do, under the right circumstances, and tell them so. Then they tell us that they are getting married in a week. Or two days. Or tomorrow. And they wonder if we will do their wedding. I’m not kidding. They made all of their other wedding plans well in advance, the flowers are due to arrive on time and the cake is just about to go into the oven, but they forgot to arrange for who would preside over the spiritual ceremony itself, not to mention sign the wedding license and make the whole thing legal. And unfortunately, in most cases, we can’t just drop everything and preside over their wedding on such short notice.

Now I certainly understand that not everyone is an active member of a spiritual community, so you may not have a priest or pastor or rabbi or other religious cleric standing by to do the wedding. And that’s fine – being part of a faith community isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, we each have our own spiritual path and way of journeying on it. But if you are in the process of planning a wedding, and don’t have a pastor or other cleric you know who could do the ceremony, consider adding “Find an Officiant” to the top of your wedding to do list.

The Officiant can be any ordained minister who is licensed by your state to do weddings. Or it can be a judge or justice of the peace. If you are on a cruise, the Captain of the ship can marry you! Some folks ask their friends to get ordained online, and then they have them do the ceremony – and that’s fine, just make sure your state recognizes the ordination as legal. Whatever the case, just make sure you find someone who is licensed by your state to officiate. (If you don’t have a relationship with the Officiant before the wedding, you can expect to pay anywhere from $50 to $300 for your Officiant, depending on: how much, if any, pre-maritial counseling is involved; how much planning of the actual ceremony is involved; travel considerations; and whether or not there is a rehearsal to attend the night before the wedding. You can ask how much is charged before your first meeting together – most will let you know their fee up front.)

The bottom line is this – it’s your special day, you’ve put hours of thought and planning and work into making it special. Just remember, when you are choosing between prime rib and salmon, and deciding between live music or a DJ, and trying to figure out whether to have an open bar or cash bar, somewhere in the mix make sure you include finding someone to actually preside over the wedding. Because the simple fact is this – if you don’t have an Officiant, there can’t be a wedding!