Braddy started her own company, www.African-Weddings.com, and says her Web site receives more than 1 million hits per month. "I'm not a wedding planner in the traditional sense," she says. "What I do is help couples find elements. If they are looking to plan an African wedding, or if they want some African elements, they give me an idea of what their dream is, and I show them different ways to incorporate their culture into the wedding."
Africa is home to a wide variety of cultures and traditions. For most African Americans, their precise roots were lost in the human shuffle of slavery. Over the years, America developed a unique melting pot culture, which became the only culture known to people born here.
"Most African Americans are not that in touch with African culture, so they don't feel comfortable with it," Braddy explains. "African traditions can add a lot of culture that was lost. Some of the wedding traditions are from pre-slavery days, and some are from slavery days when African Americans were not allowed to legally marry. They would resort to some of the African traditions that were considered ok by the slave owners.
"The wrists of the couple would be tied together for a portion of the ceremony, signifying that they were bound together for life," Braddy continues. "They would have a tasting ceremony where the couple would taste items that represent the different facets of marriage such as bitter, sour and sweet. Sweet was always the last because it's the best part." The slaves also would engage in a kola nut ceremony.
The kola nut is used in Africa for medicinal purposes. When the bride and groom share a kola nut during a wedding ceremony, it represents the couple and their families' willingness to help each other heal. Many African American couples today will keep the kola nut in their home as a reminder to always work together at healing any problems within their marriage.
"Jumping the broom is the biggest part of the African-American wedding," Braddy says. "The broom represents the sweeping away of their old lives and the beginning of their new lives together. The spray of the broom is supposed to represent the African people and the handle represents the Almighty. The combination of the two represents the Almighty watching over the scattered African people.
"Once African Americans were brought to America, and weren't allowed to get married at the courthouse, they went back to the old traditions, and that was their way of giving the marriage some validity," adds Braddy.
Braddy says African-American weddings are festive, with a lot of dancing, drums, singing and family involvement. Bright colors are an essential part of the weddings, especially purple, gold, red and green. The bonding of the two families is a major component of contemporary African-American weddings. An elder from one of the families will recite poetry or read a document that expresses the African traditions and tells of the joining of the two families.
The combination of a traditional American wedding and elements of African culture help African Americans bring identity into their wedding and make it more of a personal ceremony. "I find a lot of African Americans are searching for ways to bring their culture to their wedding, but they don't want to make it totally African, because that is foreign to them as well," Braddy says.
As for her own wedding, Braddy had a full-fledged African ceremony at the Excalibur Hotel in Las Vegas. "We had poetry that explained what was happening and how we were honoring both American and African traditions and marrying those two (cultures) along with us in the ceremony," she explains.
One would think that in a place such as Las Vegas, where themed weddings are common, an African wedding wouldn't raise an eyebrow. "The people from the Excalibur still call me to this day to get tips on African weddings," Braddy says proudly. "They were so taken by the ceremony, the symbolism and the feeling, that they have now incorporated African weddings into their choices."
Religious symbolism and ethnic history both play a major role in Jewish wedding ceremonies. Traditions vary among orthodox, conservative and reform Jews, but in all three sects, marriage is seen as a fulfillment of Biblical law. Prior to the Jewish wedding ceremony, the groom places a veil over the bride's eyes in a ritual known as badeken. The root of the badeken is in the story of Jacob, who intended to marry his beloved Rachel, but was tricked by his father-in-law into marrying the veiled Leah.
"The badeken is to make sure the groom doesn't get his bride mixed up like Rachel and Leah," says Rabbi Richard Birnholz Sr. of Congregation Schaarai Zedek in Tampa. The couple is married under a wedding canopy known as a chuppah, and it represents the home they are going to establish," Birnholz says.
In ancient times, a tree was planted when a Jewish child was born, and later the bride and groom's trees would be used to make the poles that support the chuppah. "It symbolizes the fact that the couple brings different Jewish traditions into the marriage to create one home, meaning unity out of diversity," Birnholz adds.
Unlike Christian weddings, the bride stands to the right of the groom in a Jewish ceremony, "because she is supposed to be his strong right hand," explains Birnholz. Often, at the beginning of the ceremony, the bride will circle the groom seven times. Although Birnholz says there are several meanings attached to this act, the basic idea is to build a wall of certainty around the couple to shield them from the uncertainties of life. "Because they build the circles together, they will deal with life's uncertainties together," he says.
The bride and groom recite seven blessings during the ceremony, according to Birnholz, to thank God for joy, marriage, children and all the happiness the wedding represents.
During the wedding ceremony, the ketubbah is read aloud. "The ketubbah is the marriage contract which dates back to the eighth or ninth century," says Cathy Gardner, program director for the Jewish Community Center in Tampa.
Gardner, an English and Hebrew calligrapher, creates ketubbot for engaged Jewish couples. Originally, the ketubbah was a legal contract in which the groom purchased his bride from her father. "The purpose is to actually record the marriage and all of the details of the marriage," Gardner explains.
"It was a way to protect the woman and stipulated a specific monetary amount the groom had to pay her if the marriage was dissolved. It's a binding contract religiously, and contains a traditional text and other texts written in Hebrew." "Reform ketubbot tend to change the verbiage to make them less of a business arrangement and more of a spiritual and emotional promise," continues Birnholz.