Clearing Customs: Wedding Day Cultural Resources

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As featured on Washington Post Express January 2009.

Baraat ceremony, Harmon's Hayrides and Carriages

WEDDINGS ARE STEEPED in tradition. Here in Washington, those traditions come in many shapes and sizes. And we’ve found a quartet of specialists who bring age-old customs to life.

Baraat

Midge Harmon began receiving the calls years ago. South Asian c.ouples were interested in renting a white mare from her company, Harmon’s Hayrides and Carriages, for a Baraat ceremony. The Baraat is “literally a procession from the groom’s home to the ceremony hall,” says Vinodhini Kudva, president of Wedding and Event Professionals for South Asians (Dcwepsa.com) and founder of Events by Design, an event-planning company in Potomac Falls, Va., that specializes in South Asian weddings. “It just kind of symbolizes the passage.” In the olden days, the groom’s passage would be from his family’s home to his bride’s family’s home, but these days, the trip can be just a symbolic lap around a venue site.

Six years ago, Midge bought a white mare to accommodate these requests. Due to high demand- her company provides mares for about 100 weddings a year- she has since purchased two more. In keeping with the custom, Harmon dresses the mare in an ornate brocade she purchased from India on the Internet. “We used to get [the brocade] from the party planners, but the grooms kept forgetting it,” she says. Cost: $500 for up to one hour’s use, plus a $35 to $45 hauling fee for anywhere within the Washington metropolitan area. Harmonscarriages.com, 540-825-6707.

Jumping the broom

“There are many, many, many explanations out there for how this came to be,” says Ka-Veronica Braddy, founder of African-weddings.com, an online retailer that specializes in African-American wedding accessories. Braddy echoes a common story of the tradition from slavery times, “Because African-Americans were not allowed to legally marry … they brought a lot of their African traditions back so that somewhere in their heart, it symbolized that they were actually physically married and it was sanctioned in front of the Almighty, as opposed to what we called ‘legal’ back then.”

Today, couples who choose to incorporate this tradition into their weddings can do so anyplace in the ceremony they wish; however, it is most often done after they are pronounced married. “It’s supposed to symbolize the changing of the old and jumping into the new, new optimism, new life everything,” Braddy says. At the site, couples can personalize their brooms with their wedding colors and buy miniature brooms as wedding favors. Braddy also offers a do-it-yourself kit for brides who want to get crafty. Cost: $25-$125. African-weddings.com, 352-684-5906.

Chuppa

In Jewish tradition, the bride and groom exchange vows underneath a cloth supported by four poles. The origin of this custom is unknown, but the chuppa is said to represent a couple’s first home and acknowledge the nomadic lives of the early Jews.
St. Louis-based architect Susan Shender, who had been designing booth-like structures for the Jewish celebration of Sukkot for five years, wanted to create a chuppa that could stand on its own. With Shender’s assembly-required kit, crisscrossing lumber supports the netting on top. The design itself is meant to evoke the sefirot, a diagram of the manifestation of godliness in Jewish tradition.

To personalize, couples can attach their own cloth- perhaps a family heirloom talit, or prayer shawl. Shender estimates the chuppa takes less than two hours to assemble as the customer just twists screws into pre-drilled holes. Cost: $695 for a chuppa kit; $980 for a chuppa kit that can be adapted into a sukkah. Sukkahsoul.com, 314-610-2560.

Mehndi

Mehndi is a tradition popular in India in which the bride’s feet and hands are covered in elaborate henna designs while celebrating with female relatives and friends a few days before the wedding. Legend has it that “the darker the Mehndi gets, the more love you have for your groom,” Kudva says. Suman Khosla is known as the diva of Mehndi in the community, Kudva says.

Khosla, who has been in America for 14 years but doing Mehndi for 26, estimates she works on about 300 brides each year. She offers three styles: traditional (using timeworn Indian patterns and shapes), modern (complete with different colors and crystals) and Arabic (bolder patterns and colors). “I will look at the bride’s dress when I’m getting her ready, and then I pick up the design,” to personalize the pattern, Khosla says. Cost: $200-$250 for both hands and feet. Sumankhosla.com, 703-493-1046.

Written by Express Contributer Julia Beizer
Photo courtesy Edge Photography
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