Getting Married and Wedding Traditions in Germany

Getting Married and Wedding Traditions in Germany

In cultures worldwide, wedding ceremonies are often accompanied by unique traditions and superstitions that add a touch of magic to the celebration. Germany, with its rich history and diverse regional influences, is no exception.

While modern couples often tailor their wedding reception to reflect their individuality, many charming and time-honored German traditions persist. Let’s look at some of the most common German traditions, making a wedding a special and memorable occasion.

Going to the Standesamt

Getting married in Germany involves going to the magistrate’s office (Standesamt) because only marriages performed in the Standesamt are legally valid. Many people stop at just this civil ceremony: however, there are some traditions, especially if you are of the Christian faith, related to weddings. If a religious ceremony is also to be held, the larger church ceremony is held after the marriage at the magistrate’s office.

What Germans Wear – First Things First

Most German brides wear white, and in addition, the gown can be a heirloom gown passed down via an older sister or her mother. If she does not have one, of course, she can purchase a new gown. Not all brides today do this, but this tradition is similar to traditions in the UK and in the US.

Superstition dictates that it is absolutely forbidden for the groom to see the wedding dress before the wedding day, as it is said to bring misfortune. This is, in fact, somewhat of an international tradition today.

Wedding Attire and Wedding Shoes

In the past, German brides traditionally donned black wedding dresses with white veils, but by the late 19th century, the majority embraced white attire. Contemporary dresses typically feature ballgown styles without a train.

They typically have a fingertip-length veil, unless the ceremony takes place in a church, prompting many brides to choose floor-length, cathedral-style veils. German grooms typically go for a formal wedding suit in a neutral color along with a tie and a handkerchief matching the bride’s dress.

The Shoe Ritual

To demonstrate her financial responsibility, it is customary for the future bride to pay for her bridal shoes using only one-cent coins. One of these cents can be saved to be put into her left shoe at the wedding, symbolizing prosperity for her and the groom.

As part of the wedding celebrations, there is a symbolic auction of one of the bridal shoes. After the guests put their ‘bids’ inside the shoe, the groom then makes the winning bid and gives the shoe back to the bride along with the collected money.

Second – the Church Ceremony

If a Christian wedding, a church ceremony is also held. Since the couple is already legally married (remember, only marriages performed at the Standesamt are legally valid), the German bride and groom enter the church together and exit together. This is a bit different from some other countries’ wedding day traditions but remember: the religious ceremonies now are held after the civil ceremony, and so the couple is already married in the eyes of the law.

As she walks down the aisle, the bride carries a bouquet tied with a white ribbon. This floral arrangement typically features Germany’s national flower, the blue cornflower, along with a myrtle branch, symbolizing good luck.

Speaking of the wedding ceremony, it’s customary for the wedding party to throw rice at the couple when the couple exits the church. The rice is from an old tradition believing that the woman will have as many children as the rice is stuck in her hair.

Getting Married in Germany - Wedding Traditions

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Third – Wedding Traditions Before the Actual Wedding

Here are some fascinating pre-wedding traditions that German weddings often include:

Hiring an Official Inviter (Hochzeitslader)

The hochzeitslader, also known as the official inviter, is typically a close friend or family member appointed by the couple to extend personal wedding invitations to the couple’s guests, often in the form of rhymes. Originating in Bavaria, this tradition predates Germany’s postal system. Upon accepting the invitation, guests traditionally take a ribbon from the hochzeitslader’s staff and affix it to their hat.

Bachelor Party/ Bachelorette Party (Junggesellenabschied)

Similar to practices around the world, German couples celebrate their impending nuptials with a ‘last party’ before the wedding. However, in Germany, friends take the bridal couple out separately for a night of revelry in the city center or a party destination. The evening is filled with laughter, mischief, and the person getting married is often dressed in a humorous outfit, adding a touch of fun to the celebration.

Sleeping Apart

To ward off bad luck, German lore advises against sharing a bed the night before the wedding. The bride and groom sleep in their parents’ home or at a friends’ house, reinforcing the superstition that this separation ensures a harmonious and fortunate union. Surprisingly, a significant percentage of German couples still adhere to this age-old tradition.

Wedding-Eve-Party (Polterabend)

There is also an evening roughly one week earlier than the official wedding day called the Polterabend. This unique German wedding tradition is known as the “evening of broken crockery”.

The bridal couple hosts this event, where friends and neighbors are invited, each bringing porcelain to the party. The wedding guests then smash and break china and porcelain dishes, symbolizing the shattering of any potential evil spirits.

From what we can trace, the German proverb Scherben bringen Glück (“broken crockery brings you luck”) comes from this practice. The idea is that the new couple cleans up the broken dishes and kitchenware, implying that nothing will be broken in their new home.

Fourth – the Wedding Rings

According to German wedding tradition, the engagement ring is traditionally worn on the LEFT hand (and was often just a simple gold band). After the wedding, the same ring is worn on the RIGHT hand.

Men also wear their wedding rings on the right hand.  This might be different from your traditions! In the U.S., a wedding ring is worn on the ring finger of the left hand, from an ancient thought that there was a vein there that led directly to the heart. In Germany and Austria, though, it’s more common to wear the rings on the right hand.

Fifth – The First Obstacle for the Newly Wedded Couple

After the ceremony, as part of the post-ceremony festivities, there is a log-cutting ceremony in some areas of Germany. This represents the first obstacle that the newly married couple meets – they must work together to successfully saw a tree trunk through using a rather blunt long saw with two handles, demonstrating teamwork and their willingness to face obstacles together.

German Wedding Reception Traditions

Here are some of the German wedding traditions and rituals the newly married couple often performs at the reception room with their family and close friends.

Traditional Dances

The first dance of the evening takes place between the bride and groom, typically a waltz. The bride then shares the next dance with her father, and the groom with his mother, accompanied by the bride’s mother and groom’s father also going to the dance floor together. Following these traditional dances, the real festivities begin.

The Menu

German wedding traditions pay special attention to the wedding menu, typically favoring a sit-down dinner over a buffet-style meal. The first course is typically “Hochzeitssuppe” – a soup made with chicken broth, small meatballs, and glass noodles. As the second course, they often serve an Austrian dish called Tafelspitz, made of thinly-sliced beef served cold with horseradish and onions, or served hot with some fried potatoes and apples.

Wedding Cakes

In the past, the inclusion of marzipan in a German wedding cake held significance, as almonds were believed to bring luck in love. While some couples still adhere to this tradition, others find humor in the act of cutting the cake, joking that the person with the upper hand is the one in charge.

The Bridal Chalice

One notable wedding tradition involves the bride and groom sharing a toast at their reception using a special crystal cup known as a brautbecher. This cup, with a swiveling hinge, carries a tradition dating back to the 15th century when a goldsmith created a bridal cup to express his love for a nobleman’s daughter. Today, these cups are typically made of pewter, enabling both partners to drink simultaneously without spillage.

The Veil Dance (Schleiertanz)

At the stroke of midnight, the newlyweds dance to a romantic melody beneath a veil held by their guests. Occasionally, guests may need to stand on chairs to ensure the veil covers the married couple entirely.

During this dance, unmarried women are granted the opportunity to playfully ‘steal’ the bride’s veil and tear it into fragments. According to tradition, the unmarried woman who ends up with the largest piece is believed to be the next one destined for marriage.

Wedding Bouquet Toss

Also at midnight, the new bride throws her wedding bouquet. It is said that the woman who catches it first will be the next bride.

Carrying the Bride Across the Threshold

Similar to the tradition in the U.K. and U.S., German wedding traditions also feature the custom of a husband carrying his new wife into their home or hotel suite after the ceremony. This charming tradition, rooted in ancient beliefs about warding off evil spirits, has endured through the years. The husband’s act of carrying his wife is a protective gesture thought to ensure a harmonious and fortunate beginning to their married life.

You should also check out our guide on how to say “I love you” and other affectionate phrases in German. Who knows – maybe the next person getting married in Germany will be you!

FAQs about the German wedding traditions

Here are some of the questions people ask about German wedding festivities.

What is the traditional gift for a German wedding?

Traditional gifts for German weddings often include items that symbolize good luck and prosperity. Common choices are personalized items, household goods, or monetary gifts in specially designed envelopes.

What is the appropriate amount of money to give a German wedding?

According to a study conducted in 2022, 62% of German couples expressed a preference for money as their desired wedding gift. Considering this, presenting money as a wedding gift is widely welcomed. Typically, Germans tend to give around 50 euros for friends, 100 euros for close friends, and 200 euros for family members.

What is the tradition of breaking dishes at German weddings?

The tradition of breaking dishes at German weddings is known as the Polterabend. This pre-wedding event involves guests bringing porcelain to the celebration, which is then smashed and broken. This act is believed to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck to the couple.

What is the difference between an American and German wedding ceremony?

In the American tradition, weddings often feature bridesmaids and groomsmen in coordinated attire, heartfelt vows facing the audience, and creative music. The ceremony concludes with a joyous exit, often involving flower petals and emotional moments.

In Germany, the legal marriage occurs a day before the symbolic church ceremony. The church event may be more of a formality, especially for non-members. The emphasis is on the legal aspect, with less focus on elaborate ceremonies.

What is the German tradition of log cutting at weddings?

The German tradition of log cutting involves the newlyweds sawing a tree trunk together after the ceremony. This symbolic act represents the first obstacle the couple must overcome in their marriage, emphasizing the importance of working together to face challenges.

What food is served at a German wedding?

In Germany, couples often let the venue handle the menu. The food may vary based on the region. Some popular choices include traditional soup (Hochzeitssuppe), roast pork (Schweinebraten), and various side dishes like dumplings, potatoes, and sauerkraut.

Following the ceremony, coffee is served, and the dinner includes unlimited wine and beer. Schnapps rounds and prosecco with the cake add a touch of celebration to the later part of the evening.

Summing Up: Getting Married and Wedding Traditions in Germany

From breaking porcelain to toasting with a “Brautbecher,” these age-old practices at a typical German wedding create a unique way to celebrate your German heritage and a memorable celebration of love. As couples embark on the journey of marriage, these customs, blending superstition and joy, continue to make German weddings an extraordinary and unforgettable affair.

What are your favorite wedding traditions? Are they different from these? If you’d like to learn more about other German traditions, come check out our other articles on the SmarterGerman blog!