Getting married is, of course, a rather significant commitment between two people. In Jamaica, the wedding ceremony is an integral part of the celebration, with elaborate plans and large gatherings of family and friends. While many of the old-time traditions are no longer practiced, some have survived the test of time.
A traditional wedding in Jamaica typically meant the whole village or community where the couple lived was involved in the ceremony. Relatives of the couple, along with members of the community, prepared for the ceremony. While today’s modern couples often seek the assistance of wedding consultants or planners, once upon a time the responsibility for planning fell naturally to those who lived nearby and knew the couple.
The elaborate preparations for the ceremony included cooking great amounts of food for the reception and the baking of several cakes. On the wedding day, the cakes were carried to the wedding location by a procession of married women wearing white dresses and head-ties. No one spoke during this solemn procession, and the cakes themselves were covered by white lace so that the bride did not see them until the day of the wedding.
Before the ceremony, ring games were played and food was consumed in great quantities. The festivities lasted until daybreak, when those in attendance would then pray for the couple before they left to prepare themselves for the wedding ceremony. If the ceremony was held in a church, it usually followed the parameters of an English wedding. The groom wore a new suit and the bride wore a white dress and veil.
The reception was held at the groom’s house in a booth that was built specifically for the event. Usually constructed of coconut boughs and decorated with flowers, the booth was an extension of the home. Usually, the reception followed a standard order, including the cutting of the cake, the toasting of the couple, the eating of a lot of delicious food and a great deal of dancing. The reception usually lasted until the afternoon, with the attendants playing games and singing songs.
It didn’t end there, though. On the Sunday after the wedding, known as Tun T’anks Sunday, the wedding party went to church. After services, the assembly then visited the bride’s parents’ home for a second reception, usually even bigger than the first party. More food and cakes were served. The top layer of the cake was given to the minister who performed the ceremony, and the second layer went to the newlywed couple.
Throughout the evening, other traditions were followed. Participants bid on the bride and groom, with the collected sum then given to the bride. The end of the evening was highlighted by a dance, usually played by a fife, banjo and guitar. Quadrille was the common dance, with one of the sets composed of family members including the bride, the groom, their parents, the maid of honor and the best man.
Gifts were given by all those in attendance, and were usually animals or other provisions. After this last reception, the couple would venture to their new home, where they rested for a week. The couple was excused from working in the fields; instead, family members visited to bring food and provide advice.
These days, many of the old folk customs associated with marriage are no longer observed. Modern times have brought new practices and traditions for those who marry in Jamaica. But the old ways are remembered with fondness and respect.