Essential Etiquette - What You Need to Know About Religious Traditions
So you’ve received an invitation to a coworker’s Buddhist wedding. Or perhaps you’ve been asked to help plan a Bar Mitzva, and you’ve never set foot in a synagogue before. What can you expect, and what will be expected of you?
The first rule of thumb, say the experts, is to relax and enjoy yourself. It’s likely that no one will notice or care if you commit a faux pas—after all, you’re a close enough friend to have been invited. But even event professionals may be able to use a few guidelines when they’re in unfamiliar territory.
Keep in mind that rituals, traditions and ceremonies can vary greatly depending on the hosts and locations. But one thing is bound to be the same—the feasting, music and dancing that accompany celebrations of all cultures.
A Buddhist Wedding
• A Buddhist ceremony is not viewed as a religious event, but a social one. A monk may be present to bless the couple, but is not required.
• Ceremonies are typically simple and custom designed for each couple, who are free to use readings from any source they like, including Buddhist scriptures. Vows are often written by the couple.
• One tradition is for the couple to walk down the aisle carrying strands of 21 beads (or juju) which represent Buddha and the couple’s families.
• The ceremony can take place indoors or out, and does not have to be in a temple. Typically, the venue contains a Buddha statue or picture which the couple decorates with flowers, candles and incense.
• Another tradition is the couple sharing a cup of sake.
• The bride and groom generally kneel for the ceremony. Guests typically sit to observe the rites.
A Jewish Bar/Bat Mitzva
• Usually a two-part event with the religious service followed by a luncheon and/or party. In reform or reconstructionist synagogues, the service runs an average 90 minutes to two hours. In conservative congregations, it can last up to three hours.
• Men may be asked to wear a kippah or yarmulke (head covering); most synagogues will have these available for non-Jewish guests.
• In Jewish services, prayers are said while standing and sitting. Just follow the lead of those around you, and you’ll be fine.
• Appropriate gifts for the honored person may include money, religious books or articles or jewelry for girls.
• It’s customary to wish the honoree “Mazel Tov” (congratulations and good luck).
A Muslim Wedding
• Although some aspects of an Islamic wedding are fairly consistent among Muslims (specifying a gift to the bride [mahr], signing a marriage contract [nikkah] and hosting separate receptions for women and men are a few examples), Muslim marriages often reflect the diversity of the Muslim population, which has segments in Africa, Asia, the Arab world, Turkey and other areas of the world.
• The bride’s hands and feet may be decorated with elaborate henna painting.
• Although the celebrating can last for days, the ceremony itself is often quite simple and brief. The bride and groom may be in separate rooms. An officiant, who can be any man familiar with Islamic law, visits each room, asking the couple if they consent to the marriage. He then has them each sign the marriage contract, with witnesses observing. Then, the officiant brings the pair together and pronounces them husband and wife.
• The celebration may begin with the dholki (beating of the drums) one to two weeks before the ceremony. Young guests sing, practice their dancing and party down while beating on the drums. The bride and groom typically hold their own dholki.
• The grandest celebration, the mehendi, takes place on the first night of the three-day celebration. It’s filled with noise and color and can be individual or joint for the bride and groom.
A Hindu Wedding
• A Hindu wedding can be the most elaborate and lavish event you’ve ever attended. They tend to be a riot of color and creativity, lasting days with a multitude of feasts and parties.
• During the ceremony, cords may be tied to the wrists of the couple as a sign of their connection and protection.
• The bride and groom may exchange garlands of flowers, which are used liberally throughout all the events. Each of them or both may have henna paintings on their hands and/or feet.
• A fire may be kindled on the wedding altar. The bride’s brother gives three fistfuls of puffed rice to the bride, who offers the rice to the fire.
• Brides are typically adorned with gold and flowers. It’s common for the groom to arrive on a white horse with great pomp and ceremony. He will be dressed in the traditional tunic and loose pants.