The teachings of Confucius in ancient China discouraged marriage between two people who had the same last name. Engagement and wedding traditions include symbolic offerings to the ancestors, such as pomegranate blooms; the exchange of food and gifts, such as gold chopsticks, between the couple's families; the tea ceremony; and a betrothal letter from the groom's father to the bride's father.
Greek Orthodox traditions include the betrothal ceremony during the first part of the wedding, the crowning of the bride and groom by the priest, and the exchange of crowns three times, usually by the Koumbari, a close friend or family member. The bride and groom share three sips of wine from the same cup, and the priest leads them in the joyful "Dance of Isaiah." The newlyweds often perform a traditional dance in which they each hold the end of a white scarf. Lamb, sweets and bouszouki music are all part of the typical reception, and guests toss rose petals, sugared almonds or rice at the couple as they depart.
Several days before the ceremony, the bride is decorated with mehndi, or henna designs on her hands and feet. On the wedding day, brides wear red silk saris nine yards long, plus numerous gold bracelets, anklets and rings (which were once part of her dowry). Many grooms wear a dhoti, or long piece of cloth wrapped into pants. Male relatives and friends may carry the bride on a platform to meet her groom beneath a canopy or tent. She may apply sandalwood paste to the groom's forehead while he applies sindhur, or red powder to hers. The couple is married before a small fire-lit vessel, which represents Agni, the god of fire or "radiant one." They make offerings by throwing puffed rice and ghee (clarified butter) into it throughout. Led by the priest, the couple declares their vows, and walks around the sacred fire seven times (sapta-padi, or seven steps). The ends of their clothing may be tied together to symbolize their union. The bride's parents then present gifts to the groom (e.g., red rice and betel plant). The groom then places a floral garland around his bride and a tali, or jewel set in gold suspended on a yellow thread, around her neck to symbolize her married status. At the end of the ceremony, the bride's brother or closest male relative showers the couple with jasmine flowers or rose petals for good luck.
In Islamic cultures, marriage is a contractual agreement. Today, couples negotiate a bridal gift or mahr before the wedding. There are no set rules about what the mahr should be and it is up to the bride and groom to negotiate the details of this gift. It may take the form of a monetary gift, a Qur'an or an item such as a diamond ring. The gift might even be as simple as the groom doing something special for the bride. The wedding ceremony itself is called a Nikkah and is presided over by an Imam -- a Muslim civic and religious leader. In some countries, it is legal for a Muslim man to have more than one wife, but this is not the case in the United States.
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