February 15, 2017


 (This post was originally on my former blog, A Face to the Sun, on March 25, 2012.)

Not long ago, I read a book about wedding customs in Germany throughout the ages, and it brought to mind this photo.  After a long search through many unpacked (still) boxes, I found this gem.  The date was June 1972 and I am dancing in the hog trough with my brother, the groom.  My sister is approaching for her turn. The German custom is that siblings were expected to marry in order, and if not, then those older sibs who were not married had to dance in the pig trough.  Brother, #3 child, married first, so his two older sisters had to do the dance at his wedding reception.  My sister is his twin and only several minutes older!

The Low German term for wedding is hochtied, which literally means "high time," yet I think it was butchered into "hogtied" in our area.  When you married, were you hogtied?

Remember when girls had hope chests, usually a cedar chest to put linens in to prepare for marriage?  (When I graduated from high school, the local furniture store provided each girl with a miniature one.)  This idea stemmed from the German custom that girls would bring a good dowry to a marriage and would begin working on it as a young girls.  Perhaps the girl's Oma/Grandmother would help her learn to make hand towels, handkerchiefs and other linens.  In early times, a dowry of money was expected from the bride's parents to the groom, as well. 

In some eras, the bride would wear a black dress, which could be remade later into a dress for other occasions. I looked at my grandmother's dress, and it was definitely a dark color. If a virgin, the bride would wear a white veil or if less wealthy, a crown of myrtle or flowers or both together.  The crown could be quite elaborate with pearls and trailing ribbons, paper mache birds, mirrors or jewelry. The crown would become a family heirloom. The groom would wear his one best suit and have a flower in his lapel.
Someone would sew a pfennig piece in the bride's gown so that the couple would never be penniless. 

Usually gifts were opened during the meal following the wedding ceremony.  This was the custom still when I married in the 1970's, but that has changed to opening gifts during the next few days after the wedding.

I can remember my parents talking about "belling" newlywed couples, another North German custom.  The bride and groom would receive some rather loud visitors on their wedding night.  Bells, pots, pans, spoons...anything to make noise would be played beneath the couple's window until they came out and offered drinks all around.

In Northern Germany in days past, the men sat on the Epistle side, the right side, and the ladies on the Evangelist or left side of the church.  Hence even today, the bride stands on the left side of the groom in the wedding ceremony. The ring was put on the left hand, the hand of submission, the right hand being the hand of power.
I thought it interesting that a great deal of importance was given to how closely the bride and groom stood after the father gave the bride to the husband.  According to custom, no daylight was supposed to show between them to prevent the Devil from slipping in between them and causing mischief.

The gossips in the congregation might also watch for whose hand was in the above position when the couple first joined hands.  His hand above hers would mean that he would wear the pants in the family...or vice versa.  Also, the catty ones in the congregation might also check to see who first stepped into the aisle after the ceremony.  The man was expected to step out first. 

In reading about customs related to wedding receptions, I found so many similarities to what happens today.  The pastor would say a prayer, the musicians would play, the bridal couple would sit at the head table and his family sat on one side of the hall and hers on the other.  Should someone come late for the reception meal, they would be called "pottlickers," which meant they had to wait until everyone else was done to lick the pots...all in joking.  (But I remember my dad using that term and now I know its origin.)  The first dance was father and the bride, and so on...just like today, only the dollar tip after each dance was a tip to the band, not to the honeymooners!

If you know of an old German custom that was used at your wedding, I hope you will leave a comment...or if you, too, had to dance in the hog trough, please share!

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