African American Wedding Rituals

Some marriage rituals and traditions are based on African American heritage. In the United States, the devastation of slavery oftentimes denied legally sanctioned marriages. Consequently, Black people performed ceremonies to recognize and celebrate their unions.

African American wedding rituals have been passed down through generations. The customs, rich with history, tradition, and cultural significance, are a meaningful way to honor one’s history

Jumping the Broom

One of the most well-known African American wedding traditions is jumping the broom. This custom dates back to the time of slavery when enslaved people were not allowed to marry legally. Consequently, they would jump over a broomstick to symbolize their union. Today, jumping the broom is a popular wedding ritual that represents the couple’s decision to create a new life together.

The broom, usually made of natural materials such as wood or straw, is decorated with ribbons, flowers, or other embellishments. During the ceremony, the bride and groom hold hands and jump over the broom together, symbolizing their leap into a new life together.

Kola Nuts

In many African cultures, kola nuts are considered a sacred symbol of hospitality, respect, and friendship. During the wedding, the couple may exchange kola nuts during the ceremony to symbolize their commitment to each other and to their families. Notably, the exchange is often accompanied by a prayer or blessing honoring their African heritage. Your officiant can work with you to find the words.

The kola nuts are usually presented in a special bowl or basket. In fact, selecting the vessel to hold the nuts can take on its own tradition. Invite your special people to partake. Significantly, the chosen container that holds the kola nuts can become a keepsake to treasure.

Libation Ceremony

The libation ceremony is a traditional African custom that involves pouring out a small amount of liquid as an offering to the spirits of the ancestors. This ritual is often performed at the beginning of an African American wedding ceremony. Typically, a designated family member or the officiant pours out the offering, oftentimes a small amount of water or wine, while reciting a prayer or blessing. The couple and their guests may also be invited to pour out a small amount of liquid in honor of their own ancestors.

Tying the Knot

Another popular wedding ritual is Tying the Knot; it is similar to the Celtic handfasting ceremony. In this tradition, the couple’s hands are tied together with a long piece of fabric or rope, symbolizing their union and commitment to each other. Once the knot is tied, the couple’s hands remain together for the remainder of the ceremony, symbolizing their connection and commitment to each other.

Indeed, select the fabric or rope to be used for its color or pattern. For example, consider an African motif. The material used can have symbolic meaning, and may also be adorned with beads, shells, or other decorative elements. Alternatively, it can be coordinated with the wedding decor.

Light a Fire

Old African tradition employs fire to represent the union of two familial houses by combining flame from each party’s respective hearths. Today, this custom may be modified so that the newlyweds simply begin a fire together.  Or, bring two flames together using a unity candle as another option. As a special touch, invite your parents or other special people to kindle the flame.

Incorporating African American wedding rituals into your ceremony is a beautiful and meaningful way to honor cultural heritage while bringing family and community together. Each ritual has its own unique significance and meaning. After you find your officiant on, work with them and they can help you blend the rituals into your ceremony.

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Loretta Jay is an expert in marriage ceremoniesLoretta Jay is the Managing Member of the Justice of the Peace Association. This is the membership organization for professional marriage officiants. All officiants’ profiles are searchable at, the place where Couples who Click can find their perfect JP. 

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