Ole-Time Jamaican Wedding
In days gone by, the wedding ceremony was held in a church.

The recent 60th Independence celebration of our beloved country caused me to reflect on a few traditions that long formed part of who we are but which are no more. Naturally, my mind wandered to our Jamaican weddings.

Not only is Jamaica one of the most beautiful islands for a wedding, but its culture is filled with unique wedding traditions that are still fondly remembered. I invite you to join me as I highlight a few.

The community

What we think: "Jamaicans always feel that they must have a wedding with lots of people."

The ole-time tradition: A Jamaican wedding typically involved the whole community. Consider part of the adage: "It takes a village..." Wedding planning was not the sole purview of immediate family members but, too, the community who helped to 'raise' the couple.

The parents would identify and indeed appoint wedding godparents. Some of the duties of these godparents included collecting money from relatives for the wedding, helping the couple to choose their wedding rings amongst other duties. Per Miss Lou, the"'wedden godmadda" (wedding godmother) would help with the selection of the bridal gown and the bridesmaid dresses, oftentimes sewing them herself, to include satin and laces. She also played a very active role in arranging the wedding cake, decorating the reception table and participating in the cake parade. The "wedden godfadda" (wedding godfather) focused on the wedding reception organising the music and drink for the guests. They were the forerunners/precursors of today's wedding planners.

The cake

What we think: "Why do we have to cover the cake and unveil it? Why people always expect cake after the wedding?"

The ole-time tradition: The cake is an important feature of any wedding, but even more so in the Jamaican culture where "cake parades" would take place, either on the actual wedding day or the day prior. The traditional 'black cake' includes aromatic spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg and dried fruit that has been soaked in rum since the engagement and given its dark colour by burning the sugar used to bake it.

When baked, it would be carried in the procession to the ceremony by a cabal of married women clothed in white dresses and head-ties. This was a solemn and silent procession during which no one spoke. The cakes were covered with white lace so that the bride did not see them until the day of her wedding. Instead of having the cake out in the open for the entire wedding, they'd be covered and then removed by these women. This tradition remains but it is now left to the mothers of the bride and groom. It is also customary for a slice to be sent to those who were invited but couldn't make it.

The food

What we think: "Why everyone expect me to have curry goat at my wedding?"

The ole-time tradition: The wedding feast consisted of mannish water, curry goat and rice, roast breadfruit, chicken and rice and peas, roast yam, boiled banana and rundown. Beverages on tap would consist of cane liquor, rum, wine, ginger beer and coconut water. Goat was almost always on the menu. Jamaican curry goat is a dish that combines many influences. This special dish — often served at significant life events, especially weddings, was partially due to the cost of goat meat on the island. It was the fancy meat option. The goat was usually chosen by the bride and groom prior to the wedding.

At the end of the wedding the newly-weds would then be presented by the wedden godmadda with the choicest foods to take to their new home while guests cheered and clapped.

The traditional show bread is a decorated bread with magnificent twists and twirls, which showcases two birds on top of it, signifying love. We often see these twisted decorative breads on buffets, especially at our island's resorts. The wedden godfadda was in charge of this aspect of the wedding celebration.

The venue and reception

In days gone by, the wedding ceremony was held in a church and the reception was held at the groom's family home. The wedding reception was held after a morning ceremony at church and typically lasted until the afternoon with everyone playing games and singing songs. Highlighted at the end of the evening was a dance with music provided by a fife, banjo and guitar. Quadrilles were usually danced, with one of the sets comprising the bride, groom, their parents, maid of honour and best man. Gifts of animals or other kinds of provisions were given by those in attendance.

We give thanks for the traditions that remain and still hold dear.

The traditional show bread is a decorated bread with magnificent twists and twirls, which showcases two birds on top of it, signifying love.
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