German wedding traditions may be included in your celebrations if you have German heritage, whether you are an ex-pat living in Germany or a person of German background living in America. Fortunately, including elements of your German culture in your wedding can be joyful and easy if you know where to start.
To give you some ideas, we’ve produced a list of everything you need to know about German wedding traditions, including celebration foods, pre-wedding festivities, traditional dances and more.
A Summary of German Wedding Traditions
German wedding traditions like Polterabend and Brautentführung have a rich history. Every single German wedding tradition has a special significance and is treasured, which is the reason why they have persisted for so long. Many of these German traditions are also said to ward against evil spirits and bad luck.
Personalized Door-to-Door Invitation Delivery
An endearing old Bavarian custom involving the distribution of wedding invitations is occasionally still followed today and has become much more cherished as a result of internet culture.
Not all of Germany practices this tradition. There are still certain countries where individuals send wedding cards in addition to emails or letters.
Unless the bride and groom have asked for a Hochzeitslader to be their private postman or lady, the invitee receiving the wedding card presents the soon-to-be-married with scrambled eggs (an easy gift to give on short notice)!
What is a Hochzeitslader? A close friend of the couple will don elaborate attire embellished with ribbon and flowers. Then, the person will knock on doors while distributing invites and a humorous rhyme.
If an invitee accepts, they will be handed a vibrant ribbon from the Hochzeitslader’s robe and they will partake in a drink together!
Marriage Party (Best Man and Maid of Honor)
Many cultures want to include as many of their favorite people as possible before saying, “I do.” Sometimes a bridal party is composed of 10 or more persons, from a maid of honor to bridesmaids to a best man to groomsmen. While this is pretty common in the UK, things are a little quieter in Germany.
There is often just one reliable individual, of any gender, for each partner in a soon-to-be marriage. These individuals are appointed trauzeuge or trauzeugin and are in charge of organizing the activities leading up to the wedding as well as serving as help on the big day.
The twist, though? The bride and groom will not be aware of the trauzeuge or trauzeugin’s whereabouts, plans or schedule. Therefore, the games and enjoyment are all kept a secret.
Before the Wedding Ceremony
Check out these other wedding traditions we love:
1. Bachelor and bachelorette parties
A few weeks before the wedding, it’s customary for the bride and groom to attend a bachelorette or bachelor party (Junggesellenabschied) in a local tavern.
In an effort to humiliate the bride and groom as much as possible, their friends usually force them to perform a number of embarrassing things during the evening. These occupations sometimes include selling products to strangers, dressing strangely and unattractively or even cleaning things!
The night before the wedding, the bride and groom’s family and friends get together to break china and porcelain dishes as a sign of good luck for the couple.
According to urban legend, a marriage will be luckier if the broken pieces of porcelain are smaller. However, if a glass breaks that night, the marriage will be cursed with bad luck. Yikes!
Cleaning up the mess after the china smash symbolizes the cooperation and teamwork the bride and groom will need to have in their upcoming marriage.
3. Sleeping Apart Before the Wedding
Spending the night before the wedding in the same house as your prospective spouse is seen as bad luck. To avoid any mishaps, one person frequently stays with their parents, close friends or other family members.
4. Hiding a Penny in the Bridal Shoes
On their big day, German brides occasionally hide a penny in their wedding shoes (brautschuh). According to folklore, there is no better way to start your marriage than with this German custom that also brings luck and wealth.
5. German Wedding Clothes
International guests usually prefer to dress in the customary wedding attire from their home country, which varies greatly from country to country. For the entire German wedding experience, the bride and groom must don a comprehensive list of customary clothes.
German brides used to dress in long veils and black dresses in the past. However, German brides today are more likely to adhere to the more popular tradition of sporting a white wedding dress, often without a long train.
German brides often wear a fingertip-length veil and a ball gown style wedding dress. Compared to earlier times, fewer women now choose to wear veils, although they are still widespread, especially during religious weddings. The most important requirement is that the bride and groom cannot meet before the wedding.
Brautschuhe or bridal shoes are frequently worn by the bride in Germany throughout both the ceremony and the reception. These are white shoes with a low, wide heel.
Although the bride can choose from a wide range of shoe styles, most bridal shoes include a little white strap that crosses the ankle or the top of the foot to keep them on.
In addition, it is usual for the bride to spend all of her savings — just one cent coins — on her shoes. At the wedding reception, the shoes are put up for auction. The custom is that the groom must make the greatest bid and then return the shoes to his new bride.
German grooms often don an all-black suit and a white shirt, which is a little more subdued. A conventional tuxedo or finely crafted dress suit are appropriate for the groom’s special day and the groom has lots of creative freedom with the cut, customization and accessories for the outfit.
Bride and Bridal Parties
In contrast to many other countries where the bride and groom have huge groom/bridal parties, the bride and groom frequently just have one trustworthy individual to help them with their wedding preparations in Germany.
Being chosen is a great honor since the bride and groom place a lot of trust and responsibility in the individuals they select. The best man and maid of honor, who can be of any gender and act as witnesses at the civil ceremony before the wedding, can even organize the bachelor and bachelorette parties for the bride and groom.
German Wedding Customs
Depending on where you are married, such as in Germany or America, you could expect different ceremony traditions. In Germany, for example, couples getting married might have a quick, basic civil ceremony — which takes place in a Standesamt — a few days or weeks prior to a longer religious wedding.
German and American marriages have many similarities, yet they also differ significantly. The pair first enters the church together. In order to avoid anything getting in their way, it makes a lot of sense for the two persons to walk tightly together. Here are a few other customs unique to the German wedding ceremony:
Rings for Marriage
Engagement rings are customarily worn on the left hand in Germany. After then, during the wedding ceremony, each person’s band is switched to the right hand. Some people believe that the Romans, who saw the right hand as a symbol of fidelity and trust, were responsible for the beginning of this tradition.
White Bouquet & Ribbon
When walking down the aisle, German brides frequently hold a bouquet that is tied with a white ribbon. The bouquet is frequently given by the bride’s soon-to-be spouse.
After the wedding, guests are given pieces of this white ribbon to tie to the vehicle antennae, making a beautiful and sentimental decoration. If the wedding reception is held at a different site, all the guests will make their way there while they honk their horns in celebration.
German Traditions at the Reception
There are a few interesting German wedding reception traditions. Here are a few of the more unique ones you might wish to incorporate into your wedding.
Taking the Log Down
After the wedding ceremony, the newlyweds’ first duty as a married couple is to split a wooden log in half. This will prove they can work as a team. As the saying goes, cooperation is the key to achieving your objectives.
Bride-kidnapping or brautentführung
The bride’s kidnapping (Brautentführung) is one of the amusing practical jokes incorporated into a number of German wedding traditions. The practice dates back a long time. After the wedding ceremony, the best man, who assumes the role of the kidnapper, basically “steals” the bride. The two then go out to drink, maybe with the help of the groom’s friends. The groom then sets out to locate his future wife, and once he does, he is responsible for paying for everyone’s expenses.
Wedding Dances in Germany
There are many different types of dances that are performed at weddings, but a German wedding typically has two ceremonial dances. The first dance of the evening is usually a waltz, and it is performed by the bride and groom.
After this dance, the mother and father of the groom dance with the bride. After these two traditional dances, the real fun begins!
Think of the veil dance, or schleiertanz, as the German equivalent of the traditional bouquet toss. The bride’s veil is torn to shreds by the single female wedding guests as part of the custom while the newlyweds dance beneath it. It is said that whoever gets the largest piece will be the next to wed.
Consider using a piece of cloth in place of your veil if you want to take part in the veil dance custom but don’t want to damage it.
Cutting the Cake
The cutting of the wedding cake is a custom that promotes camaraderie, sharing of responsibilities and having fun. Germans are the same as everyone else.
First of all, the cake cutting usually happens around midnight. After that, the bride and groom play a little game to see whose hand will be on top of the knife. The one who succeeds will be referred to as the marriage’s head!
It’s intriguing to observe how different people choose this coveted title in different ways!
Some individuals believe that the person whose hand is on top when the priest connects their hands during the wedding ceremony is the “winner.”
Additionally, the bride could occasionally stoop while the groom treads on her dress to show “strength,” and then when she stands back up, she might softly stomp on his foot to show assertiveness.
The bride and groom also traditionally share a toast at their wedding celebration while chowing down on bratwursts.
The newlyweds then play a pleasant game called “Who Rules the Nest,” wherein both players are required to drink simultaneously from a cup. The first bird to finish their drink is the leader of the nest!
German Wedding Cuisine
To celebrate your German heritage, taste one of these exquisite German dishes, such as hearty soup and rich desserts.
German meaning “wedding soup,” Hochzeitssuppe is a delicious starter for your wedding reception. This classic German soup is made with chicken broth, noodles, veggies, chicken and little meatballs. During the wedding, both the newlyweds and the guests will enjoy this delicious soup.
You could choose to serve baumkuchen for dessert. This traditional German layer cake is sweet but not too much, with notes of vanilla and almond. A spit cake is a common name for it. Other tastes and substances, such as chocolate, rum and honey, are also acceptable.
In Germany, it is customary to serve this ten-foot-long cake during weddings. On a wooden dish, the massive wedding cake is typically carried into the reception area by many wedding guests (around 10 to 12). Most of the time, the individuals transporting the cake execute a little act in which they pretend it cannot fit in the reception area while dancing and consuming beer.
German Customs After Weddings
The Jubilation (After Party)
If you’re planning or attending a wedding in Germany, be prepared to party into the early morning hours.
Carrying the Bride Over the Threshold
After the wedding ceremonies, the husband often carries the bride into their home or hotel room (or wherever they choose to spend their first night as a married couple). This practice is rather common, and it’s actually quite interesting. Most likely, you’ve seen how it was presented in television shows and movies. It was originally believed that doing this would help fend off demons and evil spirits.
Germany seldom keeps a gift registry for the couple, in contrast to many other western countries. This may make gift-giving a little more difficult, but if you’re truly stuck, it’s perfectly OK for guests to give the happy couple cash for their new marriage.
Gifts are typically given out at the wedding reception. The bride and groom may also accept gifts at the conclusion of the wedding if some guests won’t be attending the reception. There is typically a gift table (Geschenketisch) in the area where the wedding reception is taking place, where guests can leave their gifts for the bride and groom.
Like with any occasion to offer gifts, the best gifts are usually ones that are presented from the heart. Give the bride something travel-related if she mentions going on a trip, and if the groom mentions wanting to buy a house, give him money!
As a multi-passionate creative and a self-proclaimed frequent flyer of weddings, Kiara combines her love for the wedding industry and experience as a professional wedding photographer with her writing abilities to share tips, tricks, and helpful information with couples. She is the owner of Switech Studios a popular wedding photography business. With tons of insider information from behind her camera lens on how to have the best wedding possible, Kiara’s in-depth knowledge is sure to put you on the road to wedding planning success.