A wedding is a ceremony where two people are united in marriage. Wedding traditions and customs vary greatly between cultures, ethnic groups, religions, countries, and social classes. Most wedding ceremonies involve an exchange of marriage vows by the couple, presentation of a gift (offering, rings, symbolic item, flowers, money), and a public proclamation of marriage by an authority figure or celebrant. Special wedding garments are often worn, and the ceremony is sometimes followed by a wedding reception. Music, poetry, prayers or readings from religious texts or literature are also commonly incorporated into the ceremony, as well as superstitious customs originating in Ancient Rome.
The use of a wedding ring has long been part of religious weddings in Europe and America, but the origin of the tradition is unclear. One possibility is the Roman belief in the Vena amoris, which was believed to be a blood vessel that ran from the fourth finger (ring finger) directly to the heart. Thus, when a couple wore rings on this finger, their hearts were connected. Historian Vicki Howard points out that the belief in the "ancient" quality of the practice is most likely a modern invention. "Double ring" ceremonies are also a modern practice, a groom's wedding band not appearing in the United States until the early 20th century.
Many Christian faiths emphasize the raising of children as a priority in a marriage. In Judaism, marriage is so important that remaining unmarried is deemed unnatural. Islam also recommends marriage highly; among other things, it helps in the pursuit of spiritual perfection. The Baha'i Faith sees marriage as a foundation of the structure of society, and considers it both a physical and spiritual bond that endures into the afterlife. Hinduism sees marriage as a sacred duty that entails both religious and social obligations. By contrast, Buddhism does not encourage or discourage marriage, although it does teach how one might live a happily married life and emphasizes that marital vows are not to be taken lightly.
"The Order for the Service of Marriage" in the Methodist Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965) specifies the importance of premarital counseling, stating that the "minister is enjoined diligently to instruct those requesting his offices for their prospective marriage in the Christian significance of the holy estate into which they seek to enter". In the Free Methodist Church and African Methodist Episcopal Church, both apart of the World Methodist Council, contain a rubric for the reading of the banns. The Service of Christian Marriage (Rite I) includes the elements found in a standard liturgy celebrated on the Lord's Day as well as other elements unique to this Mass: the Entrance, Opening Prayer, Old Testament Reading, Psalm, New Testament Reading, Alleluia, Gospel Reading, Sermon, Recitation of one of the ecumenical creeds, prayers of the faithful, Offertory, the Declaration by the Man and the Woman, Response of the Families and the People, Exchange of Vows, Blessing and Exchange of Rings, Declaration of Marriage and celebration of the Eucharist, and Benediction.
A wedding is typically a happy time for families to celebrate. In the Muslim world, there are colorful, cultural variations from place to place.
All Muslim marriages have to be declared publicly and are never to be undertaken in secret. For many Muslims, it is the ceremony that counts as the actual wedding alongside a confirmation of that wedding in a registry office according to fiqh, in Islam a wedding is also viewed as a legal contract particularly in Islamic jurisprudences. However, most Muslim cultures separate both the institutions of the mosque and marriage, no religious official is necessary, but very often an Imam presides and performs the ceremony, he may deliver a short sermon. Celebrations may differ from country to country depending on their culture but the main ceremony is followed by a Walima (the marriage banquet).
At traditional Chinese weddings, the tea ceremony is the equivalent of an exchange of vows at a Western wedding ceremony. This ritual is still practiced widely among rural Chinese; however, young people in larger cities, as well as in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore, tend to practice a combination of Western style of marriage together with the tea ceremony.
The tea ceremony is an official ritual to introduce the newlyweds to each other's family, and a way for newlyweds to show respect and appreciation to their parents. The newlyweds kneel in front of their parents, serving tea to both sides of parents, as well as elder close relatives. Parents give their words of blessing and gifts to the newlyweds.
Many traditions and rituals have origins in religions and are still performed by religious leaders. Those having a secular wedding often want to maintain the symbolic meaning of some customs since they have become an essential part of the culture independent of religion. In order to satisfy these needs, secular ceremonies have started to be carried out by humanist officiants worldwide. Since the early 1980s, the Humanist Society Scotland (HSS) has been carrying out secular ceremonies in the country. In 1987, the BBC Scotland TV series "High Spirits" for the first time aired a humanist wedding on national TV. The demand for humanist wedding has been growing since then and in 2005 HSS won a legal battle and their ceremonies are now authorized by the Registrar General of Scotland.
A civil wedding is a ceremony presided over by a local civil authority, such as an elected or appointed judge, Justice of the peace or the mayor of a locality. Civil wedding ceremonies may use references to God or a deity (except in UK law where readings and music are also restricted), but generally no references to a particular religion or denomination. They can be either elaborate or simple. Many civil wedding ceremonies take place in local town or city halls or courthouses in judges' chambers.