Friday, July 24, 2009

Dancing Down the Aisle

As I got online just now, I found the following video on the Yahoo homepage:

It's of a wedding procession in which the wedding party, men and women alike, dance down the aisle, mostly in couples. And it's spreading quickly on the Internet.

Well, Haiti thought of it first.

I've been meaning to write a blog entry on wedding traditions here, and this has motivated me to do so.

The wedding at which I preached had the most beautiful set of dancers - eight couples doing a sort of half-dance, half rhythmic march to recorded music. They stopped when they were all in and danced in the aisle. It reminded me of a minuet or a stately Virginia reel. This is a traditional part of the service.

Next there was a couple with the woman dressed as a bride (but not as fancily); this couple did a more complicated dance with turns. Right before or after them (I've forgotten) was a little flower girl dressed as a bride, with two more women up front similarly dressed (known as annonceuses or premieres mariees preceding the bride herself). Then there were a couple of little ringbearers, a boy and a girl (again, dressed as a little bride). It is my understanding that these annonceuses are a newer tradition, but one that has become typical here.

Finally, after all the dancing couples and children were in, they formed a line on either side of the aisle, where they had stayed after dancing. They made an arch overhead, rather like the Virginia reel, with the bridesmaids' flowers held above.

The bride and her godmother came through the arch to greet the groom and the godfather, who had processed in with the clergy from the sacristy and were waiting up front. The four of them sat facing each other in chairs set on a large square white quilted pad, two on one side, two on the other, while the rest of the wedding party sat in the front pews. I never did figure out who the parents were, assuming any were there.

There were a couple of special kneeling rugs for the couple, as I recall, but I no longer remember if it was for the blessing or for some other part of the service.

An interesting note:

It is the tradition in Haiti to have godparents for more events than your baptism. Even graduating classes are given nominal godparents. However, godparents for a couple getting married are not only witnesses, but people to whom the couple should be able to turn for advice down the road. They are expected to attend at least one of the premarital counseling appointments as well. In this case, one of them had to come in from far away and was given a waiver, but Margarette and I did the premarital counseling session (a first for both of us seminarians) with the couple and the godfather beforehand.

There was the usual exchange of rings and vows according to the Book of Common Prayer (French translation).

One tradition I had never seen before and which I really liked was at communion: the bride gave the groom communion, and the groom gave it to the bride. As the sacrament of unity, it seemed very appropriate on some level, though I will confess I haven't spent the time to think through the theology of it in any depth. Communion in Haiti is done by intinction: the priest or other person distributing communion dips the wafer in the wine and places it on the tongue of the recipient. (It felt odd to me at first, but since my hands get dusty unbelievably quickly here, I was soon grateful.) As a result, it looked a little bit like an American bride and groom feeding each other wedding cake, but with so much more significance and reverence.

All in all, it was a lovely wedding. I wish Thania and Jhonson (no, that is not a typo) much happiness. Keep this young couple in your prayers as they grow together.

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