Cajun Wedding Traditions
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The Cajun people are of French extraction, and settled in Louisiana. There are said to be three ways to become a Cajun: by blood, by marriage, or by the back door. The Cajun are known for good food, good wine and good parties, and a wedding often reinforces that idea!
Jumping Over the Broom
In early times the Cajuns were isolated, and it could take weeks and even months before a religious official would visit. As a result, a Cajun couple would ceremoniously "Jump Over the Broom." This ceremony was held as binding until they could be married in a religious ceremony.
The morning after a ceremony, friends and family would awake the bridal couple, and they would be obligated to prepare breakfast for all who visited to wish them well.
Religion has always been important to the Cajun people. In more modern times, most Cajun weddings are preformed in the sanctuary of a church. Lately, it has become a tradition that both the bride's parents, instead of just the father, escort the bride down the aisle. If it is a Catholic ceremony (many are), a rose is presented after the marriage but during the rest of the ceremony, to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Then the bride and groom will present a rose to both mothers, and greet their respective parents. In this way, the parents will be the first to congratulate the newly married couple and wish them well.
Although it has died out, the newly married couple, along with their parents and members of the wedding party greeted their guests into the reception hall. There is usually a guest table registery along with a pen de flume, or feathered pen. You will also see on the entry table a side-by-side picture of the bride and groom at younger ages--usually between 2 and 7. Most wedding receptions today instead show a large picture of the bride in her wedding gown on an easel, because most of the bride's pictures are taken before the day of the wedding.
The entry table also displays rice or birdseed wrapped in tulle and ribbons. This is intended to be given to the guests, so that they can throw it at the couple as they leave the reception. Although this was always rice in the past, birdseed and even bubbles are almost universally used now.
At Cajun weddings in addition to the traditional bridal cake, there is a groom's cake that is displayed and served separately. Traditionally, it was a German chocolate cake. It is usually cut by the godparent of the groom, in the groom's honor. The cutting of the groom's cake may also be performed by a sister or aunt of the groom who is not a member of the wedding party.
The groom's cake usually displays the groom's favorite hobby or interest, such as golf, working offshore, hunting, or a job interest or career such as pilot or the military. Recently, it has become fashionable to have the entire cake baked in the shape of the interest or activity, as well as airbrushed to enhance the effect.
The first formality at a Cajun wedding reception is the taking of photographs of the wedding party standing at the bride's cake, the cutting of the bridal cake, toasts, and the cutting of the groom's. Of course, the couple share the first bite of the cake, and like other wedding receptions, there are those couples that will make the tradition into a domination contest. The first or top layer of the cake is wrapped and frozen to be eaten by the couple on their first anniversary. A newer tradition among Cajun and non-Cajun alike is to have flowers on the first layer, which the bride throws to unmarried women, instead of her bridal bouquet.
A Cajun tradition that is dying out is, as the first dance of the married couple, the wedding march is played, and the couple leads the wedding party in a circle march around the dance floor, signifying the beginning the the dancing. It is still a tradition that no one dances until the Bride and Broom have had their first dance together as a married couple. If the march is played, the couple will dance alone to a slow song of their choosing. The respective parents then join the couple on the dance floor, and the members of the wedding party join in the next song.
After the groom dances with his new Mother-in-law and the bride with her new Father-in-law, others may dance with the bride, but only after they pin money to her veil or wedding gown. A relatively new Cajun custom is pinning money on the groom's lapels for a dance with him. Although the money can be used for any purpose, it is typically applied to honeymoon expenses.
If there is an older brother or sister of the couple who has not married, he or she must dance barefoot with an old broom or mop. It signifies that their brother or sister has "beat them to the altar." The broom or mop is decorated and represents the missing partner of the brother or sister.
Music and dancing are favorite Cajun pastimes, and most Cajun weddings feature a Cajun band, which usually consists of a French accordion, steel guitar, violin, drums and a washboard. French music consists primarily of walzes, the two-step and the jitterbug. Most younger crowds will also have a DJ for dancing and singing as well.
If you are planning a Cajun-themed wedding and can't find an authentic Cajun band, you might wan to try a CD called "Cajun Dance Favorites 16 Selections. It is produced by Swallow Records in Ville Platte, Louisiana and is a collection of the most requested Cajun songs, including "Je Suis Tout Pour Toi" (I am All For You), which is the Cajun Wedding Song, Jolie Bonde, LaValse de la Vie or The Waltz of Life, and The Back Door.
Popular food for a Cajun wedding is crawfish etoufee which is a gumbo or jambalaya. The most common food, however, is boudoin or boudin balls, crab, shrimp, crawfish dip, cheese fish, cold shrimp dip, Swedish meatballs (how did that get there?), brisket, stuffed tongue and chicken salad sandwiches, watermelon basket with cut-up melon, honeydew, grapes and strawberries, and cut-out red cabbage filled with dip for raw vegetables and beer. In times past, it would be prepared by members of the families who were considered great cooks, but there are now caterers who are able to serve authentic Cajun cuisine.
When the time has come that the bride and groom are leaving the reception, they usually discover that their good friends and even members of the wedding party have painted slogans on their car with white shoe polish. As a result, many couple's first stop is at the car wash.
There are two phrases popular among the Cajuns: Laissez les Bon Temp Rouler, or let the good times roll, and Laissez-faire, or Do let him have fun!
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