The wedding tradition of jumping the broom is strongly associated with Black weddings in the United States. Surprisingly, the tradition of jumping the broom also traces back to Romani people living among the Welsh. Today on the blog we discuss a brief history of this storied tradition and get a glimpse into how couples are incorporating this element in their weddings today.
A Brief History of Jumping the Broom
Traced back to Romani peoples living among the Welsh, Romani marital statuses were never recognized by the church. Historical records from 1700 in Wales are the oldest documentation of the 'jumping the broom' ritual. These were known as “Besom Weddings,” which refer to a specific kind of broom.
Similarly, weddings among Black slaves weren’t recognized by the government before the Civil War. As a result, broom jumping became the act of consecrating a marriage between slaves. A popular myth alleges that this tradition was a West African tribe’s ritual and passed on from generation to generation. However, there’s no record of its occurrence in Africa prior to the Transatlantic Slave Trade, according to Tyler Parry, a historian of marriage rituals in the African diaspora. The tradition most likely traveled to America with slave traders. Some slave owners forced slaves to jump the broom to signify their union. Others coordinated elaborate weddings to prove their benevolence to slaves and abolitionists. Around the middle of the 19th century, African-Americans identified with the ritual as their own.
After the Civil War, former slaves could register their marital status with the government. Many slaves who married before 1865 believed that jumping the broom was sufficient. As a result, some of them refused to officialize their marriage with neither clergy nor county members. Consequently, jumping the broom became a symbol of ancestral acknowledgment and honor. Today, the tradition is alive and well in Black weddings. The broom represents a tool for cleanliness, maintenance, and responsibility. “The broom handle represents the strength of the family,” said Orsella Hughes, an officiant at Serenity Ceremonies. “The bristles represent family members, and the decorative ribbon is the three-strand cord that God speaks to. The premise here is that two is better than one, and a strand of three is not easily broken.” The broom maker typically determines whether the cords of ribbon go around the handle or the base depending on the style of the broom.
21st Century Broom Jumping
While the tradition hasn’t significantly faded away, it’s rare to find a vendor who makes brooms for wedding ceremonies. Brides and grooms who incorporate the tradition into their big day usually make their own or designate a loved one to make it for them. Joanna Smith is in the middle of planning her wedding and eager to pass on the tradition. “I want to sit my nieces down to tell them about this broom they’ll see at my wedding and why I’m creating it," she said. “I’m excited to help them work on their own brooms and to hand down my broom to my daughter someday.”
Smith plans to put her broom on display in the living room of her forever home in what she calls “the wedding corner.” It will rest beside her preserved wedding bouquet and photographer’s canvas. Nearby, she’ll arrange a West African-inspired tasting set featuring the four elements of marriage. “It’s meant to include sour, salty, hot, and sweet flavored foods that represent the trials and tribulations in marriage,” Smith said. There’s a passage associated with each element. The officiant will recite those readings before the couple jumps. On every anniversary, the couple will reflect on the same readings, sitting beside the broom and in front of the tasting set.
Connection to ancestral roots is what makes Black couples so proud of this ritual. Smith said, “We would be keeping a tradition that our ancestors did when they got married. Even if our parents or their parents didn’t, someone along the line did. And we want to be reconnected with our past to keep it alive.”
In its own way, jumping the broom comprises the tradition of involving something old, something new, and something borrowed. Each time a broom is inherited by a generation, new decor graces the broom to match the wedding style, theme, and color palette. Not every photographer will understand the full scope of this tradition’s history.
Pro Tip: Be sure to make the broom part of the detail shot list just like the invitations, the rings, and the flowers.
“Usually, the officiant presents the broom at the wedding ceremony, while reciting a spoken word,” said Lorri Lewis, Lead Planner at DirectHER. “Sometimes couples have a broom bearer who is usually older than the ring bearer. The broom bearer should be big enough to carry the broom down the aisle.” Other times, the broom is preset at the altar or held in the front row by the mother of the bride or groom until the jump, as per event planner Aisha Thomas.
The Broom After the Wedding
So, what happens after the ceremony? The broom is normally placed by the sweetheart table or the cake display, according to K. Carlton Inc., a Chicago-based wedding planner. “We have ours mounted above our wedding photo among the family wall of photographed accomplishments and medals,” she shared. It’s common for newlyweds to set up their broom at home on display by their wedding photos.
Orsella Hughes of Serenity Ceremonies also explained that storing the broom is precious. “It’s like the veil, they treat it with care because someone special to them made it for them.”
Cultural Appreciation vs. Appropriation
While it's originally hailed as either a Welsh-Roma or Black American tradition, jumping the broom has garnered attention from couples outside of the Romani and Black cultures. “We were unable to legally get married in the state of Virginia, but we could fly to California and be legally married,” Jeffrey said about his partner Sam. “I remembered this tradition of the slaves and how [it] was a way for them to show the significance of their ceremony.”
“For us, in our minds, we’re legally married, and we did a tradition that validates that we’re able to [get married]. We had a lot of mixed traditions," he said. “We broke the glass. We jumped the broom. We did a Christian communion [in which] an orthodox Jewish lady felt comfortable participating because we had reworked the language so that she felt included. We had an Atheist friend participate, too. It was all about educating our guests and making sure they understood why we were incorporating all of these elements.”
Hughes also explained that the history of the broom jumping tradition is important to understand for its historic significance. “One Spanish client of mine wanted to jump the broom,” she said. “They learned about it, researched it, and they wanted its history recited at their ceremony. As long as the couple understands what it means, and the ceremony includes a reading of its history, then it becomes cultural appreciation.” If you have doubts about whether you’re appropriating a cultural custom, it’s good practice to receive a blessing from a native to the culture from which a tradition originates.
Hero image courtesy of Montenegro Photography