Jumping the Broom

Many cultures have wedding traditions that symbolize the end of one’s life with her parents and immediate family, and the beginning of her life with her husband. Jumping the broom is one such tradition, however this tradition is made more interesting by its role in the marriage of slaves. There are many opinions on the origin of the jumping the broom ceremony, and some will be presented here. You may make your own decision about the symbolism of the tradition, just as you will decide whether or not to incorporate this ritual into your own wedding ceremony.

In most African-themed wedding ceremonies, jumping the broom is considered to have originated in the west during the times of slavery. This theory is that because slaves were prohibited from marriage, they formed their own ceremony, wherein they jumped over the broom. The broom itself was used by the bride and her groom’s family to sweep the courtyard, and using it within the ceremony demonstrated her willingness to become part of a new family. Modern ceremonies that include jumping the broom usually do so as a way for new couples to honor their ancestors and pay tribute to the difficulties their ancestors faced. Jumping the broom still symbolizes the bride’s transition into a new family.

Another view of this tradition is that it began in West Africa. However, there is no documentation of this ceremony in Africa, but there are records that attest to the spiritual symbolism of the broom in Africa. In Ghana, brooms were often passed above the heads of the bride and groom and their parents.

Alan Dundes, a scholar, believes that the ceremony can be traced back to the gypsies, who then forced the practice on their slaves. It is a well known fact that many slaves were forced to adopt religious and cultural behaviors of their owners, and that they often adapted them to suit their own purpose.

It is important to note that while slaves did have a jumping the broom ceremony, they were not the only ones. Many different cultures practiced this custom, although it represented different things to each group:

  • Southern Africans
  • The wife’s agreement to help the new family and to clean the courtyard
  • England
  • Symbolized secular or irregular weddings
  • American South

The person who jumped the highest (usually the man) became the head of the household Other cultures that had or have jumping the broom ceremonies include Wiccans, Roma, the Welsh, and gypsies. When you decide whether to include this ceremony in your wedding, you may also choose what the custom symbolizes, and you may explain it to your guests.

Because jumping the broom is most commonly believed to have been done by slaves as the only permissible way of demonstrating their marriage, this ceremony has received a stigma and is becoming much less common. However, understanding the different roots of the tradition, and different ways in which it can be used, couples may begin to incorporate it more often. Couples can even invent their own reasons for jumping the broom.

If you do decide to use this tradition, you and your husband can jump either together or separately. The broom should be decorated to go with your wedding style or theme. It can be elaborate, or simple. You can use a regular broom, or special order one. Most couples choose to keep the broom and hang it on a wall in their home after their wedding ceremony. The general purpose of this custom is to represent the blending of the two families, to provide a way to honor one’s ancestors, and to provide a reminder to the couple of the love and commitment that will be a part of their new life.