In my last post, I discussed the German tradition of wearing the wedding ring on the right hand rather than the left. Today I’d like to take a deeper look into the simplicity of the German wedding rings and further discuss German weddings.
While I am not German and have only lived in Germany for 21 months, I know I cannot speak for Germans, but would like to discuss my perception of how Germans approach marriage. Growing up, I often dreamed of my perfect wedding and my perfect Prince Charming, but my daydreams always stopped with the wedding. I rarely thought about what it would be like to actually be married. Not only are American weddings heavily romanticized, but the difficulty of marriage is rarely discussed. Sure, married people will always say “Marriage is hard” without really elaborating, leaving the single folks to wonder why it’s so hard or maybe even naively believe (as I did) that if they wait long enough for the right person, marriage will be easy for them.
Germans, on the other hand, heavily emphasize the difficulty of marriage and even incorporate the concept into their weddings. Before a German wedding, a party is held called “Polterabend.” It translates to “Wedding Shower,” but is so much more than a typical American wedding shower. It comes from the two words “poltern” (think poltergeist) meaning “to clatter” or “to rumble”, and “abend” meaning “night”. On this evening, the wedding party and guests get together for one noisy night of celebration and, most importantly, breaking dishes (stoneware and porcelain only. To break glass is bad luck). After the party, which may last well into the night or even until morning, the bride and groom are required to clean up the broken dishes on their own. This collaboration symbolizes that marriage is hard, and that it is the duty of the husband and wife to work together in life in order to have a happy marriage.
My husband and I got married in the States and did not have a Polterabend. However, we did incorporate into our wedding the German tradition of sawing a log together. Again, the difficulty of hand-sawing a log (especially while wearing expensive clothes) symbolizes the difficulty of marriage and the necessity of always working together as a team.
And to add a bit of comic relief to this lesson in German culture, I’ll quickly tell you about our log-sawing experience…
I searched high and low for a saw. I called people. I scoured the internet and every single antiques store I came upon. Finally, about 10 days before the wedding, a coworker heard of my plight and offered to loan me her antique saw. That evening, she dug it out of her storage shed and left it on her porch so she’d remember it the next day, and sometime during the night it was stolen. She was devastated and I was back to square one. Finally, just a few days before the wedding, I found an old, rusty saw at an antique store. There were two; one with long teeth, and one with short. I asked the owner what was better for cutting wood. Neither of us had a clue (believe me that I now know), but we both finally agreed on the short-toothed saw (we were SO wrong).
My cousin made us a lovely cradle and even provided a small log for us. It looked small enough. Even if the saw was a little dull I knew it could be done in just a few minutes. Wrong again! We sawed…
We huffed and puffed and dripped sweat. My veil came off. My husbands jacket was removed. We worked, and worked, and worked. Eventually, my grandpa and cousin stepped in while my husband and I took a break to wipe away our sweat, and my sister and aunt held the log steady so it wouldn’t jump around in the cradle. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, that log broke in half and we sighed with exhaustion. My family said it was fitting because in marriage, sometimes you need everyone’s help to make it through the tough times. See below for a picture of us actually sawing a log on our wedding day.
You may be wondering what all of this has to do with the simplicity of the wedding rings which I promised to discuss in the beginning of this post. Well, based on my observation, I have formed my own opinion about this. You see, with as beautiful as a big diamond is, it’s rather impractical, isn’t it? I know many ladies with gorgeous rings that I would be proud to have on my finger, but again, no matter how lovely your ring, I think one must admit that a big diamond is not practical. It gets caught in your hair or on your knitted sweater. It impedes your ability to put your hands in your pockets or wear gloves on a cold winter’s day. It gets dirty and has to be cleaned, and the prongs sometimes get loose or break which risks the loss of that precious jewel. German weddings are still romanticized, but in a different way and with a practical approach. The simplicity of the ring is practical just as it’s practical to emphasize the necessity of a couple working together to get through life. In my opinion, the simplicity of the ring is just another way to say, “Marriage is hard. It’s not frilly. It’s work, and sometimes you have to slip on a pair of rubber gloves and clean your toilet.”