Jumping the Broom: Slave Ritual Meets Couture

Eleanor Rose

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It is said that broom jumping comes from an African Tribal Marriage Ritual of placing sticks on the ground representing the couple's new home together. I have also read that the spray of the broom represents all of us scattered and the handle represents the Almighty who holds us together.

Today broom jumping is a ritual that has been handed down from generation to generation. It serves to remind us of a time when wedding vows were not legally sanctioned for slaves. During slavery, slaves sought the legitimacy of marriage by jumping over the broom and into the bonds of domesticity. For them, this small ritual was a legal and bonding act connecting them with the heritage of the home land and giving legitimacy, dignity and strength to their unions. In their eyes this union was now sanctioned by "the Almighty."

People of African descent weren't the only ones who jumped the broom during the 19th century. This wedding custom was a common practice in Welsh, Scottish and Roma cultures. In pre-Christian Wales, couples who wished to commit to each other followed pagan tradition: A broom was placed across a home's doorway and, like jumping a hurdle, the groom leapt over it, and then the bride followed. If neither one of them made the broom fall -- or took a face-plant on the floor -- the marriage was meant to be. If the broom took a tumble, so did hopes for their marriage and the ceremony would be cancelled altogether. The broom jumping ceremony was widespread enough (especially among couples who didn't want or weren't given the legal right to have a court- or church-sanctioned wedding) that Charles Dickens referenced it in "Great Expectations" in 1861 when he wrote that a couple was married "over the broomstick."

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Today, jumping the broom has become couture with expensive brooms designed and marketed specifically for weddings. Of course for many it is still an important wedding tradition -- whether they wish to pay homage to their ancestors, signify a fresh start or simply add a personal twist to their special day. Imagine what the slaves who had no choice other than this ritual would think about jumping couture brooms.



Sources:
Jones, Gwynn T. "Welsh Folklore." 1930.
Kerby, Rob. "Jumping the Broomstick." Aug. 1, 2011.
 
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Eleanor Rose

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Once Black couples could have weddings with rings that were recognizable by anyone as a symbol of marriage, the broom ceremony began to disappear. “Jumping the broom” fell out of practice because of the stigma it carried, and in some cases still carries, among African Americans who wanted nothing to do with anything associated with that era. However, the practice survived, and made a resurgence after publication of Alex Haley's book "Roots."

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Scene from TV movie, Roots.​

Today the phrase is synonymous with getting married in the same way most Americans associate "tying the knot" with getting married.
 

Eleanor Rose

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"Jumping the Broom" Ceremony (performed at the end of the service):

Minister/Officiant: We end this ceremony with the tradition of jumping the broom. Slaves in this country were not permitted to marry, so they jumped a broom as a way of ceremonially uniting. Today it represents great joy and at the same time serves as a reminder of the past and the pain of slavery.

As our bride and groom jump the broom, they physically and spiritually cross the threshold into the land of matrimony. It marks the beginning of making a home together. It symbolizes the sweeping away of the old and the welcoming of the new; the sweeping away of negative energy, making way for all things that are good to come into your lives. It is also a call of support for the marriage from the entire community of family and friends. The bride and groom will now begin their new life together with a clean sweep!

One of the attendants then hands the broom to the groom, who makes sweeping gestures to eliminate any negative energy. The groom then hands the broom to the bride, who places it on the ground in their path.

Minister: Everyone count 1, 2, 3... Jump! Together! 1, 2, 3... Jump!
 

Eleanor Rose

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Amazing how human beings adapt to their circumstances to not only survive but thrive.
So true David! In the absence of any legal recognition, slaves developed their own methods of distinguishing between committed and casual unions. The ceremonial jumping of the broom served as their open declaration of settling down in a marriage relationship. It was usually done before witnesses as a public ceremonial announcement that the couple had decided to be married despite what their masters might have said.
 

NH Civil War Gal

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Eleanor does the most fantastic job with her threads! I learn so much from them. I have read where some slaves did it amongst themselves and others would invite and involve the whole plantation - master and mistress included. I didn't realize it was a current "thing." It has to be among the young and nimble though!
 


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