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Marriage Customs of the World: From Henna to Honeymoons Hardcover – November 23, 2004
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"Because it has long-term informational value and has no up-to-date rival, it is suitable for academic and public libraries; even small public libraries … Highly recommended." - Choice
"The readability of the book makes it appropriate for all ages above middle school. As a reference book it would be very good in academic and public libraries." - American Reference Books Annual
About the Author
George P. Monger is a freelance museum conservator, consultant, and folklorist based in East Anglia, England.
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Even though the title does not use either the word 'Dictionary' or 'Encyclopedia', this work is an encyclopedia of world wedding customs arranged in alphabetical order. The informative entries range from 'abduction' (bride theft) to 'Zulu weddings'. There is also a detailed index which contains many specific foreign terms which do not constitute actual entries but which are nevertheless mentioned in the text. In place of a bibliography, the author lists a short selection of the most important references after each entry.
Many entries pertain to pre-wedding rituals and traditions such as the 'arranged marriage', 'matchmaking', 'banns', 'betrothal', 'bidding', the 'trouseau' and 'dowry' to name but a few. All such entries are comparative and the author provides parallel forms of the various traditions with reference to several different cultural backgrounds. Conversely, there are also many post-wedding customs such as the patrilocal tradition of the Chinese etc.
There is also a great deal of information on historical customs which are no longer practised. For instance, there is reference to 'rough music' (a form of charivari), 'handfasting'( a type of trial marriage once practised in Scotland) and 'bundling'etc. In some cases a custom has evolved. In the case of the 'Polterabend', for instance, the original motive was often a form of social disapproval analogous with 'charivari'(for which see 'rough music') but the tradition has come to mean playful pranking and celebration organised by friends and relatives.
There are also entries which pertain to important wedding symbols. For instance, there is the 'almond', 'rice', 'rings', 'bells', the 'bouquet', 'bride cake', the 'broom'/'besom', 'colours' and 'confetti' etc. In some of these entries rituals and traditons from mainly one culture are represented. For instance, in the entry on 'almonds' the author describes in interesting detail the Greek traditions (see also the excellent entry on 'Greek weddings'). Other entries such as the 'ring' allude to the distinct traditions from various cultures. Several superstitions such as the 'chimney sweep'(from whom it was lucky for the bride to receive a kiss) and 'cats' etc. are also included.
While the work is extremely well researched, due to the limitations of space, certain customs have obviously been excluded. For instance, while the author provides fascinating entries on wedding customs from both 'China' and 'Japan', there is no mention of the rich customs of Korea (the only reference to Korea being in the context of the mass-wedding which take place in the Unification church/ Moonies founded by Korean businessman Sun Myung Moon). Similarly, while there are excellent entries on wedding customs from European countries such as 'France', 'Germany', 'Spain' and 'Russia' and even 'Russian weddings' and 'Greek weddings', there is very little on Polish weddings which are very distinct in several respects (there are , however, a few allusions to Poland in the index).
Even though the historical background is clearly explained for many customs, there are some entries which constitute new customs. For example, the phenomenon of 'common law marriage' is also represented , as is the controversial 'same sex marriage' between homosexual and lesbian couples.
Another impressive feature of the book is that it provides careful cross references. For instance, the entry on the Jewish 'huppah' gives a cross reference to the 'canopy' (in which parallels of this wedding canopy can be seen in other cultures) as well as a cross reference to the main entry on the 'Jewish wedding'. Moreover, not only is the work cross-cultural in that a host of different ethnic backgrounds are represented, but the entries also reflect the different religious cutoms. For instance, there are entries on 'Hindu weddings', 'Sikh weddings', 'Islamic marriage', the 'Mormon Church' (as wqell as the associated entry of 'polygamy'), 'Quaker weddings' and 'Zoroastrian weddings', etc.
There are hundreds of other interesting topics such as the Irish tradition of the 'strawboys' (also seen at Christmas time), the peculiar muslim custom of 'muta'a'( a form of temporary marriage - also called 'sigheh' in Iran) and the strange custom of marriage to a 'tree'. There is also an entry on 'suttee'(the Hindu custom of a widow burning herself on her husband's pyre) and so amy other subjects from 'anniversaries' (the seventh is bronze, the tenth is tin etc.) as well as institutions like the 'stag night' and 'hen party'/'shower'. The author has the rare gift of presenting well-researched scholarly material in a readable way which is accessible to non-specialists. It is therefore a work that will appeal both to the expert folkorist and casual reader/ prospective bride alike. This book is a wlecome contribution to folklore studies and a necessary reference tool in any library.
This book has its shortcomings. It might have been more aptly named "Marriage Customs of the Old World," since there is precious little information about the New. It is also a relatively pricey investment, for individual use. I think this is definitely a book to be recommended for libraries and other shared resources for books, where it will undeniably be put to good use by a larger audience. Weddings are, after all, supposed to take place once in a lifetime. This is a book that should be shared as widely as possible. Its broad perspective and penchant for detail are to be commended. Folklorists may find the book a bit dated, in areas, but brides, grooms, and wedding planners will no doubt find a multitude of uses for this book.
Monger accomplishes this through the 191 alphabetically arranged entries that vary in length from a few sentences to several pages. Each entry contains a book reference list for further investigation. Also included are an assortment of photographs and illustrations to enhance the written entries. The book contains a lengthy index referring not only to the text but to the images as well.
Many topics covered are very broad, such as the (bridal) shower, while others are more specific, ie Maori Wedding. Individual concepts of marriage are listed as well as many individual countries and also some religions. The book, written by a British author, does not include a section for the United States or for North America or even any part of South America. Certain entries seem to be lacking relevant facts or else clearly state false or outdated information.
Overall, this reference is well written and would be appropriate for a scholar or student as well as the general public. The text is fairly reasonably priced and is easily understood as well as interesting. As well as being useful in a personal collection, it would be helpful in an academic, public or school library.