While weddings are full of happenings and rituals, a wedding night usually only has one connotation. But some cultures partake in wedding night activities that involve many more participants than just the bride and the groom.
Period-film aficionados may be familiar with the wedding-night rituals of the 18th-century royal betrothal, in which a group of somber priests, ladies-in-waiting, and gentlemen of the bedchamber gather around the new couple. But there are plenty of other, far more jovial games and pranks that bridal parties around the world play on newlyweds before they finally get some privacy for the night. Here are some of the most awkward, funny and downright weird wedding night traditions.
Scottish Cheese Prank
According to the book Marriage Customs of the World: From Henna to Honeymoons, there was once a Scottish tradition involving cheesing up your bed for good luck. As the book describes, a newlywed couple might spread a pound of Limburger cheese between a pair of towels, which they widely practiced, and whether it is still observed today, is unclear.
A wedding night game sometimes played in India involves the bride hiding under the bedcovers in the bedroom, surrounded by family members. The groom walks into the room with his family members and attempts to determine which side of the sheets her head is under. As he makes a decision, he is goaded by the bride’s family members, who attempt to throw him off with false clues and jeering. If he ends up correctly determining where her head is, the superstition goes that the groom will be on equal footing with his bride throughout the marriage. If he accidentally picks the side containing her feet, he’s doomed to serving her (and falling at her feet) for the rest of his life.
Chinese Nao Dongfang
In societies that cherished virginity, wedding games that eased the newly married couple’s anxiety around their first night in the bedroom became popular. The Chinese custom of Nao Dongfang, put in place during the Han Dynasty (206 BC to 220 AD), is still practiced today. It teaches the couple about intimacy through a series of dirty jokes and games played by the families of the bride and groom. One such game sees an apple tied to a string and dangled in front of the couple by a friend or family member. The newlyweds both have to try to bite the apple, eventually leading to a kiss—often expedited by the friend moving the apple away at the last moment.
French Toilet Soup
A tradition in France called “Le Pot de Chambre” dates back to the days of chamber pots, when wedding-goers would unite after the newlyweds departed to their room. The bridal parties would take a chamber pot and fill it with leftover alcohol and food scraps from the reception, and then present it to the bride and groom to serve as “fuel” for their long night ahead. The party would typically stay in the bedroom to ensure that the couple would drink the whole pot.
The tradition continues today, though it’s been updated to meet modern hygiene standards. While the bridal couple is still presented with a toilet bowl as a prank, more often than not it’s filled with chocolate fondue or champagne—although some choose to throw in a couple of scraps of toilet paper or bananas covered in chocolate for added authenticity.
U.S. and Canadian Shivaree
Shivaree was an old French custom in which townspeople shamed marriages between adulterers and other matches they disapproved of by making a loud racket and causing a ruckus outside their homes on their wedding nights. The tradition was brought over to the United States and Canada with French colonization. However, instead of using shivaree to express disapproval of the marriage, bridal parties would instead simply gather around the newlyweds home and create a ruckus by banging pots and pans and singing loud songs to tease the married couple in the form of a friendly—albeit irritating—prank.
Korean Fish Slapping
In Korea, sometimes the groom’s friends get together to lend him a helping hand in case he’s worried about not performing on the wedding night. In the book Wedding Bells and Chimney Sweeps, Bruce Montague describes a post-wedding ceremony game in which the groom’s friends remove the newly married man’s socks, tie his ankles together, and beat the soles of his feet with fish. Specifically, with dried corvina fish, a yellow species that can grow up to three feet in length.
During the game, the groom is subject to interrogation, and should his answers be unsatisfactory, the beating with the fish becomes more severe. Though Montague writes that the game is meant to “acclimatize the new husband to his first night of matrimony,” other sources are more explicit and say that the process is thought to act like Viagra, to ensure that the groom doesn’t disappoint on his wedding night.