What Is the Symbolism of Jumping the Broom?

by Bridgett Michele Lawrence

Know the significance of the broom-jumping tradition.

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Jumping the broom is a common catch phrase used to refer to the act of getting married. It is also an African American wedding tradition with origins deeply rooted in the past. Over the years, there has been some controversy as to whether couples should include this ritual in weddings today. Whether you choose to incorporate this tradition into your wedding or not, it is interesting to know the symbolism behind jumping the broom.

African Roots

The tradition of jumping the broom has it origins in the West African Country of Ghana. The broom symbolized the sweeping away of past wrongdoings and was thought to have spiritual power in the removal of evil spirits. For this reason, brooms were waved over the couple's heads at the wedding to ward off evil spirits. It was then customary for the couple to jump over the broom at the end of the ceremony. Jumping over the broom was symbolic of the bride's commitment to keeping a clean home and her overall dedication to her new family and husband; it also solidified the couple's relationship. Jumping the broom also established the hierarchy of the household: it was believed that whoever jumped highest would have control over the household (this person usually ended up being the man).

European Cultures

The tradition of jumping the broom is also a centuries-old tradition in Europe and many variations exist among the Celtic, Welsh, Druid and Romani peoples. Although the Romani Gypsies are considered the people who established the broom-jumping custom in Europe, Wales was the first known location where jumping over the broom took place. The Romani wedding broom was made from a flowering broom shrub or besom and the couple jumped over the broom to symbolize their union. The Welsh ceremony consisted of a broom placed at an angle by the back door of the church. The groom jumped over the broom first, followed by the bride.

Slavery

The tradition of jumping the broom among African Americans in the U.S. dates back to before the Civil War, when slaves were not permitted to marry. Since their marital unions were not legally recognized, slaves drew on their African tradition of broom jumping to symbolize their union and commitment to each other. The straws of the broom represented family, the handle represented God and the ribbon represented the tie that bound the couple together. For the slaves, this ceremony was a legal and bonding act, connecting them with their African roots, as well as giving much needed legitimacy, dignity and strength to their marriage. In their eyes, their union was now sanctioned by God. After slaves were emancipated and African Americans were allowed to marry legally, there was less of a need to rely on the old African tradition. The practice of jumping the broom began to dwindle among African Americans over the years due, in part, to the negative connotations of slavery associated with it.

Modern Day

Today, jumping the broom is a way for African American newlyweds to pay tribute to the past while looking toward the future. The broom ceremony represents the joining of two families. It also gives respect and honor to those who came before and paved the way during a time when the wedding vows of African Americans were not legally sanctioned. Modern couples engage in the practice with reverence for their ancestors and appreciation of the beauty of their rich African heritage.

Jumping the Broom in Your Wedding

If you are thinking about jumping the broom as a part of your wedding ceremony, there are a few things to consider. Decorated brooms can be purchased at your local craft or specialty bridal store. If you would like to make the ritual more personal, you can make your own custom broom from a regular household broom and decorate it with ribbons and flowers. The ceremony can be held right after the exchange of vows or can take place later as the couple enters the reception area to symbolize their entering a new life together as husband and wife. Everyone at your wedding may not understand the significance of the broom-jumping ceremony, so you may want to take a few moments beforehand to explain the history and invite your guests to witness and take part in this rich tradition.

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About the Author

Based in Los Angeles, Bridgett Michele Lawrence began working as a freelance writer in 2008. She is an accomplished screenwriter, teacher and blogger. Her articles appear on the Sixth Wall and other websites. Lawrence holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in screenwriting from New York University and a Master of Science in childhood education from Brooklyn College.