"Come a little baby let's jump the broomstick"
Updated: Mar 4
Another contentious one this!
Like most of the fun things you can do at ceremonies, the origins of this ritual are debatable. And like many of those other fun options, the consensus is that it was widely regarded as something not entirely 'official'. When the Prince Regent (the future George IV) secretly married his mistress Mrs Fitzherbert in 1789, the scuttlebutt was that "their way to consummation was hopping o'er a broom, sir"
Whether the 'broom' in question was the long-handled brush you're surely imagining is also debatable. There are suggestions it might be a reference to a bough of Cytisus Scoparius or Common Broom (possibly originating in Wales amongst Romani people) or even, through a truly horrible 18th Century translation of a French reference, a pair of crossed swords.
Anyway, by the 18th Century 'broomstick' was a common term for anything considered a bit dodgy or sham. So a 'broomstick marriage' was one of wobbly pedigree, regardless of whether anybody had actually jumped over a broom. Or a pair of crossed swords. Or a yellow-flowering bush. Even Dickens mentioned one in "Great Expectations"!
Some academics insist that some actual jumping must have taken place historically, while others believe that since the term 'broomstick marriage' was in wide circulation, folk etymology created the belief that people must once have jumped over broomsticks to signal a sort of folk wedding.
The version most people are familiar with today gained popularity after its depiction in Alex Haleys novel 'Roots'. A ritual documented amongst enslaved Africans in the 1840s and 50s (adopted because legal marriage was denied them) was reclaimed and reimagined by new generations. And it now enjoys huge popularity all over the world.
In this guise, it usually takes place near the end of a marriage ceremony. Two guests hold a broomstick at about shin height. The couple are asked to stand in front of it and are invited to close their eyes (blindfolds are optional). They then clasp hands and on the count of three they jump. Take a leap of faith! Hurl themselves into the unknown. You get the picture. The couple pretends not to know that as soon as they close their eyes the broom is lowered to the ground! The symbolism is multifaceted. There's trust of course – the couple are putting trust in each other to help them safely over life’s hurdles. There's also the acknowledgement that a marriage is in any ways a leap into the unknown. And then there's the symbol of the broom itself, a tool for sweeping things away. Marriage can be seen as the 'sweeping away' of two old, separate lives to create a clean start for one new shared life.
Just remember to lower the broom!