I want to talk about umbrellas, because they actually have many interesting cultural connections and surprising ritual uses. We know umbrellas shelter us from the wind, rain or even the sunshine, so they are ripe for symbolic representation.
A cool French tradition involves the newlywed couple and close family dancing under a giant decorated umbrella or parasol as guests throw paper ribbons over the top. This represents congratulations and wishes of good luck and love for them. It also shows the coming together of the two families under one roof.
Similarly, the “umbrella dance” is the first dance for a German couple. At the entrance to the reception, guests sign a white umbrella with colorful markers. When it's time for the dance, the umbrella is presented, and the newlyweds hold it over their heads during a waltz while guests throw confetti at them.
The red umbrella is a strong symbol in Japanese weddings. Red signifies life and wards off evil, so the umbrella keeps the bride not only dry, but safe. A very large umbrella is carried by a man who follows the bride to the wedding. A similar tradition is popular in China as well, where it shields the bride, so birds do not see her, and frankly, poop on her. Rice is scattered on the umbrella to distract the birds so they will not harm her as the wedding processes to the groom’s home.
An umbrella clearly symbolizes protection. What I am proposing is using it for that exact symbol. You can do this in many ways. For example, a couple might sit under an umbrella while the officiant or other person, a close family member, or best man or woman, sprinkles petals, or confetti over them as they huddle underneath, protected from life’s storms. Wording to go with these umbrella rituals can be simple, because its meaning is obvious, so it is not hard to create your own version of this. Or conversely you could be showering them with love and good wishes.
Remember to check with your venue or location to be sure that leaving those papers or petals behind on the ground is OK. Biodegradable confetti is available, but will someone have to sweep it up? Double check, please.
In one of my favorite places, New Orleans, umbrellas are used in “second line” parades as an artistic expression for the person carrying it as they dance their way down the street.
Historically, umbrellas were once a sign of social status, with only the most upper class having their very own umbrella that perfectly matched their delicate outfits. Maybe that’s why when we see umbrellas used symbolically they are often decorated and become very fancy indeed, harking back to an earlier time.
Finally, umbrella rituals work very well for baby showers, bridal showers or other occasions. Invite guests to take a handful of rice, confetti, petals, or better yet, notes with messages on them, and sprinkle them over the designated honoree, showering good things upon the person. Creating little notes that say specific wishes really brings it to life. Why, these special events are already called a “shower" so you may was well make it so. The honoree is showered with gifts, so let her or him also be showered with wishes and love. Works, right?
Lois Heckman is a certified Celebrant officiating in the Poconos and beyond. She writes about creating meaningful weddings, focusing on ceremony, ritual, and diverse traditions. Find her on Instagram, Facebook and website: www.LoisHeckman.com