There are a variety of wedding traditions from cultures across the globe that reach back hundreds of years. Some are more universal ceremonies, while others have a strong tie to a particular culture—like the act of jumping the broom.
This tradition is a go-to for many Black couples that want to incorporate African traditions into their wedding ceremony. But what, exactly, is jumping the broom? Where does the tradition come from? And how is it used in weddings today?
Jumping the broom is a marriage ritual performed at some Black or African-American weddings. After the couple says their "I do's," they join hands and ceremoniously jump over a broom together, which represents stepping into their new life as a married couple.
It’s hard to trace where, exactly, the practice originated. Some believe it first started in Wales in the early 1700s when Roma (also known as gypsy) weddings weren’t recognized by the church, so they would marry through non-church rituals. It’s said that the broomstick was placed at the entrance of a door and the couple jumped over it, the groom followed by the bride. If either of the partners touched the broom, the union was considered not meant to be. To annul the marriage, the couple would jump over the broom backward.
However, others say the broom ceremony has West African roots—specifically Ghana, a country in West Africa. Brooms were allegedly waved over the newlyweds and their parents’ heads to ward off evil spirits. The broom was then set on the ground for them to jump over. It’s said that the act of broom jumping came to America as part of the African Diaspora via the Transatlantic Slave Trade, which led to the tradition being used in many wedding ceremonies between enslaved people at the time. Similar to the Romas, the act was often used in the place of a legal marriage, since slave marriage was banned at the time.
Decades later, the Black wedding tradition saw a resurgence in the African American community based on Alex Haley's 1976 novel Roots, and the miniseries of the same name that followed in 1977. In the book and series, the lead character, Kunta Kinte, is shown jumping the broom with his wife, Belle. Since then, the tradition has been shown in television series like This Is Us, Grey’s Anatomy, and The Originals and highlighted in the 2011 romantic comedy film Jumping the Broom.
Today, jumping the broom is often performed during Black weddings as a nod to the past and as a way to pay homage to their ancestors and African culture (though some Black people view broomstick weddings as archaic and choose to sidestep the act due to its ties to slavery). It’s usually done right after the couple says “I do” and before they walk up the aisle together to seal the union. A poem or prayer can also be said by the officiant and/or the couple beforehand.
This wedding tradition’s modern-day usage is a bit different from the past. It’s said to symbolize sweeping away the old to make room for a new beginning. The wedding broom itself is usually decorated with ribbons, flowers, lace, or with the couple’s initials (couples will sometimes ask their wedding dress designer to also design their broom). Some even have guests sign their names and attach them to the broom as a way to pass on their good wishes. Couples often keep the brooms as an heirloom and pass them down through generations or hang them in their homes for decoration.
Still curious about jumping the broom? Here are a few frequently asked questions about the tradition:
When does jumping the broom happen in the ceremony? Generally, the jumping of the broom happens immediately following the couple's vows.
How to jump the broom? For the broom jumping tradition, the broom is placed on the ground at the wedding ceremony site. After reciting their vows, the couple joins hands and jumps over the broom, solidifying their marriage.
Should I jump the broom at my wedding? Only you can decide if jumping the broom is the right fit for your wedding. If you feel a strong cultural tie to the practice and want to incorporate the tradition into your wedding celebration with friends and family members, you should do so—or, if it doesn't feel right to incorporate this tradition (or you don't have any cultural ties to the practice), then you should consider leaving it out of your ceremony.
What does the broom look like? The brooms used in jumping the broom ceremonies are typically wooden with natural-fiber bristles. While it's not required, many couples choose to customize their broom with flowers, ribbons, lace, and other adornments to make it feel festive and special for their big day.
Is there a specific person that needs to place the broom on the ground before the broom jumping tradition takes place? In the jumping the broom tradition, there's no one particular person that needs to place the broom on the ground; the officiant may put it down during the ceremony—or, if the couple chooses, they might ask a friend or family member.
No matter where the tradition hailed from, it’s since been embraced and held up by the Black community during their unions. How each couple chooses to integrate it into their big day (and whether or not they choose to integrate it at all) is up to them. But either way, each jump is intended as a way of blessing the marriage.