There are a ton of wedding traditions that reach back hundreds of years. Some are universal, while others are specific to a certain culture, like the act of jumping the broom.
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.
Others say the tradition has West African roots, specifically Ghana. Brooms were allegedly waved over the newlyweds and their parents’ heads to ward off evil. 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 via the Transatlantic Slave Trade, which led to the tradition being used in many wedding ceremonies between slaves at the time. Similar to the Romas, the act was in the place of a legal marriage, because slave marriage was banned at the time.
Decades later, the tradition was popularized in 1977 in the African American community when the miniseries Roots showed the lead Kunta Kinte jumping the broom with his wife Belle. Since then it’s 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 think it’s 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 beforehand.
This wedding tradition’s modern-day usage is a little 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. 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.
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.