Tracking Down Traditions: Jumping The Broom

The ritual of jumping the broom is one that is likely familiar to many of us…it is synonymous with getting married, or tying the knot, and there was even a movie of the same name just a couple years ago. But even with that relative familiarity, there are more than a couple interpretations of the tradition and varying stories of its origin.

noemicoreywedding0405

photo by Jenny Martell Photography

Jumping the broom is most commonly associated with African American heritage and stems from the days of the slave trade, particularly in the antebellum south. During that time, it was often forbidden, and even illegal in certain areas, for slaves to marry. Being unable to formally wed, they would have small private ceremonies and seal their union by laying a broom on the floor or across a doorway and jump over it, symbolizing the start of their new life together.

Jumping the Broom

photo by Jenny Martell Photography

It is unclear where exactly the tradition originally began. Some purport it came over on the slave ships from West Africa, where tribe members would wave a broom around to ward off spirits before a wedding ceremony. Others say the broom grew from the African tradition of placing sticks on the ground in front of the couple, representing their new home together. And still others describe a spiritual take on the broom with the spray being symbolic of the family, or community, and the handle representing God holding everyone together.

You might be surprised to know the tradition also has historic ties to English, Celtic and Welsh tribes as far back as the 1600s. They often incorporated the broom into their marriage ceremonies as a symbol of the homestead and sweeping away the past.

Jumping the Broom

Jumping the Broom

photos by Jenny Martell Photography

So as you can see, jumping the broom, while most strongly tied to African American wedding traditions, has many different meanings for many different groups. And every take on this tradition is a beautiful nod to a couple’s heritage and the beginning of their life together.

There are so many variations on the precise meaning and origin of the tradition that I’d be remiss to not pass on a few resources I came upon while learning more about jumping the broom.  If you are interested in learning more, here are just a few links to get you started: African American Registry, African American Roots, about.com. Have you ever witnessed a jumping of the broom? Do you have a different take on the meaning behind the broom? Share it with us below!

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