Jumping the broom is an historical ritual with Celtic roots. Like many traditions, exactly how and where it started is brought into question. Some say it started with the Romani Gypsy people living in Wales and others say it originated with the Welsh people themselves. Today variations of this ritual are practiced by Welsh, Celtics and Druids as well as the nomadic Romani. In fact, the earliest mention of this tradition is tied to the Romani and dates back to the 18th century. Today, common-law broomstick weddings are still practiced in some parts of Wales as a centuries-old custom called priodas coes ysgub.
Along with this heritage, some say jumping the broom comes from an African marriage ritual which was practiced in the U.S. during the days of slavery when blacks weren't allowed to marry. However, others attribute this as a practice taken from the whites. Either way, secret ceremonies were held as black couples committed themselves to each other by stepping over a broomstick in front of family and friends.
Now the tradition is practiced as a folk tradition in various parts of the world from Eastern Europe to the Americas.
A Besom Broom Used for Broom Jumping
The type of broom used in these ceremonies was besom brooms constructed by tying twigs or straw together against a strong rod or stick. Back in the 18th century, brooms were found just inside the door to every home with bristles up to ward off evil spirits and to protect the home and all who lived there. Sometimes it was hung over the door with the bristles facing opening of the door for good luck. It was considered one of the first lines of defense for the homemaker.
Today, jumping the broom is thought to represent the couple entering a new life together, and sweeping away their single lives including former problems and concerns.
Jumping the Broom Variations
While we can dispute where and how jumping the broom started, I'd rather focus on variations of the practice as wedding planners have started to include the custom today. Jumping the broom can take place at the church, the reception, the couples' new home, and is often included in neo-pagan unions, too.
- Place the broom at an angle by the rear door of the church.
- Groom jumps first, followed by the bride.
- Broom laid on floor and couple jumps over it hand-in-hand as high as they can.
- Broom laid in the entryway to the new home with bride and groom taking turns jumping over it. (Another variation of this one is for the groom to carry his bride over the broom into their new home.)
Another old custom involves the couple jumping over a crossed broom and sword held by the best man and the maid of honor. This practice represents cutting of ties to parents and the ties being swept away as the couple crosses a new threshold to start a new life together.
Some who want to eliminate the broom because of its Wiccan associations may choose to step over a sword instead of a broom.