To most Pagans, when you hear about “jumping the broom”, that means someone is getting or has gotten married. Jumping the broom is an act carried out after the completion of a wedding or handfasting ceremony. It is a time-honored tradition that signifies leaving the single life and crossing over the threshold into a new life together as a couple. The broom itself is symbolic, as it represents the ability to sweep away the old life and any negativity. In addition, jumping the broom is believed by many to bring fertility to the couple and as you “jump into a new life” you are leaving the old one behind ready to take on the world as a team.
The origin of the tradition is unknown, but many people have associated it with many cultures including: Roman, Celtic, Welsh and European Gypsy cultures as well as West African cultures. They have all practiced this custom in their own ways. Many of these people did so in secrecy either because they could not afford traditional weddings or because they were forbidden.
During the time of slavery in the American south, many African slaves performed “broom-jumping weddings” in secrecy because they were not allowed to legally marry one another. Once African-Americans were legally allowed to marry, the tradition of broom-jumping pretty much disappeared because it was no longer needed. However, there has been a resurgence in its popularity, due in no small part to the miniseries Roots. Due to this, many modern-day African-Americans choose to honor this tradition.
It’s no wonder that many gay & lesbian couples have chosen to take up this custom and make a place for it in their wedding ceremonies. After all, in many places, they too aren’t afforded the right to marry whom they love.
You could say this tradition is indeed cross-cultural. Interestingly enough, the implications of the act of “jumping the broom” mean relatively the same thing to all people who decide to incorporate it into their wedding ceremony, regardless of cultural identity. I think more than a religious symbol though, to those people who started this tradition, it was a cultural custom. One rooted in superstition and mystery. Who wouldn’t want to make sure they put forth every effort to ensure a successful marriage?
This is just one of many wedding customs that Pagan couples may choose to incorporate to make their ceremony more meaningful for them. Similar to lighting a unity candle or binding their hands together with cords, what it comes down to is a symbol of unity and togetherness. It’s one that I happen to really like and hope to incorporate into my ceremony should I ever get married again. Whatever your cultural identity, you might consider adding this tradition to your handfasting or wedding, as the symbolism is universal and can add a little bit of fun to the ceremony!