Jumping the broom
Jumping the broom is a phrase and custom relating to wedding ceremonies in different cultural traditions, found in "many diverse cultures, those of Africa − Europe including Scotland, Hungary and Gypsy culture", all of which "include brooms at wedding rituals."  It is particularly associated with the Romani gypsy people of the United Kingdom, especially those in Wales. There is "evidence showing the wedding custom was practised by gypsies(sic) in England, Scotland" as well as by African Americans and other groups.
In Wales, Romani couples would get married by eloping, when they would "jump the broom," or over a branch of flowering broom (shrub) or a besom made of broom. Welsh Kale and English Romanichal Gypsies and Romanichal populations in Scotland practised the ritual into the 1900s. The Welsh people themselves practised a centuries-old custom, priodas coes ysgub ("broom-stick wedding"), alluded to in Dundes' work. Local variations of the custom were developed in different parts of England and Wales. Instead of placing the broom on the ground, and jumping together, the broom was placed in an angle by the doorway. The groom jumped first, followed by the bride. In southwest England, in Wales, and in the border areas between Scotland and England, "[while some] couples ... agreed to marry verbally, without exchanging legal contracts[,] .... [o]thers jumped over broomsticks placed across their thresholds to officialize their union and create new households", indicating that contractless weddings and jumping the broomstick were different kinds of marriage.
In some African-American communities, marrying couples will end their ceremony by jumping over a broomstick, either together or separately. This practice dates back at least to the 19th century and has enjoyed a 20th century revival largely due to the novel and miniseries Roots.
There is an ongoing debate as to the exact origin or origins.
Historically, "broom-stick weddings" were first known in Wales. There has been dispute among scholars over whether the tradition originated among the Welsh people themselves or among Romani living in Wales.
According to scholar Alan Dundes, who wrote extensively on the topic, the custom originated among Romani Gypsies in Wales (Welsh Kale Gypsies) and England (English Romanichal Gypsies). Scholar C.W. Sullivan III, however, argued that the custom originated among the Welsh people themselves, since the custom was known in Wales prior to the 1700s when he believed Gypsies arrived there. Historical records, however, show that Gypsies actually arrived in Wales earlier, in 1579.
A commonly held belief is that the practice originates or at least has roots in West Africa. However, there are no recorded instances of West African or Central African weddings that involved jumping over a broom.
It is documented that brooms existed as spiritual symbols in regions where African Americans originated. The prime candidate for a geographic origin of the custom in Africa is Ghana where brooms were waved above the heads of newlyweds and their parents. Danita Rountree Green, in her book Broom Jumping: A Celebration of Love, admits there is no recognized documentation suggesting that ethnic groups in Ghana, who were prominent in the Atlantic Slave Trade, ever jumped over the broom. Still, Green's research implies that the ceremony used today stems from traditional rites of maturation still practiced in Africa.
Dundes asserts that the practice was passed along, possibly by force, to slaves by their masters. This is given some weight by the fact that slave masters and their wives assisted in the ceremony at times.
Another author states that it is likely both blacks and whites in the antebellum south accepted jumping the broom as a quasi-marriage ceremony since the practice or symbols used in it (specifically the broom) had similar meanings in their respective cultures. She claims jumping over the broom was definitely a feature in both European and African wedding ceremonies, but believes that the slave practice likely originated in Africa and not Europe.
Jumping over the broom symbolized various things depending on the culture. In the American south, the custom determined who ran the household. Whoever jumped highest over the broom was the decision maker of the household. Or, alternatively, whoever landed on the ground first after jumping the broom was predicted to be the decision maker in the marriage. The jumping of the broom does not constitute taking a "leap of faith" because the practice of jumping the broom pre-dates the phrase coined by Søren Aabye Kierkegaard by one hundred years, if not more. Among southern Africans, who were largely not a part of the Atlantic slave trade, it represented the wife's commitment or willingness to clean the courtyard of the new home she had joined. In England, jumping over the broom (or sometimes walking over a broom), was always synonymous with irregular or non-church unions(as in the expressions "Married over the besom", "living over the brush")  while in America the phrase could be used as slang describing the act of getting married legally, rather than as one specifying an informal union not recognised by church or state.
Decline after the end of American slavery
Slave-owners were faced with a dilemma regarding committed relationships between slaves. While some family stability might be desirable as helping to keep slaves tractable and pacified, anything approaching a legal marriage was not. Marriage gave a couple rights over each other which conflicted with the slave-owners’ claims.  Most marriages between enslaved blacks were not legally recognized during American slavery,as in law marriage was held to be a civil contract, and civil contracts required the consent of free persons. In the absence of any legal recognition, the slave community developed its own methods of distinguishing between committed and casual unions. The ceremonial jumping of the broom served as an open declaration of settling down in a marriage relationship. Jumping the broom was always done before witnesses as a public ceremonial announcement that a couple chose to become as close to married as was then allowed.
Stigma in African-American communities
Jumping the broom also fell out of practice due to the stigma it carried, and in some cases still carries, among black Americans wishing to forget the horrors of slavery. The practice did survive in some communities, however, and made a resurgence after the publication of Alex Haley's Roots
The custom was widely-known in England by the late 18th century. The earliest reference given to the phrase in the Oxford English Dictionary is a quote from the Westminster Magazine of 1774: "He had no inclination for a Broomstick-marriage". A satirical song published in The Times of 1789 also alludes to the custom in a line referring to the rumoured clandestine marriage between the Prince Regent and Mrs. Fitzherbert: “Their way to consummation was by hopping o’er a broom, sir.”
In England marriage by this rite was not considered as legally binding but as an informal arrangement which could be ended at will by the couple involved, without reference to other authority. During a court case heard in London in 1824 regarding the legal validity of a marriage under Jewish law, in which the parties had contracted purely by the man placing a ring on the woman's finger before witnesses, a court official commented "that sort of marriage amounted to nothing more than a broomstick marriage, which the parties had it in their power to dissolve at will."
Tinkers were said to have a similar custom of marriage called "jumping the budget", with the bride and groom jumping over a string or other symbolic obstacle.
A man interviewed in Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor said, "I never had a wife, but I have had two or three broomstick matches, though they never turned out happy."
Some Wiccans have also adopted the custom.
In popular culture
- Charles Dickens' novel, Great Expectations (first published in serial form in the publication All the Year Round from 1 December 1860 to August 1861), contains a reference in chapter 48 to a couple having been married "over the broomstick." The ceremony is not portrayed, but the reference indicates that the readers would have recognized this kind of ceremony.
- American singer-songwriter, Brenda Lee, released the rockabilly song "Let's Jump The Broomstick" on Decca Records in 1959.
- August Wilson's 1990 play, The Piano Lesson, contains a reference in Act One, Scene 2 wherein one character, Doaker, in describing his family history during slavery says, "See that? That's when him and Mama Berniece got married. They called it jumping the broom. That's how you got married in them days."
- In 2008, the LOGO television series Noah's Arc released its first major movie, Noah's Arc: Jumping the Broom, wherein two African-American men get married in Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts.
- In 2011, Paula Patton, Laz Alonso, and Angela Bassett star in the film Jumping the Broom, wherein two very different families converge on Martha's Vineyard one weekend for a wedding. One source of controversy between the families is whether or not the couple will jump the broom as part of their wedding ceremony.
- Mop wedding
- Norman Kolpas, Katie Kolpas "Practically Useless Information on Weddings" Thomas Nelson Inc, 2005 p30
- Dundes, Alan: "Jumping the Broom: On the Origin and Meaning of an African American Wedding Custom" page 327. The Journal of American Folklore, 1996
- Thompson, T. W. "British Gipsy Marriage and Divorce Rites", quoted in The Times, Issue 54004, 21 September 1928; p.11. A paper read at the 1928 jubilee congress of the Folk Lore Society in London refers to this: "In Wales there was preserved until recently a marriage ritual of which the central feature was the jumping of the bride and bridegroom over a branch of flowering broom or over a besom made of broom."
- Donald F. Joyce "Rooted in the chants of slaves, Blacks in the humanities, 1985-1997: a selected annotated bibliography" Greenwood Publishing Group, 1999 p56
- Gwynn, Gwenith (W. Rhys Jones). "'Besom Wedding' in the Ceiriog Valley", Folklore, Vol. 39, No. 2, 30 June 1928, pp.149-166.
- Jones, T. Gwynn. Welsh Folklore, 1930.
- Evans, Tanya, Women, Marriage and the Family, in Barker, Hannah, & Elaine Chalus, eds., Women's History: Britain, 1700–1850: An Introduction (Oxon/London: Routledge, 2005 (ISBN 0-415-29177-1)), p. 60 & n. 19 (n. omitted) (author Evans postdoctoral research fellow, Ctr. for Contemp. Brit. Hist., Institute for Historical Research, London, editor Barker sr. lecturer history, Univ. of Manchester, & editor Chalus sr. lecturer history, Bath Spa Univ. Coll.), citing, at p. 60 n. 19, Gillis, J., Married But Not Churched: Plebeian Sexual Relations and Marital Nonconformity in Eighteenth-Century Britain, in Eighteenth-Century Life, vol. 9 (1985), pp. 32–34, & Leneman, Leah, Promises, Promises Marriage Litigation in Scotland, 1698–1830 (Edinburgh: no publisher, 2003), pp. x–xi.
- "Besom Wedding" in the Ceiriog Valley Gwenith Gwynn (W. Rhys Jones) 'Folklore', Vol. 39, No. 2 (Jun. 30, 1928), pp. 149-166
- Dundes, Alan. "'Jumping the Broom': On the Origin and Meaning of an African American Wedding Custom", The Journal of American Folklore, 1996, p.327.
- Dundes, Alan. "'Jumping the Broom': On the Origin and Meaning of an African American Wedding Custom", The Journal of American Folklore, 1996, p.324.
- Dundes, Alan. "'Jumping the Broom': On the Origin and Meaning of an African American Wedding Custom", The Journal of American Folklore, 1996, p.326
- Rountree Green, Danita. Broom Jumping: A Celebration of Love, Entertaining Ideas, 1992.
- Dundes, Alan. "'Jumping the Broom': On the Origin and Meaning of an African American Wedding Custom", The Journal of American Folklore, 1996, p.328.
- Jones, Leslie. "Happy is the Bride the Sun Shines On" page 64. McCraw-Hill Professional, 2003.
- Dundes, Alan: ""Jumping the Broom": On the Origin and Meaning of an African American Wedding Custom" page 327. The Journal of American Folklore, 1996
- In a short story published in 1896 a character remarks of two lovers who are keen to wed, 'Young ‘n’ old has be’n lookin’ constant fer these two ter jump the broomstick ‘n’ give ‘em weddin’ cake, ‘n’ chicken pie.’ New York Times. 29 March 1896.
- The Times: 3. February 3 1824. The sort of difficulties which might arise were raised by an anti-slavery correspondent in 1824 in ‘’The Times’’ discussing Jamaican slaves. He asked what changes a recent increase in church marriages among them had actually achieved: “Do they legally prevent a master from separating husband and wife, at his pleasure, by sale or transfer? Do they legally bind the husband to the wife, and the wife to the husband? Do they give to the husband the right and the means of redress against the violator of his conjugal peace?”
- Taylor, Orville W. (1958). "Jumping the Broomstick:Slave Marriage and Morality in Arkansas". The Arkansas Historical Quarterly. Taylor quotes from an 1882 ruling by Justice James Eakin of the Arkansas Supreme Court: 'There were no valid marriages amongst that class [the slaves], in the slave states of America before their general emancipation...'
- "A Slave's Marriage Valid: Its Legality Defined". New York Times. July 20 1876. A New York court upheld the retrospective validity of a marriage between Anthony Jones and Patsy Minor, even though at the time and place it had been contracted such marriages between slaves were not legally recognized. Both Jones and Minor had been slaves in Virginia when, with consent of their respective masters, they declared an intention to live together as man and wife. Jones later died intestate in New York, leaving an estate valued at $15,000; a court ruled in favour of the claims of his widow and surviving son.
- "A Slave's Marriage Valid: Its Legality Defined". New York Times. July 20 1876. 'It appears by the evidence that Anthony Jones and Patsy Minor were named according to the custom among slaves, and that the distinction was recognized among slaves, and by their masters, between such lawful and illicit intercourse, and those who cohabited without such marriage were regarded as disreputable.'
- In 'The Story of My Life' (1897) a white author, Mary Ashton Rice Livermore, described a broomstick wedding she attended at a Virginia plantation c. 1842. The preacher (a fellow slave) encouraged the marrying couple to see the broomstick-jumping as a serious expression of their mutual commitment, although he was well aware of the legal limitations of the ceremony. 
- Parry, Tyler (2011). "An Irregular Union: Exploring the Welsh Connection to a Popular African-American Wedding Ritual" in Welsh Mythology and Folklore in Popular Culture: Essays on Adaptations in Literature, Film, Television, and Digital Media edited by Audrey L. Becker and Kristin Noone. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, Inc.. pp. 123.
- Parry, Tyler (2011). "An Irregular Union: Exploring the Welsh Connection to a Popular African American Wedding Ritual" in Welsh Mythology and Folklore in Popular Culture: Essays on Adaptations in Literature, Film, Television and Digital Media edited by Audrey L. Becker and Kristin Noone. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, Inc.. pp. 109–110, 123–124.
- Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition, 1989
- The Times, Tuesday, Sep 08, 1789; pg. 4; Issue 1251; col A
- ‘They who marry by a leap over a broomstick have but to leap back again to find a happy release...’: Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, Vol. 71 (435) Jan 1852 Page 84
- The Times, Friday, Aug 13, 1824; pg. 3; Issue 12416; col C
- Chesney, Kellow. The Victorian Underworld Penguin, 1970. Pg. 92
- Volume I, Pg. 389-91. Quoted in Thomas, Donald, The Victorian Underworld John Murray, 1998. Pg. 62
- Jumping the Broom: Besom Weddings
- Parry, Tyler (2011). "An Irregular Union: Exploring the Welsh Connection to a Popular African American Wedding Ritual" in Welsh Mythology and Folklore in Popular Culture: Essays on Adaptations in Literature, Film, Television and Digital Media edited by Audrey L. Becker and Kristin Noone. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, Inc.. pp. 124–125.
- BBC news article
- "They both led tramping lives, and this woman in Gerrard-street here, had been married very young, over the broomstick (as we say), to a tramping man,..." DICKENS, C. Great Expectations (1860-1861), Chap. 48
- "Jumping the Broom". Internet Movie Database. class="Z3988" title="ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&rft_val_fmt=info%3Aofi%2Ffmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Abook&rft.genre=bookitem&rft.btitle=Jumping+the+Broom&rft.atitle=Internet+Movie+Database&rft_id=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.imdb.com%2Ftitle%2Ftt1640484%2F&rfr_id=info:sid/en.wikipedia.org:Jumping_the_broom">
- Thony C. Anyiam, Jumping the Broom in Style (Authorhouse 2007) ISBN 1-4259-8638-2.
- Orville W. Taylor, Jumping the Broomstick:Slave Marriage and Morality in Arkansas, The Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Vol. 17, No. 3 (Autumn, 1958), pp. 217–231
- Happy is the Bride the Sun Shines on at Googlebooks
- The Nuptial Knot
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