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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 has been particularly associated with the Romani gypsy people of the United Kingdom, especially those in Wales. It has been suggested that 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 practiced 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.
It has been claimed, by commentators citing the 1920s folklorist Gwenith Gwynn (a.k.a. W. Rhys Jones), that "broom-stick weddings" were first known in Wales, originating either 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 18th century when he believed Gypsies arrived there. Historical records, however, show that Gypsies actually arrived in Wales earlier, in 1579. A more serious problem with Sullivan’s claim is the complete lack of evidence that the custom even existed in Wales in the 18th century. His source, the Welsh folklorist Gwenith Gwynn, assumed that the custom had once existed on the basis of conversations with elderly Welsh people during the 1920s, none of whom had ever seen such a practice. One had claimed that: “It must have disappeared before I was born, and I am seventy-three”. Others had heard of the practice, but all were unclear on the details, their evidence being peppered with phrases such as “it must have” and “I should think”. Gwynn’s dating of the custom to the 18th century rested on the assumption that it must have disappeared before these elderly interviewees were born, and on his misreading of the baptism register of the parish of Llansanffraid Glyn Ceiriog.
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.
Research by the legal historian Professor R. Probert of Warwick University has since shown that the actual history of the broomstick wedding, at least in the United Kingdom, has a much shorter history than has been claimed. The earliest references to ‘broomstick’ marriages in England did not refer to a practice of jumping over a stick, but rather to any kind of sham or dubious ceremony. The earliest use of the phrase is a quote from the Westminster Magazine of 1774: "He had no inclination for a Broomstick-marriage", the person in question simply stating that he did not want to go through a ceremony that had no legal validity, it having been suggested to him that he would pretend to be marrying by having a French sexton read the marriage service to him and his young bride. A satirical song published in The Times newspaper of 1789 referring to the rumoured clandestine marriage between Prince Regent and Mrs. Fitzherbert also reflects this symbolic usage of the broomstick imagery: “Their way to consummation was by hopping o’er a broom, sir”, and there are plentiful other examples of ‘broomstick’ being using in other contemporary contexts but all with a similar implication of dubiousness or fakery. This meaning survived into the early nineteenth century: during a case heard in London in 1824 regarding the legal validity of a marriage ceremony consisting of nothing more than the groom placing a ring on the bride's finger before witnesses, a court official commented that the ceremony "amounted to nothing more than a broomstick marriage, which the parties had it in their power to dissolve at will." A decade later, the 1836 Marriage Act, which introduced civil marriage, was contemptuously referred to as the ‘Broomstick Marriage Act’ by those who felt that a marriage outside the Anglican church did not deserve legal recognition. Some also began to use the phrase to refer to non-marital unions: a man interviewed in Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor admitted: "I never had a wife, but I have had two or three broomstick matches, though they never turned out happy." By the 1850s, though, this meaning of ‘broomstick’ had fallen out of currency and references to ‘broomstick marriages’ began to be interpreted literally, as though they had involved a couple actually jumping over a stick. Folklorists such as Gwenith Gwynn, interviewing people in the early 20th century, were unwittingly discovering folk memories of a Victorian misunderstanding rather than an actual, earlier folk practice.
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. It has often been assumed that, in England, jumping over the broom (or sometimes walking over a broom), always indicated an irregular or non-church union (as in the expressions "Married over the besom", "living over the brush"), but there are examples of the phrase being used in the context of legal weddings, both religious and civil. Other sources have stepping over a broom as a test of chastity, while putting out a broom was also said to be a sign ‘that the housewife’s place is vacant’ and a way, therefore, of advertising for a wife.
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.
Alternatively, in America, the act may be symbolized as "sweeping the past behind you," as to start afresh in the couple's new life together.
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
Other groups 
While broomstick weddings have been associated with gypsies, the sources that make reference to the practice tend to repeat and recycle claims. They also reflect assumptions about how gypsies were thought to behave. Nineteenth-century newspaper reports of actual gypsy weddings indicate that they took place in church.
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.
- In episode 10 of Grey's Anatomy series 9 (2013), Miranda Bailey and Ben Warren jump the broom on their wedding.
See also 
- 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, 'Folklore', Vol. 39, No. 2 (June 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.
- Probert, R. (2005) Chinese Whispers and Welsh Weddings, 20 Continuity and Change 211-228
- 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.
- Probert, R. Marriage Law and Practice in the Long Eighteenth Century: A Reassessment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009)
- Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition, 1989
- (1774) 2 Westminster Magazine, p. 16
- The Times, Tuesday, Sep 08, 1789; pg. 4; Issue 1251; col A
- As evidenced by the searchable databases in Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO)
- The Times, Friday, Aug 13, 1824; pg. 3; Issue 12416; col C
- Jackson’s Oxford Journal 12th September 1840, p. 1; Saint Valentine: or, Thoughts on the evil of Love in Mercantile Community: The Galanti Show (1843) 13 Bentley’s Miscellany 151
- Volume I, Pg. 389-91. Quoted in Thomas, Donald, The Victorian Underworld John Murray, 1998. Pg. 62
- Dundes, Alan: ""Jumping the Broom": On the Origin and Meaning of an African American Wedding Custom" page 327. The Journal of American Folklore, 1996
- See Dudley Heath, ‘In Coster-Land’ (1894) 125 English Illustrated Magazine 517, referring to ‘a newly-made and happy couple on their way from Bethnal Green, where, at the Red Church, they have for the sum of seven-pence halfpenny gone through the ceremony of “jumping the broomstick”’
- J.G. Whitehead, M. Terry, B. Aitken, ‘Scraps of English Folklore, XII’ (1926) 37 Folklore 76; Sheila Stewart, Lifting the Latch: A Life on the Land (Charlbury: Day Books, 2003)
- 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. p. 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.
- Chesney, Kellow. The Victorian Underworld Penguin, 1970. Pg. 92
- Hancock, Ian. ‘Duty and beauty, possession and truth: lexical impoverishment as control’, ch 12 in Thomas Acton and Gary Mundy (eds) Romani culture and Gypsy identity (Hatfield: University of Hertfordshire Press, 1997)
- Mayall, David. Gypsy-travellers in nineteenth-century society (CUP, 1988)
- E.g., Jackson’s Oxford Journal 15th November 1873, p. 8; Northern Echo, 18th August 1882, p. 3; The Illustrated Police News 26th August 1882, p. 3; Northern Echo 19th October 1888, p. 3
- 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 http://www.bbc.co.uk/northamptonshire/content/articles/2004/08/05/pagan_wedding_feature.shtml
- "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.
Further reading 
- 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