A lot of people bemoan the death of romance nowadays, but the truth is courtship has taken a lot of very different forms over the years.
From literal battle arenas to intimacy loopholes, here are some of the strangest and most fascinating courtship rituals from across the world. Enjoy! And make sure to check out the sources at the bottom for even more.
The love stick.Giphy
Back in Colonial America, housing was in short supply and families would often be cramped together without much privacy. Naturally, this made getting to know your sweetheart somewhat difficult. Its hard to get anyone in the mood when their parents are across the room watching. Not only that, but puritanical attitudes towards sex meant that wooing had to be done from a distance.
The solution to these problems? A six foot hollow tube called a courting stick. Courting couples would take one end place it in their ear while the other whispered sweet nothings while maintaining polite company.
A knife way to say hello.Giphy
Leave it to the Vikings to make courtship bluntly simple and yet totally metal at the same time.
In Finland, when a girl came of marriage age, her father would let the other men know she was available by gifting her an empty sheath for her belt. If a man fancied her, he would place his knife in the sheath for her consideration. She could return the knife, but would continue to wear it if she wanted to signal the match to the village.
Two men enter, one man leaf.Giphy
The village of Tenganan in Bali practices a courtship festival called the Usaba Sambah. The unmarried men of the village arm themselves with a bamboo shield and the straight, thorny leaves of the pandanus plant. The event, which happens every May, is a sort of coming of age ritual for the men and is the perfect chance for them to impress the ladies.
While the men use the leaves to fight in an arena, the single women of the village are placed on a foot powered Ferris wheel to ensure they get the best view of the action. The wheel only stops turning when the fighting is finished, a process that can take several hours.
Getting the message.
The Miao culture of southwestern China has a delicious way of communicating affection. During the Sisters Meal Festival (an even that roughly corresponds to Valentines Day), girls dress up and cook sticky rice coloured to represent the four main seasons of the year. The rice is then rolled in handkerchiefs and given to suitors who had approached them earlier. Delicious right? But the rice actually just a distraction from the real message.
Hidden inside the rice is a pair of chopsticks, with different kinds of chopsticks coded to represent her response to his attraction. Two red chopsticks means that the affection is returned, while a single chopstick means he is being politely turned down. If the man finds a garlic or chili inside the rice, he is being rejected rudely. A pine needle hidden in the rice means that she hasn't yet made up her mind.
The bikini round is particularly hard.Giphy
Beauty and grooming is central to the men of the Wodaabe tribe in the Sahel region of Africa. When they're able to, men spend lots of time grooming and adorning themselves with decorations in order to make themselves attractive to the women of the tribe. This is taken up to eleven during the annual Gerewol courtship festival. The week long celebration involves men dressing themselves as best they can and entering into a dancing competition known as the Yaake. In the dance, competitors form a single line and dance away while being watched by prospective partners.
A judging panel of three women choose the winners based on their looks and dancing skills.
All bark, no bite.Giphy
In traditional Balinese Hindu societies, Mesangih/Mepandes is a rite of passage for boys and girls approaching puberty. The ceremony involves filing down the incisors and canine teeth of the youth's mouth. The idea is to smooth away the bestial qualities of the soul and prepare them for marriage and adult life. Traditionally done by a priest, the actual filing of teeth is mostly handled by dentists nowadays.
I'm a big fan.Giphy
Upper class Victorian women definitely had a killer fashion sense, and were even able to incorporate it into wooing. Subtle, fashion conscious and flirty; fan signals were used as a method of communicating with gentlemen. In an age where simply going up to someone and starting a conversation with them was likely to start a moral panic, ladies developed an elaborate system of codes with the accessory.
Fanning slowly? She's taken pal. Quickly? Looking for love. If a lady rested her fan on her right cheek it meant that she was politely interested, BUT if it was on her left cheek it was a way of telling you to take a hike.
The Amish stalk-er.Giphy
Amish courtship is a secretive affair, and in some communities citizens arent aware of a romance until the wedding is announced in church. However, there are actually a few clues to be able to tell that a marriage is in the works. Hot creamed celery is a traditional main dish served at Amish weddings, and nosey neighbours could poke their head in the garden to check if the family was growing celery in preparation. A garden full of celery stalks usually meant that one of their daughters was being married off.
I want to be the little spoon.Giphy
Giving a whole new meaning to the concept of spooning, Welsh couples have made the utensil a beloved part of courtship since the 17th century. Lovespoons are intricately carved wooden spoons decorated with symbols and designs that are meant for men to show off their craft.
Evidently woodworking prowess was a very attractive skill back in the day, as some lovespoons were handed down from generation to generation to be added to. Lovespoons are still in use today, though are usually gifted for decoration purposes rather than demonstrating your skill with a carving knife.
Filthy good fun.Giphy
Scotland evidently has a pretty cynical attitude towards married life, albeit not without a sense of humor. In parts of northern Scotland there exists a tradition for married couples to be called blackening. Before the wedding, the bride and/or the groom is captured by friends and family and covered head to to toe in food and adhesive substances (the grosser the better). They're then paraded before the community accompanied by the clanging of pots and pans.
The Scots who practice blackening believe that it better prepares the couple for married life. Which is evidently comparable to being tarred and feathered and embarrassed in front of the whole town.
Don't be a Dyngus.
Dyngus Day is a Polish event used to celebrate the end of Lent. After living humbly for forty days, its a chance to people to let loose and have some fun. Naturally this means theres a lot of romance in the air to go around. Boys and girls will douse the people they like with either water or perfume.
As well, boys will gently whip the faces of girls they like with stalks of pussy willows. Roots of the festival can be traced to Slavic folklore, where the water and whipping were associated with cleansing and renewal. Although nowadays its more frequently connected to Christian baptism thanks to Polish historical figure Mieszko I.
A match made in corporate.
There are lots of arranged marriage practices across the world, but one of the most interesting ones is the time honoured practice of Omiai in Japan. It began in the feudal age as a way to develop political alliances. The elaborate practice involves a third-party matchmaker making a thorough background investigation of both the man and the woman, as well as their families. Then, an exchange of pictures between the candidates takes place. The process is meant to ensure that the families are well suited to each other, and will avoid conflict as a result of the match.
Omiai has declined in popularity since the second world war, but is still used in upperclass Japanese society and by major corporations like Mitsubishi to help their employees find a partner.
The Dai culture of southwestern China has an ancient courtship ritual simply called visiting girls. Gathering around the village bonfire, women wear long billowing skirts and turn spinning wheels while they wait for the men to arrive. Draped in red blankets, the men then make their visit by circling the crowd and serenading the group with the instrument of their choice.
If a man takes a liking to one of the women, he will approach her directly with a song. If a woman takes a liking to one of the men, she will offer him a stool kept tucked under her skirt. After the matches are made, the man will wrap his date in the blanket and the two have a quiet conversation.
The gloves come off.Giphy
Evidently gloves were a very useful social tool in Victorian society. Well to do English gentlemen would offer their lover a pair of gloves. Then on Sunday, if she wore the gloves to church it was her way of agreeing to a relationship. If not, it was a quiet way to turn him down and avoid conflict.
A thimble of our love.
The Puritans were hard, practical people who shunned the frivolities of the old world. Unfortunately for them, frivolity is kind of the point of romance. In colonial American society, a wedding ring was considered an expensive and gaudy gift. Instead, the thimble was substituted for practical reasons. A bride to be would use the thimble sewing the things she would need for her new home, and when the wedding day arrived, she could cut the bottom off the thimble to slide it around her finger as a wedding ring.
Jumping through hoops.Giphy
Some traditions are born out of unfortunate circumstances, but that doesn't mean they can't still have special meaning in their own way. Jumping the broom existed for some time as an idiom that expressed the transition from youth to domestic life, but it took on a much more literal meaning among slaves in the antebellum American South.
African-American slaves were unable to get married due to legal marriage requiring the consent of two free parties. A marriage would give the couple a legal obligation to each other over their owner, so instead the literal ceremony of jumping the broom was substituted. While the practice declined in popularity after the Civil War, it was since reclaimed by parts of the Black community and remains a tradition to this day.
Sing like a bird.
In the jungle of Papua New Guinea is an incredible display of colour, song and courtship. Several tribes gather annually to peaceably share their traditions, including the much beloved sing-sing. The ritual is modelled after the colourful birds of the forest, with men dressing in elaborate colourful costumes and using singing as an imitation of bird calls to attract potential lovers and show affection between tribes.
Locking someone down.
What might seem romantic to you can be a complete headache for someone else. Take the fairly recent Italian phenomenon of padlocking. Inspired by Federico Moccias book I Want You, couples attach locks to a bridge and throw the key into the water as a symbol of their eternal love.
Romantic right? Not so much for the poor city workers that have had to cut off the locks. While the practice is certainly cute, its popularity has raised environmental and civic concerns over the hundreds of padlocks weighing down popular bridges.
It's been a slice.Giphy
Women in rural Austria certainly had an interesting way of letting men get to know them. During the 19th century it was common practice to tuck apple slices in your armpits before dancing. Once the music stopped, they would offer the sweaty apple slice to their partner. He would consume the fruit if he wanted to be exposed to her 'personal fragrance'.