By Lisa Presnell and Beth Erickson

Mayan weddings are growing in popularity. Perhaps it’s because people are growing familiar with ancient Mayan traditions due to popular discussion about the 13th Mayan calendar, said to end on December 21, 2012, a date that has been called into question with the recent discovery of a Mayan calendar in a cave in Guatamala that predicts another 7,000 or so years. Some believe the calendar’s end signals the end of the world, others a new start, which is exactly what couples who wed experience—a new beginning.

No matter the reason couples choose Mayan weddings, the destination is part of the journey—and resorts and vendors throughout Mexico and South America are offering these unique destination events. In Belize, to celebrate rebirth and renewal, 12 couples will participate in the Marriage of Many, on 12-12-12 on the Mayan ruins of Cahal Pech. Others might hold their weddings at Mayan ruins like Belize’s Xunantunich, Tikal in Guatamala, the Tulum Ruins in Mexico, or, more simply, on the white sand beaches. According to Ilse Diamant, owner of Diamant Events, Riviera Maya, the Mayan wedding is very symbolic, “and a great way to live the traditions of the place couples choose as their wedding destination.”

Mayan weddings, also called K’aam Nikte’ ceremonies, are noted for their spirituality, beauty, and elements that reflect respect for life. Traditional Mayan wedding ceremonies can be either simple or elaborate and are performed by Shamans. The Mayan wedding ceremony reflects the connection of the ancient people to the universe and their gods. “For those brides and grooms who are looking for an alternative to the traditional wedding ceremony, a Mayan ceremony is a perfect choice to incorporate the Mayan culture while celebrating the bond of marriage in the Riviera Maya,” says Linda Burchett, wedding planner for Condohotels Playa del Carmen. Typical Mayan weddings are one to one-and-a-half hours long and occur with the couple surrounded by family and friends. Common elements of the Mayan wedding include the following:

Wearing white—not just for brides
Since the Mayan ceremony is about honoring our connection to the universe, brides and grooms participating in a Mayan wedding wear white or off-white clothing. To absorb the energy of the earth and the ceremony, the couple does not wear shoes. Guests are encouraged to wear the same type of attire. “During spiritual ceremonies, friends and family are seated wearing the clothes of their choice and viewing the happy occasion, whereas in a Mayan ceremony the guests are requested to dress in white, stand, and actively participate in the Mayan ceremonies—playing instruments and offering blessings,” says Burchett. Family and friends who bear gifts of flower, music, food, and drink circle the couple. Mayan music with conch shells and Mayan instruments lend an ancient feel, and all participate.

Flowers and candles mark cardinal points
Just before the ceremony begins, the Shaman performs a purification ritual blowing sacred smoke from the Copal tree toward the four corners of the altar and blowing the conch shell. To represent the four cardinal points of north, south, east, and west at the altar, flowers are placed on each. Red ones represent the north, purple the south, white the west, and yellow the east. Candles are then placed at each corner of the altar to represent the four Mayan cosmos gods.

The sacred candle brings unity
Bringing the couple to the altar and lighting the sacred candle, also known as the fifth flame, was thought to tie the couple to the feminine Mother Earth and the masculine Cosmic Energy. The unity candle used in many modern weddings derives from Mayan customs.

Offerings are placed like prayers
Spiritual offerings are also common. Couples bring gifts such as fruit, beans, rice, and corn, which the shaman places in four bowls on the altar as gifts for the four elements.  These gifts for the gods are like prayers, as they have symbolic representation that includes fertility, prosperity, and strength.

Mayan wedding feast
Beans, potatoes, tortillas, and turkey tamales, all of these were typical fare at a traditional Mayan wedding feast. Those wanting to be authentic include the same and Xtabentun, an anise and honey-flavored Mayan liqueur. Balche is a sacred drink made from the balche, “hidden,” tree. Believed to have magical properties, it is made especially for the bride and groom in a month-long process. Its ingredients include balche bark, flowers, anise, and wild fresh bee honey.

Over time, ancient Mayan traditions and rituals have merged and combined with current styles. Couples wanting Mayan wedding ceremonies will find sites that offer experiences that are quite faithful to ancient customs and those that have merged with Mexican, Aztec, and Spanish traditions. What remains consistent in each is the significance of the union and the stunning beauty of the ceremony locations.

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