A Jewish wedding takes place under a chuppah, a canopy symbolic of the couple's first home, open on all four sides as the couple's home will be open to friends, family and needy strangers. The chuppah's presence above the bride and groom also symbolizes the Shekhinah, God's indwelling presence, which hovers close to the bride and groom on this most magical of days.
In talmudic times, the chuppah was literally a tent under which the wedding was consummated. While this custom gradually disappeared, the chuppah remained and evolved.
There are no particular dimensions to a chuppah or specifications for the material. Some couples get married under a tallit, a prayer shawl; others use a family heirloom like a tablecloth. Some synagogues own decorated chuppot which are lent out for weddings. And finally some couples design their own. A chuppah can be batiked, woven, embroidered, silk-screened, appliqued, caligraphed or painted, to name a few possibilities.
One new tradition is to send guests cloth squares on which they are asked to create something for the bride and groom. The squares are then mailed to someone who assembles them in a beautiful and unique chuppah.
Some chuppot are stationary and will be set up prior to the wedding on the dais or wherever the bride and groom will stand. Some are portable and carried in on poles as part of the wedding procession. It is a great honor to hold someone's chuppah at their wedding.
There is a tradition, though not legally mandated, of the bride circling the groom under the chuppah immediately following the processional. Some brides circle three times and some seven. Some find the ritual objectionable, seeing it as symbolic of the bride's subservience. Today couples often circle one another – 3x each and then one "do-si-do."
There are many interpretations of this custom. One is that while the chuppah, with its open sides, represents the interdependence between the couple and the community, the circle marks off holy, private space where only the bride and groom stand.
It is appropriate to play music during the circling. The following chant, written by Linda Hirschorn, can be sung.
Circle round for freedom
Circle round for peace
For all of us in prison
Circle for release.
Circle for the planet
Circle for each soul,
For the children of our children
Keep the circle whole.