No, mass weddings started well before Rev. Sun Myung Moon. And they're quite popular around the globe. But he's certainly put his stamp on it.
Over the past 50 years, Reverend Moon has made tying the knot en masse a cornerstone of his Unification Church. He started on a decidedly smaller scale with just 24 couples a few years after the church was founded in 1954.
Today, his son took over the practice with the church’s biggest ceremony in a decade, some 20,000 couples married simultaneously in many countries around the world.
For Moon and the Unification church, these events are public statements about building a multicultural world. The church pairs couples from different nationalities and ethnicities. In his recent autobiography, he states: “My wish is to completely tear down barriers and to create a world in which everyone becomes one.”
But Reverend Moon is far from the only proponent of the simultaneous "I do."
There’s a long tradition in Arab and Asian lands of mass weddings. In China last year, on the very auspicious date of 8/8/08, more than 300,000 couples tied the knot, many in large wedding ceremonies sponsored by municipalities.
But generally, the motive is not numerology, but rather the number of bills in the bridegroom's or bride's father's wallet. It’s about saving money.
In Yemen, the dowry alone can be as much as $8,000. That’s before paying for any of the trappings of the ceremony and post-wedding celebration. So, it’s little wonder that there were nine mass weddings in Yemen this past August, sponsored by private companies, local governments, and military institutions.
In one event, some 2,000 couples got hitched at once. A Saudi prince paid for the ceremony, which was organized by a local charity.
“We do run mass wedding parties in order to lighten the financial burdens on poor people. It is a good demonstration of social solidarity, as it facilitates the cost of the wedding and makes it easy for young men and women to get married, otherwise they would not be able to afford it alone,” said Hamid Zyad, the secretary general of the Orphan Development Group in Yemen.
The average cost of a wedding in the US?
In 2007, a wealthy Iraqi sponsored a wedding of 70 Iraqi couples of different ethnicities and religions. His goal: to send a message to Iraqi leaders that reconciliation was possible.
Of course, there are far less noble reasons for a mass wedding. In 2007, a St. Louis country music radio station sponsored a wedding for 92 couples. It was held under the St. Louis arch on Valentine’s Day. Why 92? It was the station’s FM frequency.
And anyone who’s seen what it takes to get one couple married would have compassion for a mass wedding organizer – and all that could go wrong. The Chicago Tribune reported that a group wedding of 12 couples went awry in 1954 when three extra brides showed up for the ceremony.