The chupah is a canopy which sits atop four poles. Ideally the chupah should be ornately decorated, but this is not technically necessary; a tallit attached to four poles can also do the trick.
The Ashkenazi custom is for the chupah to be held beneath the open skies. Certain wedding halls have a skylight directly over the chupah canopy which is opened for the duration of the ceremony. Sephardic custom, however, is to have "roofed" chupahs.
Prevailing custom is for the assembled guests to sit for the duration of the ceremony. There is also no need to rise when the bride and groom are walking towards the chupah.
If at all possible, a minyan (quorum of ten Jewish adult men) should be present at the chupah.
Directly from the badeken ceremony the groom is led to a private room where he prepares himself for the chupah. At this point the groom removes any jewelry he may be wearing and empties his pocket of any money or valuables. The bride, too, does not wear any jewelry to the chupah, nor does she carry any money or valuables.
In preparation for the chupah, the bride and groom untie any knots in their clothingIn preparation for the chupah, the bride and groom untie any knots in their clothing, such as shoelaces, neckties, or bows.
It is customary in Ashkenazi communities for the groom to wear a kittel, a long white frock, during the chupah. In certain communities it is customary for the groom to wear an overcoat atop the kittel.
While the groom prepares himself for the chupah, it is an appropriate moment for his father and father-in-law-to-be (as well as any grandfathers present) to offer him their heartfelt blessings.
Chupah: A chupah is a covered area where the bride and groom meet for the purpose of finalizing their nuptials. The chupah is considered the groom's domain, and the bride consensually joining him beneath his roof is the symbolically unifying act which finalizes the marriage. Click here for an extensive article on this topic.
The ceremony takes place beneath an unenclosed canopy, open on all sides. This is a demonstration of the couple's commitment to establish a home which will always be open to guests, as was the tent of Abraham and Sarah.
Open skies: The chupah is held under the open skies to recall G‑d's blessing to Abraham that his seed be as numerous as the stars. Furthermore, a chupah held under the open heavens symbolizes the couple's resolve to establish a household which will be dominated by "heavenly" and spiritual ideals, rather than the pursuit of corporeal accomplishments and physical wealth. Such a marriage is a conduit for an abundance of "heavenly" blessings.
No jewelry: Unless one is a jeweler, it is difficult to accurately assess and evaluate jewelry -- and even a jeweler cannot properly assess jewelry without a thorough scrutinization of the item. The fear is that the groom might see on the bride (or vice versa) a piece of jewelry which he thinks is valuable, causing him to think how great it is to marry such a wealthy woman! If the jewelry doesn't turn out to be as valuable as thought, this could actually put in doubt the validity of the marriage. The chupah is held under the open skies to recall G‑d's blessing to Abraham After all, the groom thought he was marrying a wealthy woman...
No knots: At the moment when the bride and groom "tie the ultimate knot," there should not be anything else binding them.
Kittel: The pristine white kittel is traditionally worn on Yom Kippur, a symbol of G‑d's atonement and total purity. As mentioned earlier, the wedding day is a minor "Yom Kippur" for the bride and groom, a day when they are forgiven for all their sins. This is also the reason for the white gown worn by the bride.
The Chupah Experience:
The revelry and dancing can wait until the wedding reception; the chupah ceremony is traditionally characterized by an air of solemnity. Brides and grooms shedding copious tears is a common sight at traditional Jewish weddings. This is not an indicator of misgivings about their decision to enter into the bonds of matrimony; rather it is due to an acute awareness of the awesome magnitude of the moment. Indeed, the Shechinah, Divine Presence, graces the presence of every chupah ceremony.
Joining the Shechinah are the deceased parents, grandparents and great-grandparents of the bride and groom, who descend from their heavenly abode to join the wedding celebration.
The assembled audience is expected to demonstrate appropriate consideration for this holy occasion. It is inappropriate to be engaged in conversation or any other distraction during the ceremony. Power the cell phone off! The holy chassidic master Rabbi Chaim Halberstam of Tzanz was heard saying that he feared to lift his eyes during a chupah ceremony out of awe of the Shechinah!
At this auspicious moment, the prayers of the bride and groom -- who have been freshly forgiven for all their sins, and are currently the beneficiaries of immense divine powers and blessing -- have particular effectiveness. It is an appropriate time for the bride and groom to wordlessly beseech G‑d to bless them with the ability and strength to establish a G‑d-fearing Jewish household which yields generations of virtuous descendants.
Joining are the deceased parents, grandparents and great-grandparents of the bride and groomIf anyone is in need of a special prayer -- whether for health, children, livelihood or any other need -- it is appropriate to request of the bride or groom to pray on their behalf while they stand beneath the chupah.
White: White is an achromatic color which has no hue of its own, but reflects the entire spectrum of visible color shades. The white clothing of the bride and groom are a metaphor for the type of relationship they are now entering. Both bride and groom bring a kaleidoscope of colors into the marriage; some bright and some murky. All these colors are embedded upon a "white" canvass, the pure essence of the soul. The white clothing reflects the commitment of the couple to establish a soul connection which touches at their very core. Once this connection has been created, any "color clashes" which may exist between the two can and will be resolved -- because the connection runs deeper than the colors on the canvass.
No Jewelry: The bride and groom remove all jewelry and empty their pockets of money or valuables before the chupah. The symbolism behind this custom echoes the aforementioned theme of the badeken: It expresses the couple's commitment to marry each other for who they are, and not for what they may possess.
Furthermore, at the most fateful moment of their lives, at the moment when bride and groom need to establish the values upon which their home will be built, they carry absolutely nothing of physical value. Their lasting legacy will not be determined by the balance of their bank account, but by the good deeds they perform and the values that pervade their home and which they instill within their children.