The breaking of the glass at a wedding is one of my all-time favorite traditions. I just love the symbolism of this tradition. There are many interpretations of the meaning of this Jewish tradition, but the one I like this best, and the one I use in many of my ceremonies, is this:
The breaking of the glass at a wedding is a symbolic hope that you will spend as many years together in happiness as it would take to collect all the pieces of the glass and reassemble it.
It's simple, secular and so meaningful! You don't have to even be Jewish to use this and appreciate its intent.
Others may say that the glass represents the fragility of life, relationship and/or marriage or that the sound of the breaking glass frightens away unwanted spirits. The many tiny shards of glass can also represent the abundance of life that the couple will enjoy from this day forward. Or, as in many of the other Jewish traditions, the breaking of the glass can represent that you are acknowledging the bitterness or hardships inevitable in any life (you've already recognized the sweetness and happiness of life in the wedding ceremony itself). Either way you interpret it, it's a lovely element to add into your ceremony whether you're Jewish or not.
When to Break the glass
Traditionally the breaking of the glass happens at the end of the wedding ceremony and, if the couple getting married is opposite-sex, the groom does the breaking. But we can do whatever we want in weddings nowadays so you can both break a glass.
How to Break the Glass
I suggest using a incandescent lightbulb wrapped in a tea towel. Get a cheap towel from Home Goods or TJMaxx as it will be ruined and you'll throw it away afterwards. Do not use a compact fluorescent lightbulb since it contains mercury which is dangerous. Some people use a wine glass and even others buy special glass made to break easily (but that's totally not necessary since a light bulb does the trick and has a nice loud POP!).
Immediately upon the breaking of the glass the crowd shouts "Mazel tov!" which means congratulations in Hebrew. If you're not Jewish and you don't want to use the Hebrew, just have your guests shout "Congratulations!" It's such a fun and festive way to end your ceremony and leaves everyone feeling happy and energized!
I've written a couple other posts about Jewish traditions to incorporate into you wedding ceremony.