History of Wedding Traditions
Ever wondered where some of our wedding traditions come from? A lot of the traditions are steeped in superstitious history, but we have adopted them nevertheless.
Here are some of the main ones:
1. The Bridesmaids
Bridesmaids originally wore similar dresses to the bride to confuse evil spirits. That way, the evil spirits wouldn't know which woman in the group was getting married.
In early Roman times, bridesmaids would line up to form a protective shield while walking the bride to the groom's village and were expected to protect the bride and her dowry.
2. The Best Man
The “best” in best man once referred to the quality of a man’s swordsmanship. When weddings were used as a business transaction rather than a union of love, the groom needed a good swordsman to help either retrieve a run-away bride or fend off a bride’s angry family that may not approve of the union.
Bride kidnapping has been a thing for as long as we know and still goes on today in many countries. England’s marriage act of 1753 put a stop to this, at least in England. Mock-kidnapping is still a tradition in many European countries. As an interesting note: the kidnapped bride always had to stand to the grooms left, so that his right hand was free to fight.
3. ‘Something Old, New, Borrowed, and Blue’
The tradition dates all the way back to the Victorian era, where these old, new, borrowed, and blue items were going to bring good fortune to the bride, especially when they were all worn together during the ceremony.
‘Old’ was to connect the bride to her past and her family, ‘new’ signifying that she was about to start her own new family, ‘borrowed’ was supposed to be taken from a happily married couple so that that couple's good fortune could be passed on to the bride, ‘blue’ was associated with faithfulness and loyalty in the relationship, akin to the phrase, ‘true blue’. In addition to that is an often forgotten part of the rhyme: ‘a sixpence in my shoe,’ which encouraged the bride to tuck in a sixpence coin for good luck.
4. The White Wedding Dress
White is often associated with purity, which is why it's thought of as the traditional colour for virgin brides. However, before the mid-1800s, brides just wore their best dress, usually red, and only started wearing white after 1840 when Queen Victoria was married to Prince Albert in a white, lacy dress, a colour that, at the time, represented wealth as opposed to purity.
5. The Wedding Cake
There seem to be a variety of different customs predating today’s wedding cake.
One such custom dates back to the medieval times. Originally cakes were made of wheat which was a symbol of fertility and prosperity. As a relic of once performed fertility rites, these ‘wedding cakes’ would have been thrown at the bride.
In some areas it was common for grooms to crumble bread over the bride's head for good luck. Guests would then scramble around her feet to pick up the crumbs, in order to absorb some of that good luck. Later, the tradition evolved into the bride pushing pieces of her wedding cake through her ring to the guests. Those in attendance would take that piece of cake home to place under their pillows for good luck.
In medieval England, guests would stack cakes higher and higher and the bridal couple would have to kiss over taller and taller piles of wedding cake, leading to the tiered wedding cakes we see today.
Nowadays the joint task of the Bride and Groom cutting the cake is meant to symbolize their first joint task in married life and the gesture of feeding cake to each other is a symbol of the commitment the bride and groom are making.
6. The Bridal Bouquet
Ancient Greek brides would carry clusters of herbs and spices to ward off evil spirits. That tiny bundle was thought to have magical powers. It was also believed to be a preventive measure in contracting the plague. In modern days it is generally accepted that the bride chooses a flower arrangement that she likes or matches her wedding theme.
7. The Bouquet and Garter Toss
In the past, couples didn’t wait until the honeymoon to consummate their marriage. It is thought that the bouquet toss was used as a distraction, so she and the groom could get on with it, while all the single ladies fought for the bouquet. The garter toss on the other hand is thought to have symbolized that the groom had consummated the marriage, as eager guests waited outside of the bedchamber for proof.
Another explanation relates again to brides bringing good luck. Guests would try to obtain a piece of the bride’s dress for good luck, which often left the bride nervous of her dress being ripped to shreds by the wedding guests. To pacify the crowd and ease the bride’s mind, the bride tossed her bouquet and the groom tossed a piece of the bride’s wedding attire to distract the guests as the newlyweds made a quick escape from the reception.
Tossing the bouquet is a standard tradition seen at most weddings, although, the garter toss is slowly losing its relevancy among modern-day brides.
8. Walking the Bride Down the Aisle
The tradition dates back to a time of arranged marriages, where the "giving away" of the bride represented transfer of ownership. Back then, young women were used as collateral to settle debts or disagreements with neighboring tribes, as well as for the father to elevate his status by marrying his daughter off to a wealthy family. Today, though, many brides look forward to having their father walk them down the aisle simply to honor him.
9. The Wedding Veil
Arranged marriages are often cited when discussing the origin of the wedding veil. When daughters were considered a commodity, a marriage was a way of sealing agreements between families and increasing assets. The veil was used to obscure the bride’s features, only being lifted after the marriage ceremony was completed, to stop the groom from backing out from the deal if he didn’t like what he saw. Not allowing the groom to see the bride on their wedding day has the same background.
Particularly in Ancient Greece and Rome, brides wore veils to protect them from evil, jealous spirits, and to preserve their modesty. Nowadays the veil has come to signify the bride’s virtue and maybe to help hide the tears.
10. Throwing Rice
Throwing rice at the happy couple during the recessional is pretty much nonexistent today, due to safety hazards. But the tiny grains were used back then to "shower" the bride and groom with fortune, prosperity, and fertility. Today, you’re more apt to seeing bubbles used in its place to celebrate the couple.
11. The Engagement Ring
Engagement bands began in ancient Egypt with the circle symbolizing a never ending cycle and the space inside it as a gateway. The addition of a diamond was made popular by Sicilians who believed the stone was forged by the fires of love.
The placement of the ring on the fourth finger of the left hand stems from Ancient Greece. It was believed that the “ring” finger contained a vein which leads straight to the heart. This vein was known as the ‘vena amoris’ or the vein of love.
In 1214 the pope introduced a period of waiting between betrothal and marriage, so engaged couples started to display their commitment with a ring.
12. The Ring Bearer and his pillow
The ring bearer’s pillow symbolizes the promises of the dreams you have while sleeping, coming true or in this case your dreams regarding your wedding coming true. A small child is typically asked to carry the pillow which symbolizes innocence, the future and new beginnings.
13. Carrying the Bride across the Threshold
Brides were thought to be highly susceptible to evil spirits. By carrying the bride over the threshold, the groom was protecting her from evil spirits that were thought to be lingering in the threshold.
Another explanation was that it was considered unladylike for the bride to show that she wanted to leave her father’s home, so the groom had to pick her up and force her over the threshold. Or maybe the bride really didn’t want to leave her parents home and had to be forced into her new home – who knows.
These days, it’s just a bit of fun - just watch your back!
12. The First Kiss
In the olden days it was customary for the priest to give a holy "kiss of peace" to the groom, who would then pass the kiss on to the bride. This was done to bless the marriage inside of the church, giving way to the common phrase heard today at most ceremonies: "You may now kiss the bride."