We are all familiar with the typical wedding traditions, “something old, new, borrowed, and blue,” the throwing of rice after the ceremony, not seeing the bride in her dress before the wedding, even the tradition of the bride wearing a white dress. But what many may not know is where or why these rituals originated.
The Ring’s: Ever wonder why there is both an engagement ring and a wedding ring? Well that would be because of Pope Innocent III, who required a waiting period between engagement and marriage. He also required that a ring be used in the wedding ceremony.
The engagement ring symbolizes the couple’s promise of a future together. The diamond engagement ring has been around since the 1400s, and sometimes stood as a “payment” for the bride.
Before diamonds were given, men would send items to their chosen women, such as white gloves or spoons. If the woman wore the gloves to church or the spoon around her neck it showed she accepted the proposal and they were then engaged.
The Wedding ring represents the couples union of eternal and everlasting love. The circular shape of the ring has symbolized everlasting love since the Egyptian times, when brides wore rings made of inefficient materials such as hemp that needed to be replaced often. The rings evolved into durable iron during the Roman times, and today gold, silver, and platinum are the favorite choices.
The rings are placed on the fourth finger of the left hand, because in ancient times the Egyptians believed the “vein of love” ran from the ring finger directly to the heart. Therefore the wedding rings were naturally placed on this finger.
The White Dress: The first known white wedding dress was worn in 1499 by Anne of Brittany, for her marriage to Louis XII of France. The color white symbolizes purity and virginity, as a bride is supposed to be on her wedding day. The color was also thought of to ward off evil spirits in ancient times. Since early Roman times, white has been a symbol of a joyful celebration. In the twentieth century white stood for purity. Today it is thought of as a symbol of happiness.
The Veil: The wedding veil is a symbol of the wife’s submission to her husband. The man lifts the veil showing dominance, if the bride decides to life her own veil at the ceremony it is said to show independence. This tradition dates back to the times of arranged marriages where the men rarely saw or even knew the woman before the wedding. Dating was not a custom and often the first time the couple would meet was their actual wedding day. This is also why it is considered bad luck for the groom to see the bride in her dress before the ceremony.
Giving Away the Bride: Because daughters were thought of as property of their fathers it was customary for the father of the bride to “give her” to the groom. This gesture in ancient times was often part of a deal or payment of some type. Today the custom shows the family’s support of the marriage.
Throwing Rice: Rice is thought to be a “life giving seed” and throwing it on the newlyweds is said to wish them fertility.
Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue: and sometimes “a silver sixpence in her shoe” is tacked onto the end. This phrase is the most well known of all wedding traditions and is the custom that has remained unchanged throughout the years.
Something old represents the bond to the bride’s family and her old life that she is now leaving. This is often represented in the ceremony by a piece of antique jewelry such as a grandmother’s ring, or necklace. Some brides also choose to wear vintage dresses or shoes.
Something new represents the couples new life together, their future happiness and success. A bride often chooses her wedding dress as the something new.
Something borrowed represents friendship and symbolizes the bride’s friends and family will always be there for her in times of need. Something borrowed from a happily married woman is said to impart similar happiness for the bride.
Something blue represents fidelity and consistency. This is often represented by a blue garter worn by the bride. The color blue is also thought of to be a symbol of purity which dates back to the Virgin Mary.
The silver sixpence is not always added to this saying, but it symbolizes wealth. Brides used to place a sixpence in their shoe and now a days some brides put pennies in their shoes during the ceremony to wish for wealth.
The Wedding Party: In Roman times it was required by law that ten witnesses were present at the ceremony to make the wedding legal, and thus the wedding party was born.
Bridesmaids date back to ancient times when the bride’s friends would dress similar to the bride to ward off evil spirits trying to kidnap the bride. Bridesmaids were also used to keep away the unsuitable men after the bride, leaving the bride for her groom. Though evil spirits are rarely a concern today bridesmaids still represent a support system, confidant, and defender of the bride. Groomsmen served a similar purpose in ancient times and today serve as a support system to the groom. The bridal party still dresses alike today, not to ward off the spirits, but for the beauty and coordination of the event.
The role of the best man dates back centuries. If a man had chosen a wife and her family did not approve of him, he would have to kidnap her in order to marry her. This often resulted in a fight between the man and the men in the bride’s family; therefore an extra man was needed as backup. Other legends are similar and pertain to help in the kidnapping of the future bride. In German folklore the best man served as a guard to the groom during the ceremony in case the bride’s family tired to take her back. Today the best man is an honorary position.
The flower girl and ring barer, or child attendants as they used to be called stood as symbols of innocence and purity.
Omens: There several omens, both good and bad, which the wedding party should be on the lookout for on their way to and from the church. For example, seeing a rainbow, having sunshine on the bride, meeting a chimney sweep, or of all things, black cats are all lucky. Bad omens include seeing an open grave or a pig crossing the street. If the bridal party was to run into any nuns or monks this would symbolize a life of infertility and a dependence on charity, so brides be aware.
The Music: The wedding march that the bride typically walks down the isle to “Bridal Chorus” from Richard Wagner’s 1848 opera “Lohengrin”. The couple exits the church to “Wedding March” from Felix Mendelssohn’s “A Midsummer Nights Dream”. This tradition dates all the way back to a royal marriage in1858. The princess of Great Britain and Empress of Germany married Prince Frederick of Prussia. The bride selected the music herself as she was a great lover of the arts.
The First Kiss: In early Roman times the kiss was a legal bond that sealed the contract of marriage. There was even a time when an engagement was considered invalid without a kiss. Today it is more about the show of affection and bonding.
The Wedding Cake: The story of the wedding cake dates back to the early Roman times in which guests would break bread over the brides head because the wheat in the bread symbolized fertility. The gests would then hurry to pick up the crumbs as good luck charms. The bread then progressed into small cakes, which the guests would bring and stack together; the couple would then share a kiss over this small collection of cakes. Soon after this, a baker came up with the idea to stack the cakes together and ice them, and thus the tiered wedding cake as we know it. The bride and groom then make their first cut into the cake in unison to represent sharing their life together. Like the bread crumbs, the guests all have a piece of cake for good luck.
The Toast: The toast is traditionally given at the reception by the best man. Speeches are also sometimes given by the parents of the couple, or anyone else in the wedding party. One tradition says that when the bride and groom drink their wedding toast, whoever finishes first will rule the family.
Throwing the Bouquet: The tradition of throwing the bouquet originated as somewhat of an escape tactic for the bride. After the wedding, it was thought by the attendants that they could get some of the bride’s good luck by ripping and tearing at her clothes. The bride, in an attempt to get away, would throw her bouquet into the crowd as a diversion. Today it is said that whoever catches the bride’s bouquet will be the next to get married.
The same is said for the man who catches the garter. This tradition was started so that the men could share the same fate as the groom.
Carrying the Bride Across the Threshold: The tradition is said to have started like many, to ward off evil spirits. By the groom carrying the bride, there was a gap between her and the floor and therefore spirits couldn’t get to her. It is also considered bad luck for the bride to trip or fall when entering the home for the first time, so by the husband carrying her she avoids that fate. Another thought is that it dates back to the times when brides were captured for marriage and had to be forced into the home.
The Honeymoon: There are several legends of the honeymoon, one in particular being the story that 30 days after the wedding the bride would drink a brew made from honey, to promote fertility, the 30 days represent the cycle of the moons, hence honeymoon. Another account is that the word honey is a representation of the sweetness of a new marriage, and the moon, and indication that like the lunar month, the sweetness of marriage will so end. Regardless of the origin of the honeymoon, now it is simply a relaxing vacation the couple takes after the wedding.