Did you ever wonder how some of the traditional rituals associated with weddings and marriage had their beginnings? Some are based on romantic myth; some on religion; some on a time when marriage by capture was the mode of the day; and some, of course, on rather odd superstitions. Delve far and deep enough into our past and you find some interesting – and sometimes strange – historical twists and turns on the road of matrimony.
Throwing the Bridal Bouquet and the Bride’s Garter
On the bridal night in olden days guests would invade the bridal chamber, seize stockings and throw them backwards over their heads toward the bride and groom. The first female guest to hit the groom would be the next one to marry within a year, and the same applied for the first male to score with the bride’s stocking. In retrospect, tossing the bouquet and the garter certainly seems a much more civilized idea!
Sharing the Wedding Cake
When the bride cuts the first slice of cake and offers it to her groom, she is carrying out an early Roman ritual. In Ancient Rome, couples plighted their troth by sharing food. Indeed, sharing food as a symbol of sharing one’s life is practiced in many cultures.
Why Bridesmaids Are Dressed Alike
In more superstitious times, the bride and groom were surrounded by friends of similar ages dressed in similar attire, as a way of confusing evil demons. This way the demons could not find the real bride and groom and bring them bad luck. Today’s bridesmaids dress alike, as do the groomsmen, as it’s a way of confusing any who would wish the couple ill luck.
Wedding Bells & Honking Horns
The use of wedding bells has been a long standing tradition world wide for many centuries, but the origins date all the way back to Celtic origins. It is said that, not only in Celtic but many other cultures as well, they were used to keep evil spirits away that might cause harm or negativity on the wedding day. Therefore, ringing of the wedding bells, and making loud noises was thought to bestow good luck upon the bride and groom. In Scotland, and most other cultures, bells were also used to announce to the entire town that a wedding had just taken place. They were traditionally rung as the newly married, happy couple were leaving the church.
Today, in Ireland, wedding bells still play a very large role in wedding ceremonies. Brides and grooms are even given a marriage bell as a gift, and it must be placed within a central part of the home. What’s even more interesting is that the bell can be used throughout the couple’s years of marriage to bring an end to an argument without either partner having to admit that they are wrong!
Since cars do not date as far back as wedding bell traditions, the origins are somewhat newer than most traditions, but interestingly hold very similar beliefs. Car horns and making loud noises were also used to ward off evil spirits; however, honking the horn was often done on behalf of the bride as she rode to the ceremony, not away from it with the groom.
Why Is It Called a Honeymoon?
An old Teutonic custom held that the bride and groom ran away together, found a secluded place and spent thirty days, “until the moon waned,” drinking hydromel. Hydromel was a fermented drink made with honey.
With this Ring…
Rings have been with us since time began, but how they became so intimately linked to engagement and marriage is another facet of man’s social history. Before the minting of coins as currency, gold rings were circulated for that purpose. When a man gave his bride a gold ring, it signified that he trusted her with his property. During Elizabethan times, the gimmal, a set of interlocking rings, was quite popular. One ring of the set would be worn by the intended bride, another by the groom-to-be, and a third by a witness. All three rings would be united on the bride’s finger at the marriage ceremony. Today the diamond solitaire, symbolic of wealth and undying love, is the popular choice for American engagements.
The Bride Wears Something Blue
Part of the old litany, “something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue,” which prescribes the talismans a bride should wear on her wedding day, was quite specific about the color blue. Wearing a snippet of blue ribbon, or some other bit of blue about her gown, denotes purity, fidelity and love. It was also the color associated with the Virgin Mary.
Rice and Other Fertility Symbols
Showering rice upon the departing, newly married couple is a tradition that seems to have begun in Victorian times. Flowers were sometimes thrown, as well as shoes (satin slippers) in an older custom, but the throwing of rice — long held as a symbol of fertility — made its appearance about 1870. Confetti, little paper cutouts of horseshoes, hearts, and other motifs, also became popular to toss at the new couple. Both the rice and the confetti, however, presented some concerns. Though eaten by birds, rice wasn’t a healthful item for them, and confetti presented difficulties in cleanup. Birdseed became the accepted substitution for rice, and fresh flower petals are often used. Blowing bubbles, instead of tossing tiny missiles, has become the modern send off for the bridal couple.
The Groom Must Not See His Bride
Tradition holds that the groom must not lay eyes on the bride the day of the ceremony until they meet at the altar. The superstition is that this can bring the couple bad luck, since they have glimpsed the future before it has happened. Reaching even further back into tradition, because most marriages were arranged by family members, the newlyweds were very rarely allowed to see each other. Family members that exchanged a dowry (property or money brought by a bride to her husband on their wedding day) feared that if the groom was not attracted to the bride, he may refuse to marry her. This is also why brides were “given away” by their father to the groom at the actual ceremony. Most all grooms saw their brides for the first time upon lifting her veil just prior to the ceremony.
Carrying the Bride Over the Threshold
When the groom carries the bride over the threshold, he is reenacting a very old tradition derived from many cultures, and one which can be traced to Roman times. This ritual was carried out to protect the bride from worrisome demons which might be lurking about the new home. If she were to trip entering the doorway, it would bring bad luck to the couple. This unhappy chance was avoided by carrying her through the doorway and over the threshold.