Friday, August 10, 2012

Unglorious Origins of Wedding Traditions - Yikes...

Many traditions and fun superstitions adorn modern weddings. The origin of many rituals came from darker European medieval times when women were usually valuable property, rather than a partner in love. Back then, grooms routinely kidnapped attractive brides from another tribe or village, and her family and other suitors fought to regain her. Or, the two families struck a financial deal for an arranged marriage! Bad Luck was also a major concern. Despite watered-down modern explanations of traditions, there are also surprising, fascinating, historical ones:

·     Bad luck to see the bride before ceremony – actually, this was prevention of the groom rejecting his sight-unseen, new bride for his arranged marriage--in case the she was very unappealing to him. (read on…)

·     Veil over bride’s face – before modern medicine, your health showed all over your face with pock marks, missing teeth, birth defects, malnutrition, annual bathing only, infections and injury scars. Pretty faces were rare. So, they hid the bride’s appearance as long as possible.

·        Bouquets – before 1600’s, bathing was considered hazardous to your health!  Most people had one annual bath in May, so by June, people still smelled okay but not wonderful.  Carrying a bouquet, originally made from strong herbs, thyme and garlic, covered up odors.          

·     Engagement rings – In 800 AD, Pope Nicolas required engagement rings to be made of gold in order to be a serious financial commitment from the groom. A diamond was added in 1500’s when diamonds were first discovered as the rarest of stones (thus a more valuable gift). Italian poets said diamonds were made from the flames of Love.  

Bridal “shower” – in 1890, a bride’s friend placed small gifts in a parasol and when she opened it, she was showered with gifts. After this gesture was reported in fashion magazines, the party term became popular.

June – before Christianity, the pagan celebration of Spring in May was THE biggest festival, so it was unlucky to compete with that … so June was next.

·     Wedding time on the rising half hour – signifying rising success and good fortune. The other half of the hour brought on bad luck.

·     Rain is good luck – in pre-Christian times, rain equaled future abundance and good luck in the crops, so the same went for new couples to have future babies.

·     Doves – Seeing a dove on your wedding day is good luck because they symbolize peace, prosperity, love and fidelity.

Groom stands at front and bride makes an entrance with her father – Christian women were trade-able, valuable property. This trade was demonstrated by the father leading his daughter into the “house” of the groom. The house evolved into the church.

·     Bride on left side – thus the groom’s right hand is free to fight or shoot, if another suitor or in-laws try to kidnap his new valuable property.

·        Bridesmaids and groomsmen – in medieval times, people widely believed weddings attracted bad luck and evil spirits! So friends and family would dress like the couple during the ceremony to confuse evil spirits. Also, the best man helped fight off competing suitors or combative in-laws, and bridesmaids fought off would-be kidnappers.

·     Wearing wedding bands – originally only brides wore them as a notice of their legal bondage to a man. Grooms did not wear them until the 20th century because women did not “own” men (thus you may find great-grandma’s heirloom wedding ring, but none from great-grandpa).

·     Ring on left hand – pre-modern science thought that a vein or nerve went from that finger directly to the heart. It was believed the beating heart was the ruling organ of the mind and body, not the silent brain.

·     Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue – old things protected the bride with wisdom, new things were for a bright new fortune, borrowed things symbolized the support of friends and family, and blue imbued faithfulness and loyalty.

·     White dress – Royalty set fashion trends:  Queen Anne of Brittany, Queen Victoria and Mary Queen of Scots scandalously broke tradition and wore white wedding dresses instead of the usual silver.  

·     Tuxedos – were popularized by President Teddy Roosevelt (American royalty in his time).

·     Ministers and Judges – before kings governed society, the local clergy and church governed the villages.  As politics took over, government officials were also authorized to solemnize marriages, like clergy did.

·     Tying the Knot – comes from the Celtic tradition of handfasting ceremony where the couple’s hands are symbolically tied together.

·     Tall wedding cakes - Cakes were stacked very high, and the newlyweds would try to kiss over the top of it without touching the cake, for good luck. Touching the cake was bad luck!

·     Wedding toast – in France they put a piece of bread at the bottom of the bride and groom’s glasses and it was a race to drink to the bottom. The first one to reach the toast would purportedly rule the household.

·     Garter and bouquet toss – in medieval times, it was very good luck to steal pieces of a bride’s clothing off her so brides were often violently attacked and their clothing ripped apart!  To avoid this, brides began throwing stockings, ribbons and garters to guests, which evolved to throwing bouquets, garters, and giving your guests trinket souvenirs.

·     Ringing wedding bells or trumpets – scares away evil spirits and bad luck.

·     Throwing rice, confetti or candy – throwing those things at the couple is a wish for them to be fertile and abundant like the seeds or have a sweet life like sugar.

·     Tying shoes to car bumper – in ancient Egypt a father gave his daughter’s sandals to her betrothed to show the trade. That evolved into guests throwing shoes at the couple, which evolved again to tying shoes to the car bumper.

·     Carry Bride across threshold – leftover from kidnapping brides and dragging them home;  or, it gave a more lady-like “cover” for  a more willing bride to be bodily carried into the bed chamber!

~ Author, Rev. Margo Sears is a former English professor and wedding minister with her husband, Rev. David Sears, in Sunset Beach NC.

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