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originally made from strong herbs, thyme and garlic, covered up odors.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
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
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
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
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
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.
Friday, August 10, 2012
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