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Origins of Wedding Traditions

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The first marriages were by capture, i.e., the groom would kidnap the woman, and take her away from her tribe with the help of a warrior friend, his best man, who would help him fight off other men who wanted this woman, and also help him prevent her family from finding them. The groom would put himself and his bride into hiding, the honeymoon, and by the time the bride's family found them, the bride would already be pregnant. When the groom fought off other warriors who also wanted his bride, he would hold onto her with his left hand, while fighting them off with his sword in his right hand, which is why the bride stands on the left, and the groom on the right.

Although the above was common, marriage by purchase was preferred. Usually the bride would be bartered for land, social status, or political alliances, but sometimes she was exchanged for cash. The Anglo-Saxon word "wedd" meant that the groom would vow to marry the woman, but it also meant the money or barter that the groom paid the bride's father. A wedding, then, literally meant the purchase of a bride for breeding purposes. The word wedding comes from a root word meaning to gamble or wager.

There were also arranged marriages, where the groom's family told him who he was to marry, and they very rarely let him see the bride because if he didn't like her looks, he may refuse to marry her. Therefore, the father of the bride gave the bride away to the groom, who lifted the opaque veil to see her for the first time. This is also the origin of the custom of the bride and groom not seeing each other on the wedding day.

Tying The Knot

The expression "tie the knot" comes from Roman times when the bride wore a girdle that was tied in knots which the groom had the fun of untying.

Engagement Rings

Diamond engagement rings were given by medieval Italians, because of their belief that the diamond was created from the flames of love.

Bachelor Party & Showers

Ancient Spartan soldiers were the first to hold stag parties. The groom would feast with his male friends on the night before the wedding. There he would say goodbye to the carefree days of bachelorhood and swear continued allegiance to his comrades.

Bridal showers were also meant to strengthen the friendships between the bride and her friends, give her moral support, and help her prepare for her marriage. The idea to give gifts is fairly new, dating from the 1890's. At one shower, the bride's friend placed small gifts inside a Japanese parasol, and then opened it over the bride's head so all of the presents would "shower" over her. When word of this hit the fashion pages, people were so charmed, they decided to do the same at their showers.

Bridesmaids & Groomsmen

The bridal party has many origins, one of which comes from the Anglo Saxon days. When the groom was about to capture his bride, he needed the help of his friends, the "bridesmen" or "brideknights". They would make sure the bride got to the church and to the groom's house afterwards. The bride also had women to help her, the "bridesmaids" or "brideswomen".

The White Wedding Dress

The white wedding dress was made popular by Anne of Brittany in 1499. Before that, a woman just wore her best dress. In ancient days, blue (not white) represented purity, and the bride and groom would wear a blue band around the bottom of their wedding attire, hence something blue.

Tossing the Bouquet & Garter

In the 14th century, having a piece of the bride's clothing was thought to bring good fortune. In order to obtain a piece of this lucky attire, guests would grab at the wedding dress and tear off pieces of it, leaving the dress in tatters. In order to stop this practice, brides began throwing items at the guests. One of these items was the garter belt. Today, it is usually the Groom who removes and tosses the garter to the unmarried men in attendance, while the Bride tosses her bouquet to the unmarried women. Those that catch either item are said to be the next to marry. In some instances, it is said that they will marry each other.

There have been a few different interpretations of the luck of the garter belt. In some cases, it was considered luck to be able to hold onto a piece of the bride's clothing, and she would throw the garter. In other cases, it was lucky for the single men attending the wedding. It was a symbol which allowed single men to share in the fortune (good luck) of the groom who would throw it.

Wedding Rings

It is unknown when wedding rings were first worn. They were probably made of a strong metal, like iron so that it wouldn't break easily which would have been a very bad omen. The ancient Romans believed that the vein in the third finger ran directly to the heart, so wearing the ring on that finger joined the couples hearts and destiny.

The Wedding Cake

Wedding just wouldn't be complete without fertility symbols, like the wedding cake. Ancient Romans would bake a cake made of wheat or barley and break it over the bride's head as a symbol of her fertility. It became tradition to pile up several small cakes, one on top of the other, as high as they could, and the bride and groom would kiss over the tower and try not to knock it down. If they were successful, it meant a lifetime of prosperity. During the reign of King Charles II of England, it became customary to turn this cake into an enjoyably edible palace, iced with white sugar.

Tying old shoes to the back of the Couple's car

The tradition of tying old shoes to the back of the Couple's car stems from Tudor times when guests would throw shoes at the Bride & Groom, with great luck being bestowed on them if they or their carriage were hit!
In Anglo Saxon times the Bride was symbolically struck with a shoe by her Groom to establish his authority. Brides would then throw shoes at their bridesmaids to see who would marry next.

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed,
Something Blue and a Silver Sixpence in her Shoe

This rhyme originated in Victorian times. 'Something Old' signifies that the Couple's friends will stay with them. In one version of the tradition the 'Something Old' was an old garter which was given to the bride by a happily married woman so that the new bride would also enjoy a happy marriage. 'Something New' looks to the future for health, happiness and success. 'Something Borrowed' is an opportunity for the Bride's family to give her something as a token of their love (it must be returned to ensure Good Luck), and 'Something Blue' is thought lucky because Blue represents fidelity and constancy. The custom began in ancient Israel where brides wore a blue ribbon in their hair to symbolize their fidelity. A sixpence was placed in the shoe to bring the couple wealth in their married life. Some brides still place a penny in their shoe during the marriage ceremony.


Flowers have always been a big feature at Weddings. The Groom is supposed to wear a flower that appears in the Bridal Bouquet in his button-hole. This stems from the Medieval tradition of a Knight wearing his Lady's colors, as a declaration of his love. Each flower has its own meaning and can display a special message. Orange Blossom, for instance, signifies chastity, purity and loveliness, while red chrysanthemum means " I love you "

The Time & The Place

Sunday used to be the most popular wedding day, as it was the one day most people were free from work. Puritans in the Seventeenth Century put a stop to this, however, believing it was improper to be festive on the Sabbath. Today, Saturdays are the busiest, despite the rhyme

Monday for health, Tuesday for wealth, Wednesday best of all,
Thursday for losses, Friday for crosses, Saturday for no luck at all

As for the time of year, the saying 'Marry in the month of May, and you'll live to rue the day' dates back to Pagan times. May, the start of summer, was dedicated to outdoor orgies (i.e. the summer festival Beltane), hardly the best way to begin married life! Queen Victoria is said to have banned her children from marrying in May, and Nineteenth Century Vicars were rushed of their feet on April 30th because Brides refused to marry during May. The sun has always been associated with sexual stimulation and, therefore future fertility. In Scotland it was traditional for the Bride to 'walk with the sun', proceeding from east to west on the south side of the church and then circling the Church three times 'sunwise' for good luck.

Married when the year is new, he'll be loving, kind & true,
When February birds do mate, You wed nor dread your fate.
If you wed when March winds blow, joy and sorrow both you'll know.
Marry in April when you can, Joy for Maiden & for Man.
Marry in the month of May, and you'll surely rue the day.
Marry when June roses grow, over land and sea you'll go.
Those who in July do wed, must labour for their daily bred.
Whoever wed in August be, many a change is sure to see
Marry in September's shrine, your living will be rich and fine.
If in October you do marry, love will come but riches tarry.
If you wed in bleak November, only joys will come, remember.
When December snows fall fast, marry and true love will last.

Food for Thought

The Wedding Cake was originally lots of little wheat cakes that were broken over the Bride's head to bestow good luck and fertility. Today's three tier Wedding Cake is based on the unusual shape of the spire of Saint Bride's Church in London. Traditionally the newly-weds should make the first cut to signify sharing their life. Every guest than eats a crumb to ensure good luck. And sleeping with a piece under her pillow is said to make a single woman dream of her future husband. The giving of almond favours is connected with the motto: 'A gift of five almonds represents health, wealth, long life, fertility and happiness. 'The throwing of confetti, meanwhile is an ancient fertility rite. Handfuls of grain or nuts were traditionally thrown because they are 'life-giving' seeds. In some European countries, eggs are thrown instead.

Get me to the Church..

Walking was thought to be the best way of getting to Church, as there's more chance of spotting lucky omens. Seeing a rainbow, having the sun shine on the Bride and meeting a black cat or a chimney sweep are all lucky.

Bad omens include seeing a pig, hare or lizard running across the road, or spotting an open grave. Make sure the road is clear of Monks or Nuns too, they foretell barrenness and a life dependant on charity.

Coming home from Church can be equally hazardous. Tradition dictates the new wife must enter her home by the main door and, to avoid bad luck, must never trip or fall - hence the custom that a bride should be carried over the threshold.

Dressing Up

Until the Nineteen Hundreds Brides hardly ever bought a special Wedding Dress, opting for their best outfit instead. Green was always avoided, as it was though to be unlucky. To say a girl 'had a green gown' also implied that she was of loose morals, because her dress would be grass-stained due to rolling around in the fields! Hence 'Marry in Green, ashamed to be seen'. White Dresses were made popular by Queen Victoria, who broke the tradition of royals marrying in Silver. Symbolizing purity and virginity, white was also thought to ward off evil spirits. Other traditions are that the bride should never make her own dress, that the final stitch should not be completed until she is departing for the Church and that she should never try on the entire outfit before the day. This was because it was felt dangerous for the Bride to count her chickens. For the same reason, a Bride should never practice signing her new name until it is legally hers, and wedding linen was marked with the Brides maiden rather than married initials. The tradition of Bridesmaids is evolved from the custom of surrounding the Bride with other richly dressed women, in order to confuse evil spirits.

Married in White, you have chosen right
Married in Grey, you will go far away,
Married in Black, you will wish yourself back,
Married in Red, you will wish yourself dead,
Married in Green, ashamed to be seen,
Married in Blue, you will always be true,
Married in Pearl, you will live in a whirl,
Married in Yellow, ashamed of your fellow,
Married in Brown, you will live in the town,
Married in Pink, your spirit will sink.


Have your own wedding images? Let us make a custom coffee-table album from them.


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Last modified: March 08, 2010