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 are based 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 back far enough and deep enough, and you find some interesting, although somewhat strange, historical twistings and turnings on the path to 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 and Honking Horns
Loud, honking horns escorting a newly married couple in a motorcade of friends and family may seem to be only high spirits and boisterous public congratulations. True, but its roots go deeper still. Older traditions were clanging bells and shooting guns, both methods of frightening away evil spirits.
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.
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.