Today marks exactly 2 months until our wedding! To celebrate, we thought we’d post on the origins of some common and not-so-common wedding traditions.
The wedding ring has been worn on the third finger of the left hand since Roman times. The Romans believed that the vein in that finger runs directly to the heart. The wedding ring is a never-ending circle, which symbolizes everlasting love.
The best man. In ancient times, men sometimes captured women to make them their brides. A man would take along his strongest and most trusted friend to help him fight resistance from the woman’s family. This friend, therefore, was considered the best man among his friends. In Anglo-Saxon England, the best man accompanied the groom up the aisle to help defend the bride. Additionally, the bride would stand to the left of her groom so that his sword arm was free!
The bridal party is a tradition that has been established for many centuries. For a long time the purpose of the bridal party was to fool evil spirits. The bride’s friends dressed similarly to her in order to confuse any virulent presences that might be lurking about. Today bridesmaids are there to support the bride in the stressful times leading up to and during the wedding.
Something Old, Something New
Something Borrowed, Something Blue
“Something old” represents the bride’s link to her family and the past. The bride may choose to wear a piece of family jewelry or her mother or grandmother’s wedding gown.
“Something new” represents hope for good fortune and success in the future. The bride often chooses the wedding gown to represent the new item.
“Something borrowed” usually comes from a happily married woman and is thought to lend some of her good fortune and joy to the new bride.
“Something blue” is a symbol of love, fidelity, and purity of the bride.
The origin of the tiered wedding cake also lies in Anglo-Saxon times. Guests would bring small cakes to the wedding and stack them on top of each other between the bride and groom. It was tradition for them to attempt to kiss over the tower without knocking them all down. Later, a clever French baker created a cake in the shape of the small cakes and covered it in frosting, called a “croquembouche,” (essentially a tower of cream puffs coated with caramelized sugar).
Flowers replaced herbs in the wedding ceremony as symbols of fertility, new life, hope and to ward off evil spirits. The first bouquets consisted of herbs and, later, orange blossoms. Ancient Athenians wove mint and marigolds, which they believed to be aphrodisiacs, into bridal garlands and wreaths. Roman brides carried wheat for fertility, rosemary for virility, and myrtle for long life. European brides in the Middle Ages carried pungent herbs such as garlic and chives to prevent jealous spirits from disrupting the couple’s happiness and Victorian brides popularized the notion of the “language of flowers,” carrying certain flowers based on their associated sentiment.
The bridal veil has long been a symbol of youth and modesty but it was also used to ward off evil and disguise unattractive brides from their grooms until after the vows had been said!
The custom of favors originated in Europe during the Middle Ages, when bonbonnieres, or boxes filled with sugar cubes, were given to guests. A wedding was considered a lucky occasion then, and by passing bonbonnieres and other treats onto wedding guests, couples were “bestowing” their good luck upon their guests. In most cases, these lucky gifts consisted of five almonds or pieces of candy which represented fertility, health, wealth, happiness and longevity.
Tossing the bouquet is a tradition that stems from England. Women used to try to rip pieces of the bride’s dress and flowers in order to obtain some of her good luck. To escape from the crowd the bride would toss her bouquet and run away. Today the bouquet is tossed to single women with the belief that whoever catches it will be the next to marry.
Saving the wedding cake. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby carriage! It used to be assumed that when there was a wedding, a christening would follow shortly. So rather than bake two cakes for the occasions, it made more sense to bake one big cake and save a portion to be eaten at a later date when the squealing bundle of joy arrived.
Other Wedding Traditions
The notion of sleeping with a piece of cake underneath one’s pillow dates back as far as the 17th century and quite probably forms the basis for today’s tradition of giving cake as a “gift.” Legend has it that sleepers will dream of their future spouses if a piece of wedding cake is under their pillow.
Traditional Italian brides and grooms forgo the limo and walk to the chapel on foot. In certain villages, residents throw symbolic obstacles in their path to suss out their future as man and wife: If a broom lands at the bride’s feet and she picks it up, for example, she will be a stellar house-cleaner.
After the wedding ceremony, Italian couples shatters a glass or vase — and do their best to pulverize it, since the number of pieces represents the amount of years they’ll stay happily married.
In Sweden, traditional weddings will feature bridesmaids carrying little bouquets of aromatic herbs and the groom with thyme in his pockets to keep trolls at bay.
In Peru, single female guests take part in a tradition a little sweeter than a bouquet toss. Charms attached to ribbons are tucked between the layers of the wedding cake. Before the cake is cut, each woman grabs a ribbon and pulls. At the end of one ribbon is a fake wedding ring. The guest who picks that ribbon is said to be next in line for marriage.
Russian grooms have to work for their brides. Before the wedding, the groom shows up at the bride’s home and asks for his beloved. In jest, her friends and family refuse him until he pays up in gifts, money, jewelry or simple humiliation. Grooms are forced to do silly dances, answer riddles, and perform goofy tests of worthiness like diapering a baby doll. Once the groom impresses friends and family with this bridal ransom, or “vykup nevesty,” he’s allowed to meet his bride-to-be.
That last one sounds especially amusing.