Have you ever wondered about the different traditions that we have at weddings? For instance, why does the father give his daughter away, why does the groom stand on the right and why is the wedding ring worn on the third finger on the left hand?
Although we can never be absolutely sure where some of the traditions came from these are some of the popular stories behind them.
THE WEDDING RING
The circle is a symbol of continuity, it has no start or end and symbolises everlasting love. The reason it is worn on the third finger of the left hand comes from the Roman belief that the vein in that finger runs directly to the heart. By wearing the rings on that finger the couple were joined by their hearts. By wearing a ring it is also an outward display that you are married.
THE BEST MAN
This dates back to ancient times when men used to invade villages and capture women to make them their brides. A man would take along his strongest and most trusted friend (his “best man”) so that they could work together if there was any resistance from the woman’s family. This friend would also accompany the groom up the aisle in case the groom needed any help defending his bride.
WHY DOES THE GROOM STAND ON THE RIGHT?
In ancient times men had swords and needed to have their right hand free to draw their swords at a moment’s notice. Interestingly, the tradition of opening a door and letting a woman go through first is not a chivalrous act but rather one that allowed the woman to be attacked first thereby giving the man time to draw his sword!
GIVING AWAY THE BRIDE
Not too long ago we had no choice about whom we married. Daughters were considered their father’s property and most marriages were arranged. Usually the father would give his daughter’s hand in marriage for a price, or dowry. Today, when a father gives his daughter away, it is a symbol of his blessing on the union.
In addition to the groom not being able to see his bride before the ceremony, veils were worn to symbolise her virginity, purity and innocence. The veil was also believed to ward off any evil.
For many centuries bridesmaids acted as a decoy for any evil spirits. They wore very similar clothes to the bride and their purpose was to fool these evil spirits. Today, bridesmaids are there to help the bride and give her moral support on her wedding day.
THE BRIDAL BOUQUET
The first bouquets were made of fresh herbs and, later, orange blossoms which are evergreen and represent continuity. The strong smell of the flowers was also thought to ward off evil spirits and bad luck. In Roman times the bouquets represented fertility.
In Victorian times girls of marriageable ages would carry around a bouquet of flowers in public and would continue to do so until she became engaged.
TOSSING THE BOUQUET
Women used to try and tear pieces off the bride’s dress and flowers to try and get some of her good luck. To try and stop this, the bride would run off and throw her bouquet into the crowd. Can you imagine someone trying to tear strips off your beautiful gown! Today the bouquet is tossed to the single ladies in the belief that whoever catches it will be the next to marry.
THROWING THE GARTER
The reason for this was similar to that of throwing the bouquet – a piece of bridal attire was considered lucky so whoever caught this would enjoy luck too. Today, the throwing of the garter has become less modest as the groom normally removes this with his teeth and then throws it into the crowd of single males.
It used to be that the single lady who caught the bouquet danced with the single man who caught the garter and everyone hoped that the two people would fall in love and marry.
Rice grows abundantly and quickly and, therefore, represents fertility. Guests would throw rice at the couple to ensure prosperity and fertility. Today we tend to use confetti or rose petals rather than rice.
SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW, SOMETHING BORROWED, SOMETHING BLUE, AND A SIXPENCE IN HER SHOE
Again this is symbolism where the something old represents the brides past and her link to her family. The something new represents the future and the hope for the couple’s good fortune and success. Often the wedding gown is the something new.
Something Borrowed is usually from a family friend who has had a good marriage and is thought to lend some of her good fortune and joy to the new bride. It is also a reminder that the bride will also have friends and family for support when she needs it.
Something Blue symbolises love, purity and faithfulness of the bride.
A Sixpence in her shoe is the wish that the bride will have prosperity in her future life.
THE TIERED WEDDING CAKE
In medieval times the guests would each bring a small cake as a gift and these would be piled one on top of the other and the newlyweds would kiss over the top of the pile. Another tradition was to crumble bits of the cake over the bride’s head for luck and fertility! That tradition would be certainly be unwelcome today! Imagine having your beautiful hair-do ruined with bits of cake in it! Today, the top tier of the cake is often reserved for the couple to share on their first wedding anniversary or the christening of their first child.
WHERE DOES THE PHRASE HONEYMOON COME FROM?
This dates back to when men had to capture their wives. After marrying her he would often have to hide her away from angry parents and this was usually for the cycle of a moon. To fortify themselves they would drink honey wine or mead to encourage fertility. Hence the phrase honeymoon.
What traditions will you be incorporating into your wedding day?
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