Wedding traditions are an integral part of the nuptial celebrations and are an age-old practice that has been passed down from generation to generation. From bridal showers to diamond rings and flower bouquets, these customs have become almost as important as the wedding vows themselves. But have you ever wondered about the origins of these traditions? In this article, we will delve into the surprising roots of some of the wedding traditions that are still practiced today.
Bride in White
In the past, a bride would wear a bright and colorful dress that was reusable in everyday life. The trend for a white wedding dress started with Queen Victoria, who wore an all-white gown to her wedding to Prince Albert. The white dress was chosen to highlight the delicate lace and the ornaments, rather than to symbolize purity as the tradition goes today. Queen Victoria also stipulated that only the bride and her bridesmaids would be allowed to wear white, a tradition that is still in practice.
Victorian Weddings: Black Dresses and Stern Expressions
In the 19th century, folks were obsessed with displaying their social class. A black wedding gown was a symbol of wealth. But it’s important to note that some brides wore black for reasons other than love – such as the death of a spouse or family pressure. Vintage photos from the Victorian era that show the looks of wedding couples mostly depict the couples with serious expressions and limited physical contact. Quite a contrast to modern cheerfulness and bliss, right?
In medieval Europe, the bride’s dress was something that all the guests wanted a piece of. The dress was single-use and built for action, as the bride would be left in tatters after running away from the women attending the ceremony, who would rip her dress to shreds. This was a type of fertility ritual, where the shreds of the dress ripped from the bride were considered good luck charms to help with conception.
The tradition of throwing the bouquet started as a way to distract guests and allow the bride to preserve her dress. As dresses became more valuable and intricate, this practice faded, but it can still be seen at weddings where there is tension between the bride and certain guests.
In most cases, however, today, the wedding reception is more about celebrating the union of two individuals with food, drinks, and dancing instead of ripping the bride’s dress apart.
Most brides today walk down the aisle holding a dazzling bouquet of flowers, but this tradition has a much different origin. Back in the Middle Ages, brides still carried a bouquet, but it was usually in the form of strong-smelling herbs and spices, like a solid barbecue rub. The blend was said to ward off ill health, bad luck, and even evil spirits. The herbs, such as dill and basil, also masked the body odor of the time. The Victorian era changed this tradition and early social influencer Queen Victoria popularized carrying a tiny clutch of flowers surrounded by moss and ribbon. That Queen – what a trendsetter!
Getting married in Ancient Rome or feudal China could be a perilous experience. Apart from dealing with rowdy relatives, brides had to be vigilant against kidnapping. They were often required to travel far to their groom’s town, making them a vulnerable target for robbery, assault or rival suitors. To counter this, bridesmaids, dressed identically to the bride, accompanied the bride on her journey to confuse potential attackers. This practice was eventually made law, as a Roman wedding was required to have 10 witnesses attend, all dressed in matching colors, to ensure the validity of the wedding. The similarly dressed witnesses were believed to protect the couple from evil spirits who may cause harm.
Walking down the Aisle
Weddings aren’t just about love between two people, for some they’re seen as a business deal. In cultures with arranged marriages, the father of the bride is a big deal. Back in the day, it was thought the father had to be there for the wedding to go smoothly. But now, we have DJ’s to handle it. According to wedding historian Susan Wagoner, the tradition of the dad walking the bride down the aisle started with arranged marriages. The idea was that the groom wouldn’t back out with his future father-in-law right there. It wasn’t about giving away the bride, it was about keeping the groom in place with a stern look from the patriarch.
Wedding Veil: Protecting Brides from Evil Spirits or Hiding their Faces?
The story behind the wedding veil is a real head-scratcher! People are divided on where it came from, but the most popular theory is that it dates back to ancient Rome. The bride would rock a veil as she made her way down the aisle to shield herself from evil spirits that might try to steal her happiness. But once the ceremony was done and the spirits were beaten, the groom would lift the veil and get his first look at his lady. Another theory is that the veil was used to hide the bride’s face in arranged marriages so the groom wouldn’t see what she looked like until the deal was sealed. It all goes hand in hand with the tradition of the bride and groom not seeing each other before the big day. They’d spend the night before the wedding apart so the groom wouldn’t get cold feet and run off after seeing his mystery bride for the first time.
“Something Old, Something New…”
Back in the Victorian era, brides had different worries, like bad luck curses. The “Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue, and a Sixpence in your Shoe” rhyme was a traditional wedding blessing, believed to come from Lancashire, England, and meant to bless the bride’s fertility. Brides who were worried about evil spirits could follow the rhyme to have good fortune in their new life. For example, something blue was usually a garter to protect against an infertility curse. Something borrowed was usually an undergarment from a woman who already had a child, tricking evil spirits into thinking the bride was already fertile. The “sixpence in your shoe” line may have been meant to bring economic prosperity to the new couple. Maybe we should bring that one back!
Bridal showers have a long history dating back to 16th century Holland, where they were first thrown to dodge the Dowry system. Families either couldn’t afford the cost or the father of the bride wasn’t fond of the match. But, friends and family came together to provide small gifts to help the bride in married life. When America got a hold of the tradition during the Victorian era, society made it their own. Ladies would have showers to exchange gifts, chat, and sip on some mimosas. The term “shower” came from the ladies placing small gifts into an umbrella, which would then be opened like a shower of gifts. With gifts like stand mixers and bedding sets these days, it’s tough to shower the bride without knocking her out!
We talked about how weddings were seen as a business deal back in the day, especially in ancient Rome. The hubby-to-be would give the missus-to-be an engagement ring to show their love and commitment, but also as a sign of obedience. This ring was like a legally binding contract, a symbol of the lovey-dovey stuff and a bill of sale all rolled into one. These rings were made from all sorts of materials like ivory, flint, bone, copper, or even iron. Some brides even got two rings, one for wearing around the house and another made of gold to show off in public. Diamond engagement rings didn’t become popular until De Beers launched an epic ad campaign in 1947 to promote the diamonds they mined in South America.
Bachelor and Bachelorette Parties
Bachelor parties have been around for centuries and are typically a wild time thrown by the groom’s best buds. Debauchery is the name of the game, and nothing that happens is ever brought up again. It used to be just for men, but with the sexual revolution of the 60s, women started having bachelorette parties as a pre-marriage tradition too. Before that, brides-to-be would just get a bridal shower with gifts to help them in their role as a wife, like small appliances and their husband’s favorite beers. By the 80s and 90s, bachelorette parties became the norm for brides. Bridal showers are still a thing too, because who doesn’t love free gifts! Just don’t try to stuff a mixer into an umbrella.
The Threshold Tradition
Carrying the bride over the threshold is a tradition that’s fun for muscle-bound grooms who want a funny story to tell in the ER on their wedding night. According to the encyclopedia of marriage customs, the tradition dates back thousands of years to ancient Rome. Some experts think it started because Roman soldiers would forcibly carry off women to be married (yikes!), but it evolved into a game played during weddings. The bride would run to her mom, and the groom and his buds would chase her and carry her into the house.
In conclusion, wedding traditions have come a long way from their origins, but they still hold a special place in our hearts. From the dress to the bouquet to the reception, these traditions are an important part of the wedding experience, connecting us to our past while creating memories that will last a lifetime.
Let us know which custom surprised you, which tradition was your favorite, and (if you are married) which ritual was relevant for your wedding.
Text by Anna Koliber, author of the erotic novel “Faceless Lover”, available on Amazon