WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT THESE WEDDING TRADITIONS
So much of what goes on with western weddings is the result of traditions and superstitions, some of which have quite shocking origins. It often seems that the choices we make regarding the wedding is based largely on what others think we should do, what our family tells us they did, and what we have seen from other weddings we’ve attended.
There’s nothing wrong with any of these traditions if they feel right for your wedding. They have worked for countless weddings in the past, and many people will continue to include them going forward. The question is – are they right for you? Perhaps hearing from recent brides and learning the history of some traditions will make you think about what really matters for your wedding.
SEEING THE BRIDE BEFORE THE CEREMONY
“Seeing the bride before the wedding being bad luck – maybe a long time ago it was. There’s so many emotions building up and it’s so overwhelming when you first see each other at the ceremony (cue the water works).”
Origin: Looks like this tradition began in the time of arranged marriages. Brides and grooms were not allowed to see each other until the ceremony, in case one of them decided not to go through with the marriage. It was a business transaction, after all. Wedding Veils may also have their roots in this practice – obscuring the bride’s appearance until the last moment.
Today: As the majority of weddings are no longer arranged, this tradition doesn’t really hold value any longer. Some couples do prefer to build up the excitement of seeing each other for the first time, and surround it with the drama and emotion of the ceremony. However, it is becoming more common to have the first look take place before the ceremony and making it a more intimate experience, away from all the eyes of their guests.
“Having the first look with each other beforehand is a nice moment – I was less worried about showing my emotions with fewer people watching, and we were able to hug and talk and enjoy the moment more fully.”
(click here to read about the moments that brides loved most on their wedding day)
RAIN ON YOUR WEDDING DAY
“It poured rain on our wedding day. Everyone, and I mean everyone, stopped to tell us how lucky we were.”
Origin: It’s hard to find an exact origin for this superstition. Some reference cleansing, or healing, or the life giving properties of rain as a positive omen. Others think it’s good luck because it symbolizes renewal, or even unity. I’ve read that rain can represent both the last tears a bride will cry before her wedding, or conversely the amount of tears a bride will cry during her wedding. In almost all cases, though, myth and legend proclaims rain to be good luck.
Today: Saying that rain is good luck is probably just a way of raising the spirits of a bride or groom who dreams of an outdoor wedding but has those plans altered due to the weather. You cannot predict the weather, but you CAN plan around it. It pays to have a backup solution if the weather doesn’t cooperate. That is, of course, unless you are looking for some adventure.
One bride, who planned a destination wedding explained it like this: “I had dreamt of an outdoor mountain wedding all my life, and a little rain wasn’t going to stop that. We had come all the way – I wasn’t getting married inside with all the beautiful scenery around me. Grab an umbrella!”
SOMETHING BORROWED, SOMETHING BLUE
“My grandfather saved a sixpence for me for my wedding – how cool is that?”
Origin: Did you know that the actual saying goes like this:
Something old, something new
Something borrowed, something blue,
And a sixpence in your shoe
This is a Victorian rhyme meant to bring good luck to the bride. Here is what each line means:
Something Old: Continuity. Represents a bride’s desire to remain connected to her family as she begins her married life. This was sometimes represented by a garter from a happily married woman.
Something New: Optimism. Represents the start of a new union, and is meant to symbolize health, happiness and fertility.
Something Borrowed: Happiness. This is meant to symbolize the love and support for a bride from her dearest friends and family.
Something Blue: The color blue is often used to represent purity, love, and fidelity.
And a Sixpence in your shoe: Fortune and prosperity. A sixpence is a British coin worth 1/40th of a pound, though they stopped producing them in 1980. Most popular in England. This part of the saying is often left out for weddings in North America.
Today: You know what, while the superstition is something you may or may not believe in, this is one of those traditions that is still worth doing. Mainly because of how it connects you with your family and friends. And besides, does it actually hurt to add a little more luck into your life?
BOUQUET AND GARTER TOSS
“We didn’t have a bouquet toss. I always found them awkward and since most of our family and friends are married we didn’t want to alienate anyone who wasn’t.”
Origin: Flowers and herbs were long used to ward off evil spirits. Sometime in the 1300’s it became a tradition (in places like France) for guests to tear off small pieces of the brides’ dress, to keep as a token of good luck. To distract the guests as she was leaving, and to ensure her dress wasn’t in tatters, the bride would throw her bouquet. The garter toss has similar origins. It was to ward off unruly guests tearing at the bride’s clothing. To protect her dignity, the groom took over the collecting and throwing of the garter. Later, it came to symbolize the next lucky man or woman who would get married.
Today: Thankfully, guests behave a little more appropriately at weddings these days. The tradition is a long standing one, but truthfully has no real significance any longer. Why do we still include this in the wedding celebration? Familiarity? Routine? Is that reason enough for you to include it in yours?
“I personally don’t like the garter toss so we avoided that.”
(read here for more budgeting advice for your wedding)
“I also don’t really understand the cake cutting tradition…we only did it to appease our families.”
Origin: As with many traditions, the wedding cake originally was meant to signify good fortune and fertility. This goes back to ancient Greek and Roman times. Fruitcake was very popular during the middle ages. It wasn’t until refined sugar became more accessible that wedding cakes roared back into popularity. The more refined the sugar, the whiter the cake and the icing, and also the more pure the bride (or so goes the myth). The wedding cake has always been a symbol of wealth.
The cake cutting? Brides would often cut and serve the cake themselves to all their guests. It was a sign of fertility, and it was rude not to partake. As weddings grew in size, so did the cake, and the icing became thicker to support the additional tiers. The groom would assist the bride in cutting the cake, and would also help serve it. They would first share a piece of cake together to symbolize their union and their promise to provide for each other.
Today: There are not many people who see a connection these days between the whiteness of the wedding cake and the purity of the bride. Though, the cutting of the cake does follow the same symbolism of unity. Elaborate wedding cakes are beautiful and can be quite costly, which could explain some couple’s choice to forego this tradition all together and spend their money elsewhere.
“No one eats the wedding cake! We didn’t have one – plus, my husband has a dairy allergy. Candy and dessert tables made up for that. Not to mention our food truck for late night snacks!”
WEARING WHITE AT YOUR WEDDING
“Wearing a white dress is one tradition I wasn’t willing to let go of!”
Origin: Wedding dresses have been many colours in many different cultures – with red being one of the most common. White, in fact, was an unpopular choice because of its association with mourning. And while there have been cases of famous brides wearing white wedding dresses in history (Mary, Queen of Scots, for example), it was Queen Victoria who sparked this sensation. In 1840, she went against all the traditions of the time and wore a white gown. It was a massive hit, and has been the color of preference ever since.
Today: There is a belief that only ‘unconventional’ brides wear non-white wedding dresses. That may be the case until some celebrity changes public opinion once again. For the time being, however, the notion of purity and innocence that the white dress signifies is still by far the most popular choice.
GIVING THE BRIDE AWAY
“Eugh, the bride being ‘given away’! I’m not a goat to be passed to the next owner, I’m a human being!”
Origin: In many parts of the world, for many many years, daughters were considered the property of their fathers. Daughters were not allowed to marry without the permission of their father. When a marriage was arranged, the father would ‘give away’ his daughter to a husband in exchange for something, a bride price agreed upon between the families. This was common in patriarchal social systems, going back to biblical times and beyond.
Today: Thankfully, the thought of ‘giving away’ a bride is considered repulsive and derogatory in most western weddings. The role of the father walking the bride down the aisle remains a very special moment for many brides and fathers, though the connotations have changed. No longer does it signify the transfer of ownership. Instead, it marks the transition between the stages of life.
As a father of a daughter, I can tell you that this will be a very special, very emotional moment for me, if she chooses to have me walk her down the aisle. But I wonder – where is the special significance for fathers of the groom? Or how about the mother of the bride or the mother of the groom? Is it time we modify the ceremony to include all the people we want to honor?
This applies also to the tradition of ASKING THE FATHER’S PERMISSION TO MARRY THE BRIDE. Origins in patriarchy, but in modern times it is a show of respect. And in all honesty, it creates a great moment for the bride’s parents, and lets them be involved in the process, similar to how a potential groom may ask his own father’s advice on how to propose.
“The origin of this tradition is unpalatable today, but the current version is heartwarming and well intended.”
When it comes to your wedding, and the traditions you wish to include or the superstitions you feel obligated to adhere to, this bride had some straightforward advice:
“I think you should do what you want to do, whether it’s a wedding tradition or not. Most importantly, have fun with it!”