Traditions and Rituals in a Wedding
In days gone by, it seems that weddings were viewed as an occasion during which people were particularly susceptible to bad luck and evil spirits. As a result, an almost endless number of customs and superstitions have accumulated
Proposing and Engagement
A woman should only propose to a man during a leap year, otherwise it endangers the marriage.
In times past, if a young man encountered a blind person, a pregnant woman, or a monk while on his way to propose to his intended bride, it was believed that the marriage would be doomed if he continued along because these images were thought to be bad omens.
On the other hand, if he were to happen upon a pigeon, wolf, or goat, he could expect extremely good fortune in the marriage.
Engagement and wedding rings are worn on the fourth finger of the left hand because it was once thought that a vein in that finger led directly to the heart.
It is bad luck for the bride to remove her engagement ring before the day of her wedding.
Stag parties were first held by ancient Spartan soldiers, who kissed their bachelor day’s goodbye with a raucous party.
It is unlucky for a woman to marry a man whose surname begins with the same letter as hers: To change the name and not the letter, Is to change for the worst and not the better.
To practice writing your new name prior to the wedding (and what bride doesn’t do this?) is believed to tempt fate and thus, is also believed to result in bad luck during the marriage!
It is believed to be bad luck for the bride to wear her complete outfit before the wedding day. As an extension to this, some brides leave a final stitch on the dress undone until the day of the wedding for good luck.
It is thought unlucky for the bride to make her own wedding dress
The Wedding Date
Certain days are better than others for a wedding. The Victorians believed that it was lucky to marry on a day during the week that the groom was born. The luckiest day to marry was on the groom’s actual birthday. Saturday was the unluckiest day of all for a wedding!
The famous old rhyme advises a wedding in the first half of the week:
Monday for wealth,
Tuesday for health,
Wednesday the best day of all.
Thursday for losses,
Friday for crosses,
Saturday for no luck at all
According to an old legend, the month in which you marry may have some bearing on the fate of the marriage:
Married when the year is new, he’ll be loving, kind and true;
When February birds do mate, you wed nor dread your fate;
If you wed when March winds blow, joy and sorrow both you’ll know;
Marry in April when you can, joy for Maiden and for Man;
Marry in the month of May, and you’ll surely rue the day;
Marry when June roses grow, over land and sea you will go;
Those who in July do wed, must labor for their daily bred;
Whoever wed in August be, many a change is sure to see;
Marry in September’s shrine, your living will be rich and fine;
If in October you do marry, love will come but riches tarry;
If you wed in bleak November, only joys will come, remember;
When December snows fall fast, marry and true love will last
The advice was taken more seriously in Victorian times than it is today. In most Churches the end of April was a busy time for weddings as couples wanted to avoid being married in May. Queen Victoria is thought to have forbidden her children from marrying in May.
For centuries the month of June has been the most popular choice for weddings. During the 1400 -1500s, May was the month in which the “annual bath” occurred. As such, since the over-all population was smelling relatively fresh in June, it was a good time to hold a special event like a wedding! Further, the month of June is named after the goddess Juno, who was the Roman counterpart to Hera, the goddess of the hearth and home, and patron of wives.
Ancient tradition thought it was unlucky to marry in the month of May because in Romans times the Feast of the Dead and the Festival of the Goddess of Chastity both occurred in May.
Bad weather on the way to the wedding is believed to signify unhappiness in the marriage. Traditionally it is believed that cloudy skies and wind en route to the wedding will result in a stormy marriage. However, snow on the way to the wedding is a sign of fertility and prosperity!
It was thought that misfortune would come to those who married during lent – “Marry in Lent, live to repent” – because lent was a time for abstinence.
The Bridal Shower
The first gift the bride opens should be the first gift she uses.
The person who gives the third gift to be opened will soon have a baby.
The Wedding Day
It is held that a final look in the mirror right before the bride leaves her home for the ceremony will bring good luck. However, if she looks in a mirror once again before the ceremony, her luck will tarnish to bad!
Seeing a chimney sweep on the way to a wedding is though to bring good luck and it is still possible to hire one to attend wedding ceremonies. Other good luck omens when seen on the way to the ceremony include lambs, toads, spiders, black cats and rainbows.
Seeing an open grave, a pig, a lizard, or hearing a cockerel crow after dawn are all thought to be omens of bad luck. Monks and nuns are also a bad omen. This may be because the are associated with poverty and chastity. They are also though to signal a dependence on charity by the newlyweds.
Seeing a lamb, frog, spider, black cat, or rainbows on the way to the ceremony is believed to be a sign of good luck!
It brings more luck if the groom arrives at the church before the bride.
It’s bad luck for the bride to start down the aisle on time but good luck to step into the church with her right food first.
Saying your vows when the hour hand on the clock is going upwards, makes you work together in your married life. If you say your wedding vows when the hand is going down, it is bad luck.
If the bride cries on her wedding day, those shall be the last tears she ever sheds over her marriage.
If the groom drops the wedding band during the ceremony, the marriage is doomed.
It is considered bad luck for the bride to see a pig, hare or lizard running across the road, an open grave or to meet a nun or monk on her wedding day.
Flower girls drop petals as they walk down the aisle is to ensure the new couple will have many chances to have children.
Carrying a horseshoe or a bouquet in the shape of one is considered lucky for the bride, but only if the horseshoe is carried with the open end up so the luck does not ‘fall out’.
An old wives’ tale is that if the younger of two sisters marries first, the older sister must dance barefoot at the wedding or risk never landing a husband.
Catching a glimpse of a monk or a nun is also thought to be a omen of misfortune because of their association with poverty and chastity.
The loan of a wedding dress means good luck to the borrower and bad luck for the lender.
A veil disguises the bride from evil spirits.
Dressing the bridesmaids is to fool the evil spirits, so they will not know who is the bride.
If the bride helps to make her own wedding dress, it will bring her bad luck. If she rips her wedding dress on the day, it means that the marriage will end in death.
It is considered good luck if the bride finds a spider in her wedding gown.
Wearing a pearl on the wedding day will bring bad luck and tears throughout the marriage
The Wedding Cake
The bride and groom cut the first slice of cake together to ensure that they will conceive.
The chief bridesmaid should keep a piece of cake in her pocket for the duration of the couple’s honeymoon, if she hopes to marry soon.
Single female guests should take home a piece of wedding cake and place it under the pillow to dream of the man they will marry.
After the Wedding
Throwing rice (or birdseed or confetti) as the couple leaves the church dates back to ancient times and is meant to bestow fertility on the couple.
The new bride must enter her home by the main door, and must not trip or fall, as it is a bad omen if the bride should stumble.
Hence the custom of the groom carrying the bride over the threshold.
The spouse who goes to sleep first on the wedding day will be the first to die.
It is said that the first partner who buys a new item after the wedding will be the dominant one
Traditions are a lovely way to incorporate rituals that have been used by brides across the world for 100’s sometimes 1000’s of years.
Most of these rituals and traditions have endured the test of time, having emerged centuries ago.
These wedding traditions and customs have historically been maintained over the years and handed down through the centuries because such traditions carry with them the promise that they will bring happiness and good fortune to the couple at this transitional time in their life – and who could be brave enough to tamper with that?
Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue (Lucky Sixpence In Her Shoe)
The saying, “Something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue” is a popular rhyme that has been used since Victorian times.
This is thought to represents the bond to the bride’s family and her old life. Many brides choose to wear a piece of antique family jewellery or a mother’s or grandmother’s wedding gown.
This is to represents the couple’s new life together and their future hope for happiness, prosperity and success. Many brides choose their wedding gown as the new item.
This is to remind the bride that family and friends will be there for her when help is needed. Some say that the borrowed item is to come from a happily married woman is meant to impart similar happiness to the bride. Many brides will use a hairclip or a piece of jewellery for this item.
Is to a symbol which is thought to represent fidelity and constancy. Often the brides garter is used as the blue item.
Lucky Sixpence In Her Shoe
The sixpence is a wish of wealth for the bride and her new husband. The coin is taped on the base of the shoe near the heel or in the arch. Some bride like to select a coin from the year they or their grandmother was born for extra luck.
White Bridal Dress
Wearing white also dates back to Victorian times when Queen Victoria abandoned the usual royal tradition of wearing a silver gown, instead choosing to wear white. Before that time brides simply wore their best gown, rather than a special wedding dress . The popularity of white can also be attributed to it symbolizing purity and virginity. White was also thought to ward off evil spirits.
The following is a traditional rhyme offering advice on dress colour:
Married in White, you have chosen right,
Married in Blue, your love will always be true,
Married in Pearl, you will live in a whirl,
Married in Brown, you will live in town,
Married in Red, you will wish yourself dead,
Married in Yellow, ashamed of your fellow,
Married in Green, ashamed to be seen,
Married in Pink, your spirit will sink,
Married in Grey, you will go far away,
Married in Black, you will wish yourself back.
A green dress is thought to be unlucky unless the bride is Irish. The old expression that a woman has a ‘green gown’ was used to imply promiscuity, the green staining being due to rolling in grassy fields.
The exact origin of the wedding veil is still unclear, however, it has been suggested that the wedding veil originated centuries before the wedding dress in Roman times. A popular explanation is that it dates back to when the groom would throw a blanket over his brides head when he captured her and carried her away.
Another theory is that during the times when arranged marriages were still used the bride’s family would cover her face until the groom was committed during the wedding ceremony; once he was committed it was too late for him to run away if he was not happy with his bride!
Traditionally brides have been thought to be particularly vulnerable to evil spirits. Another theory is that the veil was worn with the belief that it would disguise the bride and fool the evil spirits. It was not until 1800 in Britain that the veil came to symbolize modesty and chastity. Today, the veil remains the ultimate symbol of virginity.
Throwing Rice, Confetti, Flower Petals
Afterward the ceremony, the couple usually leaves the site of the wedding while being showered with rice, bird seed, bubbles or flower petals. The “showering” is supposed to represent the showering of good wishes for their marriage.
As rice is considered a “life giving” seed it is thought that by throwing in on the couple they will be bestowed with fertility and have many children.
In some cultures, it was not rice which was thrown, but rather small cakes or pieces of a crumbled cake. Today some still throw rice, but more commonly confetti or rose petals are thrown in place of rice due to a number of practical and environmental reasons – the symbolism remains the same
Confetti is Italian for sweets which in Italy are thrown over the couple as they emerge from the Church and the symbolism is the same.
Flowers and bouquets have long been used in weddings. When it comes to the bouquet there are several reasons behind the floral arrangements and the need for flowers to begin with.
In some cultures the need for flowers was so that the bride would then have a sweet aroma to surround her, which was especially important in times when bathing was not a regular occurrence.
Another reason which dates back to ancient times, was the bride would carry strong scented herbs and flowers to send away evil spirits and ward off poor health and bad luck.
It is said that during Roman times floral garlands were worn by the bride and groom, to symbolise hope, fertility and new life. The bridal bouquet also symbolised that a woman was in full bloom.
Since that time, the bridal bouquet has taken on a deeper meaning with symbolism ranging from life, growth, and fertility with different flowers meaning different things for the marriage.
In addition to adorning the bride with flowers to promote good luck and good health flower meanings allow the bride to express her feelings for the groom.
Some popular flowers include:
Acacia = Elegance
Baby’s breath = Pure Heart
Chrysanthemum (red) = I love you
Chrysanthemum (white) = Truth
Forget-me-not = True love and remembrance
Gardenia = Joy
Honeysuckle = Generosity
Irises = Wisdom
Lily = Majesty
Orange Blossom = Purity and virginity
Orchids = Fertility
Roses = Love
Red Roses = True Love
Tulip = Love
Violet = Modesty and Faithfulness
The wedding tradition of the groom wearing a boutonniere originates in medieval times when a knight wore his lady’s colours (through flowers) as a statement of his love.
During the Victorian times a different meaning was born. Courting couples would send love messages to each other using flowers, each flower having a different meaning and message. These meanings as still used today.
The most popular flowers for a bridal bouquet are tulips, roses and lilies.
These flowers mean:
Red Rose – Love
White Rose – Worthiness
Pink or White Rose– Love and Beauty
Tulips – Love
Lilies – Return of Happiness
Wedding Ring Placement
Placing the wedding ring on the third finger of the left hand has two possible origins; ancient Egypt or 17th century Europe.
The Egyptians believed the “vein of love” ran directly from the ring finger to the heart, therefore the ring was placed there to denote eternal love. Egyptian men once regarded the gift of a gold ring as a symbol of proof that they trusted their new wives with their wealth.
During a 17th century wedding ceremony the groom would slide the wedding ring part way up the bride’s thumb, index finger and middle finger as the priest said “In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit”. As the ring finger was the first free finger, the ring was placed there.
The symbolisim of the wedding ring today is that being a continuous circle, without an ending, the ring represents a token of everlasting love, and a commitment. Thus the wedding band is usually placed on this finger.
It is considered bad luck for the engagement ring to be removed before the wedding day as this will break the commitment of the ring.
The use of gold rings is meant to represent that the groom trusts the bride with his property and fortune.
A Diamond Engagement Ring
This tradition was from the medieval Italians. The Italians believed that a diamond was formed and created from the flames of love. This was then given to the bride as a symbol of and unbreakable love.
Have you ever wondered why the Happy Couple invites special friends and family members to participate in their wedding? This tradition dates back to ancient Roman times. Several women were asked to dress similar to the bride in order to confuse any evil spirits that may attempt to kidnap the bride. Nowadays, the bridesmaids may dress differently from the bride, but they wear similar dresses to each other for good luck.
The best man and other groomsmen also have roles steeped in tradition. In ancient times, brides weren’t exactly willing parties. Instead, they would be abducted by the groom, his best man and other close friends. These men are now representing both consenting parties by being groomsmen.
Traditionally the best man was the strongest and best fighter the groom could find, he was used to fend off the brides father, brothers and other suitors. This was generally done if the marriage did not have the bride’s families blessing.
It is the best man’s duty to protect the groom from bad luck. He must ensure that once the groom has began his journey to the church he does not return for any reason.
He must also arrange for the groom to carry a small mascot or charm in his pocket on the wedding day.
When the best man is paying the church minister’s fee he should pay him an odd sum to bring luck to the couple.
The traditional fruit cake originated in Britain, with the fruit and nuts being a symbol of fertility.
Sharing the first piece of wedding cake is a wedding tradition with Roman roots. The Romans believed that by eating the wedding cake together a special bond was created between the couple. The wheat used to bake the cake was symbolic of fertility and a “fruitful union”, while the cake’s sweetness was thought to bring sweetness to all areas of the couple’s new life.
Wedding Cake is also though to represent the bride’s virginity and purity while the couple making the first cut together is to symbolise the couple’s unity, their shared future, and their life together as one, and that they will conceive.
In old England it was traditional to bake a ring into the wedding cake as a symbol of bliss and happiness. The guest whose piece of cake contained the ring, it was said, could look forward to a full year of uninterrupted happiness.
The shape of the three tiered cake is believed to have been inspired by the spire of Saint Bride’s Church in London, England.
It is believed that an unmarried male guest who keeps a piece of wedding cake under his pillow as he sleeps will increase his chances of finding a mate. An unmarried bridesmaid who does the same will dream of her future husband.
Another old English custom was to throw a plate with a piece of wedding cake out of a window on the occasion of the bride’s first return to her family home after the wedding. If the plate broke she could expect a happy future with her husband – but if the plate remained intact, prospects for the future became grim.
In the past the custom was to throw many small cakes over the bride in a similar way in which we throw confetti today. A modification of this custom was to crumble cake over the brides head and in some versions to break the cake over the Bride’s head. In Scotland Oat Cakes were used for this purpose. This was done to promote fertility.
In Yorkshire a plate holding wedding cake was thrown out of the window as the bride returned to her parental home after the wedding.
The top tier of the cake is often kept by couples for the christening of their first child.
The term “honeymoon” is thought to originate from the times when a man captured his bride. The couple would hide from the bride’s parents before marrying. The couple would remain in hiding for a further cycle of the moon after the wedding. During this period they drank honey wine.
In Scotland the custom was for a woman with milk in her breasts to prepare the marital bed to encourage fertility in the newlyweds.
In Ireland a laying hen was tied to the bed on the first honeymoon night in the hope that some of its fertility would be passed on to the couple. Eating a double yolked egg was also thought to bring fertility.
The ceremonial kiss that concludes the wedding ceremony is said to represent the couple sharing and joining their souls. In Roman times the kiss “sealed” the couple’s agreement to join in a life-long commitment.
The custom of the bride throwing her bouquet shoulder was originally performed by her throwing one of her shoes over her shoulder.
Originally the bouquet formed part of the wreaths and garlands worn by both the bride and groom. It was considered a symbol of happiness.
It is customary, near the end of the reception, for the single female guests to gather around the bride who will throw her bouquet over her shoulder for one of them to catch. Tradition says that whoever catches the bouquet shall be the next to marry. She keeps the bouquet to ensure this destiny.
Throwing the garter began in France when pieces of the bridal attire were considered lucky. The bride would throw the garter to the guests at the wedding and whoever caught it could expect good luck.
Nowadays, the groom traditionally removes the garter from the bride and throws it to the unmarried men. The man who catches it is thought to be the next to marry. At some weddings the man who catches the garter will place it on the leg of the lady who caught the bouquet or they may start the next dance. It is also common for the recipients of the bouquet and garter to have a photograph taken with the bride and groom. The garter is placed on the brides right leg, just above the knee.
An alternate theory is Garter-throwing derives from an English ritual called “flinging the stocking.” Guests would playfully invade the bridal chamber and grab the bride’s stockings, then they took turns sitting at the foot of the bed flinging the stockings over the heads of the couple. Whom ever’s stocking landed on the bride’s or the groom’s nose would be the next to wed.
Crossing The Threshold
After the wedding the bride must enter the new marital home through the main entrance. It is traditional for the groom to carry the bride over the threshold when they enter for the first time. The reason for this is that the bride will be visited by bad luck with a bumpy and unhappy marriage if she falls when entering. An alternative is that the bride will be unlucky if she steps into the new home with the left foot first. The bride can avoid both mishaps by being carried.
Another explanation is that it symbolises the old Anglo-Saxon custom of the groom stealing his bride and carrying her off.
Cans Tied To The Car Bumper
A tradition in the Middle Ages was to ward off evil spirits by banging pots and making a lot of noise after the ceremony. This custom has been replaced by tying tin cans to the bumper of the car transporting the bride and groom.
In the past there have been a number of customs involving shoes which were thought to bring good luck. The best known, which is still upheld, is to tie shoes to the back of the newlyweds’ car. This has evolved from the Tudor custom where guests would throw shoes at the newlywed couple. It was considered lucky if they or their carriage were hit.
Less well known is for the bride’s father to give the groom a pair of the bride’s shoes to symbolise the passing of responsibility for the daughter to her new husband. A variation of the custom is for the groom to tap the bride on the forehead with one of the shoes to assert his dominance.
Bride Stands To The Groom’s Left
During the wedding ceremony, the groom will always stand on the right with his bride on the left. This tradition dates back to a time when the groom would steal his bride and if he had to fight off other men or jealous suitors he would hold his bride with on his left arm and use his right hand to swing his sword.
Honking of Car Horns
Again, this relates back to when the people of the village banged pots and pans after the ceremony to ward off evil spirits. In modern times, our wedding customs dictate that we blow car horns while following the bridal procession to the reception to announce the marriage.
Tying The Knot
The term “tying the knot”—This dates back to Roman times when the bride would wear a girdle that had been tied in many knots which the groom would have to untie.
People would bring bells, pots, pans and any other thing that they could bang and make a loud discordant noise with. This was said to drive away the evil spirits who might be lingering near the couple.
Tradition states that the first bridal shower was given to a poor couple in Holland who was denied the bridal dowry because of the groom’s lowly miller status. The miller’s friends gathered to “shower” the bride with items she’d need to make a new home and enter into marriage.
When it comes to the hen’s night and gift-giving it was widely believed that the very first gift that a bride would open would be the very first gift she uses while the giver of the third gift would be the next to give birth.
Sometimes a family bible was given as wedding present this is common in the 1870s – 1900s. Many of these bibles have survived and are a great source for family historians.
Bride and Groom Not Seeing Each Other Before the Ceremony
This tradition stems from the early days of arranged marriages – when the bride and groom’s first meeting occurred at the wedding. The two were kept from seeing each other to prevent the groom from bolting should he not like the look of his new bride.
Wedding Speeches and Toasts
Wedding toasts were originally a French custom. Bread was placed in a wine glass and passed around to the guests. The first person to reach the bread was expected to enjoy good luck. Toasts are traditionally given males of the importance: the father of the bride, the groom and the best man. The order of these toasts varies culturally, and today can be chosen by the bride and groom themselves, or together with their families. Anyone may propose a toast at the ceremony. Most people proposing a toast will want to have time to prepare and rehearse their speeches, so the person giving the toasts should be approached well before the wedding day. The groom and the father of the bride usually give very thoughtful and emotional speeches, while the best man often chooses to be rather comical, and perhaps not always tasteful.
During this time the veils were made so thick that the bride would not be able to see through it, therefore her father would have to walk her down the aisle and give her away.
Wedding photos act as a memento of that special day which represents the start of a new life together with the one you love. Wedding photos may be displayed later in the married couple’s home