Weddings are among the happiest and most memorable occasions in a person’s life, whether you’re a crier or a sceptic, you’ve got to admit there’s something magical about being part of these celebrations that are so rich with tradition and superstition.
You might be wondering where some of these traditions come from, like why does only the bride wear white? Why do we have bridesmaids and groomsmen? Why do brides wear veils? These are all odd traditions that we don’t often question, they’re just a part of what makes a wedding a wedding, but where do they come from and how did they begin? Here are 7 wedding traditions with surprising backstories.
1. The White Wedding Dress
A pristine white wedding dress for many is the most iconic part of a wedding, picking out the perfect dress is a quintessential experience in being a bride and part of the bridal party. But how did the wedding dress become such a key part of the whole thing after all is it just a dress and why white?
Lover’s Waltz Couple Figure with lace-like detailing on the dress and adorable white bouquet
Women have been donning nice dresses for their wedding day for thousands of years, once it was part of showing the riches and wealth of the bride’s family with even the dress being a part of her dowry. That’s right even the clothes off her own back were once part of a transaction, essentially selling the bride to the groom and his family.
Like many of our traditions today, the tradition of white wedding dresses is credited to Queen Victoria, she wore a pristine white court gown adorned with all manner to white lace to match which sparked a craze for white wedding dresses among the elite only so recently as 1840. In Western cultures, white is generally considered a symbol of purity, innocence and particularly virginity and for most of history a woman’s virginity was one of the most highly guarded things and the importance of a woman maintaining it until her wedding was incomparable. In 1840, with laundry technology being relatively limited and synthetic dyes a few decades off, white fabric was seen as an extremely frivolous item because of how difficult it was to make and more importantly, maintain. This meant that wearing a dress made completely of white not only represented the bride’s purity and all that jazz but also her family’s wealth, you can imagine that for a young queen this would have been a very important image to create and maintain. Even now it is still common, for women to wear a different colour other than white should they remarry.
2. Something Old, Something New
For this one we can thank the Victorians again, this little rhyme that represents a collection of items given to a bride for luck. Each part of the rhyme had significant symbolism attached to it and it most of it still held onto to this day.
Something old - Often give in the form of a prized family heirloom, This symbolises a tie to the bride’s past, particularly her family, often given as a family heirloom.
Something new - This shows a bride taking the next step in her life and the future she will have with her soon to be spouse.
Something borrowed - The represents a transfer of happiness and good luck to the bride from a friend or family member who is already happily married meant to imbue the bride with their good luck.
Something blue - Along with white, blue is a colour the represents purity, modesty, fidelity and love.
And a sixpence in her shoe - Probably the most outdated of these lines, as you’ve probably guessed, the sixpence was a type of coin on Victorian England, adding a sixpence to the shoe is a way of wishing wealth and prosperity on the happy couple.
This one is an old one and one of the most looked forward to parts of planning a wedding is choosing your bridesmaids. For some its, just a good friend, a family member and a to-be family member for others, it’s a whole army. The origin of the tradition is a mixed bag, with some claiming that it was a way to protect the bride from kidnappings should a jealous suitor or evil spirit intervene, by having her maids dress the same as her and act as decoys. Other sources claim that the tradition stretches back as far as ancient Rome, where it was compulsory for a wedding to have 10 witnesses, these witnesses making up what we now consider as the wedding party.
Traditionally, bridesmaids were all unmarried young women with one exception being the matron of honour (or maid of honour), even to this day the maid of honour is usually an official witness for the bride with the best man being the other. Though nowadays it is considered distasteful for a bridesmaid to wear the same dress as the bride, it is one of the traditions that have really stuck and are among the most favoured.
As we have mentioned, kidnapping brides was a regular occurrence once upon a time, unfortunately, the tradition of having Groomsmen and a Bestman has dubious origins as well. In 16th century Europe, the practice of abducting would-be brides from was quite common, grooms needed to make sure their bride wouldn’t bolt the first chance she got. It was the job of the Best-man and his band of merry men to steal the woman away from the comfort of her home and make sure she couldn’t run off until she was down the aisle and wed. Although the 16th century is when we can pinpoint it, there sources saying that this practice went all the way back to Gothic Germany and Ancient Greece. Traditionally, the bride usually stands to the left of the groom and unfortunately, this habit may be because she may actually not have been there of her own free will cause of a kidnapping. It was important for the groom to have his sword hand ready to defend against any disapproving family members. Also, this is where the practice of sweeping a bride off her feet comes from. Good thing we’ve moved on from this!
Lladró’s I Love You Truly Figurine shows off the wedding veil in all its glory.
For what we think of as such happy occasions, many of our wedding traditions sure have perilous sounding origins. The wedding veil is no exception, with its use being traced back all the way to Ancient Greece as a way to not only hide the bride from would-be kidnappers but also evil spirits and gods. How morbid!
Even after ancient times, the rise of Christianity, Islam and Judaism saw veiling further encouraged for women and not just at weddings, veils were considered a sign of a woman’s modesty, purity and submission to God. However, once again we can thank Queen Victoria and her trendsetting wedding for bringing the wedding veil back into popularity in Europe and America becoming a big symbol of status based on its length, weight and quality of the material. Though today, veils are mainly just an elegant accessory, acting as a subtle nod to tradition, the is no doubt that they are n iconic part of a bride’s ensemble and not likely to disappear anytime soon.
6. Sealed with a Kiss
There’s no part of a wedding quite as momentous as those final words “you may kiss the bride”. Though traditionally it was expected to be the first kiss the couple would have shared, effectively sealing the deal and symbolising the consecration of the marriage for all to see, yikes! It is thought that this tradition goes all the way back to ancient Rome as so many of them do, during a time when divorce was unheard of and virginity was prized above all else. For most of our history, marriages were not just about a bride and groom but also diplomatic and political arrangements and could affect the lives of many other people, not actually that long ago when you think about it. So having this symbol of the marriage being consecrated was in many cases sealing the marriage contract as it is done in front of many witnesses. Not really the most romantic thing.
Of course, traditions grow and change and take on new meanings, thankfully in many cultures today, the kiss between a bride and groom is a heartwarming moment that symbolises the first shared kiss of the happy couple’s new life together.