Did you know that white was actually once an unpopular choice for the color of the wedding gown? Or that the best man’s main role used to be as the couple’s guard on their first night together? Through centuries, wedding practices continue to change until it has become the grand affair that we’re all familiar with today. Want to know more? Here are the origins of 14 wedding traditions you probably didn’t know.
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While the details of the wedding have indeed changed, its essence has remained the same. This is evidenced by the very origin of the word “wedding”, which comes from the Anglo-Saxon wedd, meaning “pledge”. The word “bride”, meanwhile, traces its origin from the Proto-Indo-European word bru, which meant “to cook”, the traditional role of a newlywed woman.
The reason why the wedding ring is worn on the fourth finger is because, it was believed, it has a nerve that traces directly to the heart. In addition, it emphasizes that the wedding is a union as it is the only finger that could not be fully extended without also extending its adjacent finger, the pinky.
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The wedding ring is typically made of gold because alchemists thought that it was the purest type of metal. Diamond is the top choice of stone for the engagement ring because it used to be so rare that only the very rich could afford it. The very first record of giving a diamond engagement ring was by Archduke Maximillian of Austria in 1477 to his betrothed, Mary of Burgundy.
The engagement period was first decreed by Pope Innocent III and formalized in 13th-century Europe. This was done to create a waiting period between the betrothal and the wedding ceremony in which any legal impediments to the couple’s marriage is resolved. This resulted to the creation of marriage banns and why we now have separate rings for the engagement and the wedding.
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Brides-to-be today have a fantastic time at their bridal shower. But this practice wasn’t always a time for celebration. It’s believed that the original bridal shower—particularly the giving of gifts—was started by friends of a would-be-bride if her family was too poor to pay her dowry or if her father did not approve of her marriage and so would not give a dowry for his daughter.
In remarkable contrast to the bridal shower, the bachelor’s party or stag party was started when men would feast and toast a man arranged to be married, as though he was going to war. Believed to have been started in 5th-century Sparta, the spirit of the bachelor’s party remains the same ‘til this day.
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Having a best man has two origins. The first comes from tribal cultures where men traditionally have to kidnap their brides; in such cases, the best man is there to help in the abduction and stand guard on the couple’s first night together in case her family tries to retrieve her.
In the second origin, the best man’s role is to be ready to get anything the groom has forgotten once the wedding ceremony was underway, as it’s considered a bad form—as well as bad luck—for the groom to turn back from the wedding in any way.
In former times, all the bridesmaids were dressed similarly to the bride in order to confuse the evil spirits who may wish to curse the newlywed couple. Meanwhile, the groomsmen acted like bouncers of the party as their role was to turn away uninvited guests to keep them from crashing or spoiling the celebrations.
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Different cultures all over the world have pre-wedding traditions where the groom has to prove his love (and capacity to provide) by going through various challenges and giving some gifts or money. In Thailand, for example, the groom is tied up until he pays up; in some countries in Central Asia, the groom has to chase the bride on horseback; and in Singapore, of course, we have the gatecrashing ceremony.
You wouldn’t guess it, given how most brides today forgo wearing one, but the veil actually used to symbolize the wedding much more so than the gown. In fact, brides have been traditionally wearing veils for almost 2,000 years before the wedding gown became standard. The veil used to be very important as it was believed that it would hide a bride from the aforementioned evil spirits who may become jealous of her good fortune.
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Probably the most influential person to the aesthetics of modern weddings is Queen Victoria. It was her historical wedding to Prince Albert in 1840 that started the tradition of white weddings and made the white wedding gown synonymous to the occasion. Before that, blue was actually the more popular choice in the West as it signifies the purity of first love, while Eastern cultures preferred red, the color of joy and desire. Today, we equate the color white with the traditional virtues of a bride – purity, modesty and innocence.
The complete phrase which goes “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue” refers to items a bride must carry with her on her wedding day. Old is for the continuation of the good she already has; New is for good fortune in her future; Borrowed is for the happiness lent to her by family and friends; and Blue (in the old English rhyme, it’s actually “a sixpence in your shoe”) signifies her devotion to her groom.
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Who doesn’t know this tune, right? But do you know that this musical piece comes from the opera Lohengrin by Richard Wagner? It was actually played during the scene where the heroine bride goes to her wedding chamber, which means that it’s actually supposed to be played after the ceremony. The tune became popular when it was used by Princess Victoria (not to be confused with Queen Victoria) on her wedding in 1858.
Another practice common in various countries and cultures is the showering of food to the newlyweds as they exit the ceremonial venue. Perhaps the most common nowadays is rice, but it’s far from the only choice: Bulgarians, for example, throw figs; the French wheat; and the English pieces of cake. Whatever the food, this practice is done to symbolize prosperity and fertility.
The wedding we know today is a marvelous affair, and attendees could make it even richer by knowing the origins of its various practices. We hope that this article helped you gain a better appreciation of the wonders of weddings.
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