Like your semi-annual poker night, weddings are based in tradition. Every detail from prenuptial activities like bachelor parties and bridal showers to day-of wedding style is heavily entwined in tradition. So, we created a little cheat sheet of traditions you should know before getting married and/or attending a wedding.
The Bachelor/Bachelorette Party
The Bachelor Party, a tradition that has been around since 5th century B.C. Sparta, started as an event in which “the soon-to-be-wed pledged his continued loyalty to his brothers-in-arms” at a feast preceding the wedding. The concept of women participating in the debauchery known as a “Bachelorette Party” has only been in existence since 1981. Prior to this, the eve before a woman’s wedding was a much tamer affair and aimed at getting the bride ready for her life as a wife. Early “bridal showers” also were a way for less wealthy brides to collect dowry money. Now bachelor/bachelorette parties are commonplace and often happen over the course of a weekend several weeks before a wedding. Modern couples dabble in everything from joint parties to casual trips in palm springs to wild nights in Vegas. Much like style, it depends on the person. There are no wrong answers.
Not seeing the Bride Before the Wedding
The tradition of the bride and groom not seeing each other before the wedding began during a time when arranged marriages were commonplace. The concept of a wedding was more of a business deal in which you wanted your daughter to marry into a wealthy family. So, the fear was that if the groom saw the bride before the wedding and didn’t fancy her looks, he could change his mind and the wedding could be called off. Some couples today stick with this tradition as they think it creates more excitement about walking down the aisle and the big “reveal”. Others choose to forgo the tradition and opt to see their partner before hand for a plethora of reasons from comfort to photography scheduling.
The first wedding rings on record were made of braided hemp in Ancient Egypt. The Egyptians believed that rings symbolized undying commitment and eternal love between the couple because the circle has no beginning or end. The center opening is a door to the future. Engagement and wedding rings are typically worn on the fourth finger of the left hand because it was once thought that the vena amoris vein in that finger led directly to the heart. Prior to World War II, wedding rings were commonly only worn by the woman in the relationship. During the war, soldiers would wear rings to remember their wives back at home. This practice eventually trickled down into all U.S. communities and continued after the war.
Bridesmaids and Groomsmen + Best Man and Maid of Honor
Bridesmaids started as just that – the bride’s maids. These women would escort the bride to her wedding and help her get dressed etc. The bridesmaids were often not related or even friends with the bride – they were domestic servants. Brides used to present their groom with a hefty dowry on the day of their wedding, attracting robbers. So, bridesmaids would wear similar dresses to the bride to act as decoys so that any robber or bandit would not know who the actual bride was. The maid of honor was tasked with carrying the monetary component of the brides dowry, putting her at great risk of thieves.
Groomsmen, on the other hand, have a much darker origin story. Groomsmen were originally called Bride’s Knights and were tasked with carrying the bride, sometimes against her will or her family’s will, to her wedding. The “best man” was the man in charge of standing next to the bride to prevent her from running away and/or keep her family members from “stealing” her back. Now, bridesmaids and groomsmen are a much more symbolic role and are often friends or family that are close to the couple. These are the people who attend the bachelor and bachelorette parties, help the couple get ready, and stand next to them at the altar. The Maid of Honor and the Best Man are, again, more symbolic but are often tasked to plan pre-wedding activities like the bachelor/ette party and are the main point people on the wedding day.
Something Old, New, Borrowed, and Blue
The saying derives from the Old English rhyme, “Something Olde, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue, A Sixpence in your Shoe”—which names the four lucky objects a bride should include somewhere in her wedding outfit. Something “old” was a way to ward off the Evil Eye and protect any future children the couple might have. It also represents continuity of the bride wearing something with sentimental value. Something “new” offers optimism for the future. Something “borrowed”, especially from a happily married, fertile couple represents future luck. While something “blue” is said to represent fidelity, purity, and love. Many brides still hold true to this tale on their wedding day but have found ways to incorporate the groom and the wedding party. For example, all the groomsmen will wear blue ties or the bridesmaids will all have something old like a feather in their bouquets.
Women on their wedding day are considered lucky. Therefore, other women in attendance used to try to rip pieces of the bride’s dress and flowers in order to obtain some of her good luck. To escape from the crowd the bride would toss her bouquet and run away. Today the bouquet is tossed to single women with the belief that whoever catches it will be the next to marry.
The wedding cake started in Ancient Rome, when marriage ceremonies ended with a wheat/barley cake (basically bread) being broken over the bride’s head for luck and fertility. The couple would then eat a few crumbs together as one of their first unified acts as a married couple. In Medieval England, the tradition morphed into a stacking of scones, spiced buns, and cookies in which the bride and groom had to kiss over the top of the stack without it toppling over to symbolize good luck. Thus, the tiered wedding “cake” was born. (Although, keep in mind that the first wedding “cakes” tended to be savory and more pie-like until refined sugar came along) Now, it’s likely for couples to have much more than a wedding cake – creating full dessert tables or having a groom’s cake in addition to the tiered wedding cake. It’s also common for the couple to save the top tier of their cake in the freezer to be enjoyed on their first anniversary.
Rain: According to Hindu tradition, rain on your wedding day is actually considered good luck. Pearl Wedding Ring: Said to be back luck as it mimics the look of a teardrop Day of the Week: English tradition says that Wednesday is considered the “best day” to marry, while Monday is for wealth and Tuesday is for health. It also says Saturday is the worst day to marry! Spider on Dress: The English believe a spider found in a wedding dress means good luck. Throwing Rice: Said to bring prosperity and fertility to the newly weds Knives as a Wedding Gift: Considered a sign of a broken relationship. The couple can reverse this “bad luck” by giving the gift giver a penny so the gift becomes a purchase. Using Married Name Before the Wedding: This is said to be tempting fate Crossing a Nun or Monks Path: A bride who sees a nun or a monk on the way to her wedding is said to be cursed with a barren life dependent on charity. Crying on your Wedding Day: It is supposed to be good luck for the bride to cry on her wedding day because it symbolizes that she has shed all her tears and will not have any to shed during her marriage. Of course, all traditions and superstitions are are dependent on the couple. The only thing that really matters is that no one gets cold feet!
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