Numerous traditions have evolved over the years that seem to have become rules
of etiquette today. Here's the scoop on just a few -- some are still popular and some
have long since been forgotten (thank goodness!). They are many more to mention,
so please email me with other wedding traditions!
Another great site to check out is the
List of Wedding Traditions
written by Melanie Anderson Ganson.
- Age: The bride's age was computed from the day of their marriage, not from
their day of birth in ancient Greece.
- Bridal Gowns: Traditionally they are white because the Greeks believed
white embodied purity, innocence and joyfulness. This also implied that the
bride was a virgin. Today, a white gown has come to symbolize the celebration
of the wedding itself.
- Bridal Veil: They were first used so that the groom couldn't back out
of a marriage during the time when arranged marriages were common.
(The blusher part of the veil wasn't lifted until after
the vows.) The veil has symbolized privacy, modesty, youth and maidenhood. For
these reasons, second-time brides usually, but not always, skip the veil.
- Cake: The shape of the cake was inspired by a building in London.
In ancient Rome, the cake was broken over the bride's head and
the guests gathered up all the crumbs that fell to the ground as good luck tokens. In
later times, the popularity of a bride was determined by the size of her cake -- the
guests brought the layers of cake to the reception, which were then filled with
applesauce and stacked. The cutting of the cake by both the bride and the groom originated
from Greek times when the couple shared in the task (with a sesame seed cake incidentally)
to ensure they would have a fruitful marriage. In the 1800's,
wedding cakes were fruitcakes (before baking powder, baking soda, etc) and this tradition
was brought to the US with the Pilgrams from England. After white cake was available,
the fruitcake tradition became known as the groom's cake.
The cake is symbolic of fertility and abundance.
One tradition is that a bride who keeps a piece of her wedding cake will have a loving and
faithful husband. And the most commonly known tradition regarding the wedding cake is that
of saving the top tier until the couple's first anniversary.
- Favors: Giving your guest party favors and momentos at the reception dates
back to a 16th century custom in France. The tradition was usually reserved just for
royalty, with gifts being of great value such as precious stones, gold, porcelain, etc. Of
course not everyone can afford gifts such as these, so as the tradition became common
among all of society gifts such as glass, confections, etc. were substituted.
- Flowers: In medieval Germany, brides wore rosemary to guard against pregnancy!
- Garter: This custom originates from at least two cultures. In ancient times
the garter represented the virginal girdle. Thus, the groom's removal of the garter
represented the bride's relinquishment of that status. And an Old English custom
involved that of wedding guests sneaking into the bridal chamber, picking up discarded
stockings, and throwing them at the couple. Whoever flung a stocking that hung on the
bride or groom's nose would be the next to marry. Glad it's garters and not smelly
old stockings today!
- Groom's Cake: The groom's cake was originally a fruitcake which was placed
beside the bride's cake and later cut and boxed for the guests to take home.
There was a superstition that a lady who slept with a slice
of the groom's cake under her pillow would dream of her future husband. Today, groom's
cakes can be any type of cake; they are often chocolate cakes or cakes shaped/designed
to some theme in the groom's life. It seems that today the groom's cake tradition is strongest
in the Southern part of the US.
- Kissing of the Bride: This is a symbol of the newlywed's faith and love and
respect of each other's beliefs. It grew out of the practice during feudal times of
kissing a lord's ring.
- Make-up: A 1775 law stated that a wedding was not legal if the bride wore any make-up
during the ceremony. Make-up was considered an ensnarement and so the groom would have
been trapped by the illusion of make-up.
- Poem: Familiar is the saying, "Something old, something new, something
borrowed, something blue and a lucky sixpence in your shoe." The "something borrowed"
originated from the idea that if a bride borrows an item from a happily married
woman, the giver's happiness is said to be passed on to the bride. The "something
blue" symbolizes constancy in a relationship. Ideas for something blue might be: sapphire
earrings, blue garter, hidden blue handkerchief, tiny blue ribbon or button on dress.
The sixpence became a tradition in England during the late 17th century as a part of the
dowry gift to the groom. As time went on the sixpence became a symbol of good luck; it is
traditionally worn in the bride's left shoe on her wedding day.
To read more about the sixpence, visit the
What Is a Sixpence? page.
- Throwing of the Rice: This is a traditional way of wishing the newlyweds
- To the Left!: Brides stand to the left of their groom because long ago the groom
needed to keep his right (and sword) hand free to defend his bride and himself from
attack and capture by jealous rivals.
- Wedding Bands: The neverending circle of a wedding band symbolizes eternal
love by its lack of a beginning and an end. This tradition grew out of an ancient
tribal custom of using circlets of grass to decorate a bride's wrist and ankles. The
earliest evidence of wedding rings dates back to around 2800 B.C. in Egypt. In 860
the Roman Catholic pope (Nicholas I) declared that an engagement ring was required of
all those who intended to marry; if either the man or woman later violated the vow to
marry, he/she was excommunicated or banished to a nunnery.
These were the times when women were thought of as property and the
band was a sort of leash or band of ownership. The gold and silver commonly used
for wedding bands today is derived from the customs of the Romans and Egyptians
who loved precious metals and stones. And finally, the rings are worn on the third
finger of the left hand because ancient cultures believed that finger had a vein
running straight to the heart.