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Wedding Traditions and their origins

Something old refers to wearing something that represents a link with the bride's family and her ancestors' life. Usually, the bride wears a piece of family jewelry or maybe her mother's or grandmother's wedding dress.

Wearing something new represents good fortune and success in the bride's new life. The bride's wedding dress is usually chosen, if purchased new, but it can be any other new item of the bride's wedding attire.

Wearing something borrowed, which has already been worn by a happy bride at her wedding, is meant to bring good luck to the marriage. Something borrowed could be an item of bridal clothing, a handkerchief or an item of jewelry.

Wearing something blue dates back to biblical times when the color blue was considered to represent purity and fidelity. Over time this has evolved from wearing blue clothing to wearing a blue band around the bottom of the bride's dress and to modern times where the bride wears a blue or blue trimmed garter.
Placing a silver sixpence in the bride's left shoe is a symbol of wealth. This is not just to bring the bride financial wealth but also a wealth of happiness and joy throughout her married life.

The Wedding Cake was originally lots of little wheat cakes that were broken over the Bride's head to bring good luck and fertility. Every guest then eats a crumb to ensure good luck. Sleeping with a piece under her pillow is said to make a single woman dream of her future husband.
In medieval England, guests brought small cakes and piled them on the center of a table. The bride and groom then attempted to kiss over them. A baker from France conceived the idea of icing all the small cakes together in one large cake. Today's three tier Wedding Cake is based on the unusual shape of the spire of Saint Bride's Church in London. Traditionally the newly-weds would make the first cut to signify sharing their life.
According to one long-forgotten tradition, the bottom layer of a wedding cake represents the couple as a family, and the top layer represents them as a couple. Each layer in between represents a child you hope to have.
As reported in a February, 1840 edition of The London Times, Queen Victoria's wedding cake was more than nine feet in circumference. A second tier arose from this "plateau," supported by two pedestals. On the second tier was a sculpture of the mythical heroine Britannia gazing upon the royal pair frozen at the moment of their exchanging vows. At their feet were two turtle doves (symbolizing purity and innocence) and a dog (representing faithful attachment). Completing the scene were various sculpted Cupids, one of them writing the date of the wedding with a stylus on a tablet.

Tradition says 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 showered the bride with gifts to help them set up housekeeping.

The expression "tie the knot" comes from the Roman times when the bride wore a girdle that was tied in knots, which the groom had the fun of untying.

There seems to be two explanations for this tradition where the groom carries his bride over the threshold when entering the home as a married couple for the first time.
The first is to protect the bride from evil spirits that were thought to be lying in wait under the threshold.
The second explanation relates to Roman times when it was believed that if the bride should stumble when entering the newlywed's home for the first time, it would bring bad luck and harm to their marriage.

During the marriage ceremony, the bride stands on the left and the groom on the right. The origin of this goes back to the days when a groom would capture his bride by kidnapping her. If the groom had to fight off other men who also wanted her as their bride, he would hold his bride-to-be with his left hand allowing his right hand to be free to use his sword.

The tradition of the father walking his daughter down the aisle reflects the old belief that she was his property to "give away" to the groom. This idea of the woman as property and the man as superior is also reflected by another strange symbol - the shoe.
Evidently, in ancient Anglo-Saxon times, the bride's father gave the groom one of her slippers. The groom then symbolically hit her over the head with it. The historic significance of the shoe faded into the past, but the shoe itself surfaces occasionally, either tied to the bumper of the newlyweds' getaway car or used as an impromptu champagne goblet by a besotted groom. My, how times have changed.

The presence of bridesmaids and ushers dates back to when marriage by kidnapping was the norm. He usually took a few good men to fight off her brothers and other suitors. She usually plotted with her girlfriends to make sure she was kidnapped by the right man. It seems attendants' roles haven't changed that much -- they're still the best source of moral support.

There was a time when the bride would wear her favorite dress to the ceremony. In 1840, Queen Victoria wore an elegant all white gown to her wedding. She started a fashion trend which quickly caught on and continues to this very day. White was worn because people believed it represented affluence, virginity and purity.

A gift of five almonds represents health, wealth, long life, fertility and happiness. This wedding tradition dates back to the early days of European history.

Throwing confetti over newly weds originated from the ancient Pagan rite of showering the happy couple with grain to wish upon them a 'fruitful' union. Pagans believed that the fertility of the seeds would be transferred to the couple on whom they fell. The throwing of rice has the same symbolic meaning.
The word confetti has the same root as the word confectionery in Italian and was used to describe 'sweetmeats' that is, grain and nuts coated in sugar that were thrown over newly weds for the same Pagan reason. In recent years, small pieces of colored paper have replaced sweetmeats, grain and nuts as an inexpensive substitute but the use of the word confetti has remained. Grains or nuts were traditionally thrown because they are 'life-giving' seeds. In some European countries, eggs are thrown instead.

The carrying of flowers by the bride has its roots in ancient times when it was believed that strong smelling herbs and spices would ward off and drive away evil spirits, bad luck and ill health.
Traditionally, bouquets were a mixture of flowers and herbs. Dill was a very popular choice as an herb because it was believed to promote lust. Following the ceremony, the dill was eaten for that purpose. Garlic and chives were also popular for the same reason. During Roman times, this tradition was extended, with the bride and groom wearing floral garlands signifying new life and hope for fertility. The bouquet in particular symbolized women in bloom.
Welsh brides used to give their attendants myrtle in their bouquets, to be planted later; tradition held that if the plant grew, the grower would be married.
During Victorian times, flowers took on an additional significance as lovers would send messages to each other using different flowers, each flower having its own meaning. These associations were soon adopted for the bride's bouquet and are still used today by many brides. The most popular flowers with their traditional meanings are:

Flower Meaning
Apple Blossom Better things to come
Camellia Gratitude
Carnation Fascination and love
Chrysanthemum - Red I love you
Chrysanthemum - White Truth
Cyclamen Modesty & shyness
Daffodil Regard
Daisy Innocence
Fern Fascination & sincerity
Flowering Almond Hope
Forget-me-not True love & remembrance
Heliotrope Devotion & faithfulness
Honeysuckle Loveliness
Hydrangea Boastfulness
Iris Warmth of affection
Ivy Eternal fidelity
Jasponica Loveliness
Jasmine Amiability
Lemon Blossom Fidelity in love
Lilac (white) Youthful innocence
Lily Majesty
Lily-of-the-valley return of happiness
Magnolia Perseverance
Maidenhair Discretion
Mimosa Sensitivity
Orange Blossom Purity and virginity
Peach Blossom Captive
Rose (red) Love
Rose (yellow) Friendship
Rose (coral) Desire
Rose (peach) Modesty
Rose (dark pink) Thankfulness
Rose (pale pink) Grace
Rose (orange) Fascination
Rose (white) Innocence
Rosemary Remembrance
Snowdrop Hope
Sweet Pea Delicate pleasures
Tulip Love
Veronica Fidelity
Violet Faithfulness

The origin of the wedding veil is unclear but it is thought that it predates the wedding dress by centuries.
One explanation is that it is a relic of the days when a groom would throw a blanket over the head of the woman of his choice when he captured her and carted her off. Another explanation is that during the times of arranged marriages, the bride's face was covered until the groom was committed to her at the ceremony - so it would be too late for him to run off if he didn't like the look of her!
The Romans believed that jealous demon spirits would try to cast spells on brides on their wedding days. Brides' faces were covered with veils to ward off the devil and other evil spirits. Over the years, the meaning of the veil has changed. Today it reflects modesty, obedience, chastity, youth and virginity.

This custom came about when a father disapproved of his daughter's marriage and refused to provide a dowry to the couple. The shower became the alternative to the dowry. Supportive villagers would assemble and provide the bride a variety of household items for her new home.

The engagement ring is a promise for marriage. During the Roman era, the man had to barter for his future bride. The engagement ring was security for the betrothed. As time went on, men presented diamond rings to future brides because a ring containing a diamond was considered more valuable than a plain gold band -- thus, it is a stronger promise and offers more security.

A bride's engagement ring and wedding ring are traditionally worn on the third finger of the left hand. There is no precise evidence to explain the origin of this tradition, but there are two strongly held beliefs.
The first, dating back to the 17th century, is that during a Christian wedding the Priest arrived at the forth finger (counting the thumb) after touching the three fingers on the left hand ' the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost'.
The second belief refers to an Egyptian belief that the ring finger follows the venaamoris, that is, the vein of love that runs directly to the heart.

The early Egyptians are thought to have exchanged the first wedding bands, with the circle as a symbol of eternity. Throughout the ages wedding bands have been fashioned from grass, leather, stone, iron and, finally, silver and gold. They were placed on the third finger of the left hand, because the ancients believe that the vein there led straight to the heart.

It was believed that if the newly married couple were to drink mead each evening for the duration of one moon following the wedding, they were assured a male heir within one year. And, if that did occur, lavish gifts and accolades were bestowed upon the meadmaker (artisans that were highly revered at the time).
In other words, the couple drank mead (honey wine) for one month (moon) ... thus the word honeymoon. The mead was drunk from a Mazer (sp) cup which was passed down throughout the generations. The cup was usually an ornate chalice, but for some it was rather simple.

All in all, the bride and groom have been considered pretty lucky by envious guests throughout the centuries. Overzealous guests used to scramble for bits and pieces of the bride's clothing, including her garter, as tokens of luck. This probably evolved into the modern-day tradition of throwing the garter and bouquet to determine the next lucky bride and groom.
In the 14th century, Europeans would gather around the bride and try to remove her garter for good luck. The bride would also throw her stocking for good luck. This eventually evolved into the bride throwing a bouquet to unmarried guests at the wedding. If luck was tight, the girl who caught the bouquet would be the next to marry. Today, the groom has the honor of removing the bride's garter and tossing it to single men. The man who catches the garter has the privilege of putting it on the girl who caught the bouquet
Tossing of the bridal bouquet is a custom which has it's roots in England. It was believed that the bride could pass along good fortune to others. In order to obtain this fortune, spectators would try to tear away pieces of the bride's clothing and flowers. In an attempt to get away, the bride would toss her bouquet into the crowd. Tradition says that the single women who catches the bouquet is the one who receives the bride's fortune and will marry next.

No ceremony is complete without the kiss. In fact, there was a time when an engagement would be null and void without one. Dating back from early Roman times, the kiss represented a legal bond that sealed all contracts. In the Middle Ages, newlyweds kissed over a stack of sweetened buns. When a French pastry chef later iced one such stack, the modern wedding cake was born.

According to tradition, yellow rose petals are thrown before the bride and groom while they are walking down the aisle. This is to ensure faithfulness in their marriage. When rose pedals are thrown before the bride as she walks down the aisle, it is to ward-off evil spirits below the ground and grant fertility.

It was believed that if all of a bride's maids dressed alike, evil spirits would not be able to tell exactly who was being married and could not put an evil curse on the couple.

It is said that the wedding toast begins the nuptial celebration. In China, for example, two goblets of honey and wine are joined with a red ribbon - the centuries old color of love and joy - and the couple enjoy a drink of unity.
Lithuanian parents serve the wedding couple symbols of married life: wine for joy, salt for tears and bread for work.
Today, the French bridal couple drinks a reception toast from an engraved silver two-handled cup, called a "coupe de mariage." which is passed from generation to generation.
In Italy, couples still follow ancient Roman wedding tradition -they walk through their village passing out cakes and sweets.
Even the word "bridal" comes from a British toasting tradition where newlyweds-to-be drank a marriage mead known as "bride-ale" for thirty days prior to their wedding day as part of the festivities. Wine has always been central to the celebration.
And literally, the toast, involved scorched bread. Back in the days when wine had to be decanted because of heavy sediments in the bottom of the bottle, the French cleverly "toasted." A piece of toast was placed on the bottom of the wine glass to absorb the residue. Naturally, everyone was encouraged to drink.

The wedding ceremony was considered a definitive line between old and new; therefore, the bride would not be pure and new if her groom saw her ahead of time. Worse yet, she would leave part of herself behind if she saw her own reflection. It once was also considered an ill omen for the bride to see herself in the mirror in her wedding dress.


  Traditional Modern Alt.Modern
1 paper plastics clocks
2 cotton cotton/calico china
3 leather leather crystal/glass
4 flowers linen silk/nylon appliances
5 wood wood silverware
6 candy/iron iron wood
7 copper/wool copper/wool brass desk sets
8 bronze/pottery bronze appliances linens
9 pottery willow pottery leather
10 tin aluminum diamond
11 steel steel jewelry
12 silk linen silk linen pearl
13 lace lace textiles/fur
14 ivory ivory gold
15 crystal glass watches
20 china china platinum
25 silver silver silver
30 pearl pearl pearl
35 coral coral/jade jade
40 ruby ruby garnet ruby
45 sapphire sapphire sapphire
50 gold gold gold
55 emerald emerald/turquoise emerald
60 diamond gold diamond
75 diamond diamond/gold diamond



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