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Wedding Traditions, Wedding Customs and Wedding Folklore

Wedding Traditions, Wedding Customs, Wedding Folklore

Many of our current and popular wedding traditions can be traced back to ancient wedding customs.  These wedding traditions were often based on wedding folklore, religion, symbolism, superstition, and even the belief that evil spirits could bring disease and death to brides and grooms and their crops, which was very important in early farm-based cultures.  Although the exact origin of many of these early wedding traditions and wedding customs are not always clear, popular acceptance has continued to have wedding traditions flourish.  This is most likely because many of these wedding traditions are a lot of fun!  

According to various sources, some of the early marriages were literally carried out by the groom and his bridesmen, or also called, "bridesknights" who would kidnap a woman, the origin of "carrying a Bride over the threshold," from another tribe!  The groom and his fellow conspirators would then fight off the female's family of tribesmen with swords held in their right hand while the groom would hold the captured bride in his left hand, which is the origin of why a bride stands on the left side of the groom at a wedding.  After a successful capture, another politically correct practice was for the groom to hide his new bride for one month for mating purposes.  

It is said that the word "honeymoon" was created to describe this one month cycle of the moon when they would drink mead, which was a honey sweetened alcoholic brew that affects both sobriety and the acidity of the womb, thus increasing fertility.  Beginning around 1000 A.D., marriages were often nothing more than trading chips used in bartering land, social status, political alliances, or money between families!  The word, "wedding" comes from the Anglo-Saxon word "wedd" that meant a man would marry a woman and pay the bride's father.

Best Man Wedding traditions of the best man dates back to 200 AD in northern Europe. Bachelor men would sneak around nearby communities to steal an unsuspecting bride. Their best man served to guard the couple during the wedding ceremony to ensure that the bride's family could not take her back.

Bouquet Wedding bouquets were originally made of such strong herbs as thyme and garlic, which were wedding traditions meant to scare away evil spirits, and to cover the stench from people who had not bathed recently!

Bouquet Toss In ancient times, it was believed that a bride was especially lucky on her wedding day. Guests would sometimes tear at her dress for a souvenir piece of good luck to take home. The wedding traditions of the bride's tossing of her bouquet grew from her desire to offer a good luck souvenir, and prevent guests from bothering her, and her dress, during her reception.

Bridesmaids Early brides and bridesmaids wore similar dresses in order to confuse evil spirits.

Bridal Shower Back in the days when weddings were arranged by family members, there are wedding traditions that say a poor Dutchman fell in love with a girl whose father refused her a dowry. Their friends showered her with enough gifts to help them start a household. According to another story, the first "bridal shower" occurred at the end of the 19th century. At a party, the bride's friends placed small gifts inside a parasol and opened it over the bride's head. When she opened the parasol, she was "showered" with presents!

Bridal Veil When marriages were arranged by family members, the newlyweds very rarely were allowed to see one another. Family members exchanging a dowry were afraid that if the groom didn't like the appearance of the bride's face, he might refuse to marry her. This is why in wedding traditions the father of the bride "gave the bride away" to the groom at the actual wedding ceremony. Only after lifting her veil just prior to the ceremony did the groom see the bride's face for the first time! Early Greek and Roman brides wore red or yellow veils to represent fire, and to ward off demons.

Carrying The Bride Over The Threshold When a groom used to steal his bride from her tribe, he was forced to carry her kicking and screaming. This act of thievery has evolved into a more romantic gesture, welcoming the bride into her new home.

Garter Brides originally tossed a garter, rather than a bouquet, at a wedding reception. In the 14th century, this custom changed after brides became tired of fighting off drunken men who tried to remove the garter themselves! According to one legend, the garter toss in England evolved from an earlier tradition of "flinging the stocking". On their wedding night, guests would follow the bride and groom to their bedroom, wait until they undressed, steal their stockings, and then "fling" them at the couple! The first person to hit the bride or groom on the head would supposedly be the next person to marry.

Money Dance According to one wedding custom, when arranged marriages were common, the groom collected a dowry only after his marriage was consummated. The wedding traditions of the money dance insured that the couple would have some money before they left their wedding reception. According to another wedding tradition, the people of the village gave gifts of pottery, livestock, and garden plants to the newlyweds because the bride and groom had no money to acquire these items until they had children, after which a dowry was exchanged.

Penny In Shoe A silver sixpence in the bride's shoe is European wedding traditions attempt to bring the bride wealth and protection against want. After the wedding day, the lucky penny can be turned into a piece of jewelry as a pendant, charm for a bracelet, or ring setting.

Receiving Line In ancient wedding traditions it was believed that the bride and groom were blessed. Those who touched them would have good luck.

Rose Petals Wedding traditions when rose petals are thrown before the bride as she walks down the aisle is to ward off evil spirits below the ground and grant fertility.

Shoes On Vehicle Ancient Roman wedding traditions used to transfer to the groom his authority over his bride when her father gave the groom her shoes. In later years, guests threw their own shoes at the newlyweds to signify this transfer of authority. Today, this wedding tradition is kept alive by simply tying old shoes to the back of the newlywed's vehicle before they leave their wedding reception celebration.

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue These superstitious wedding traditions of the bride wearing something that fits each of these four categories originated in Europe to ward off evil spirits.
Something Old: This wedding tradition symbolized the sense of continuity while making the transition from a single person to that of a married couple. It represents the link with the bride's family and the past.
Something New: This wedding tradition symbolized that marriage represented a transition to adulthood. It represents good fortune and success in the bride's ne life.
Something Borrowed: This wedding tradition is to remind the bride that family and friends will be there for her when help is needed. It symbolized the popular belief that by borrowing something from a happily married couple, good fortune would follow the newlyweds.
Something Blue: In ancient Israel, blue was the border color of the bride's dress, symbolizing purity, constancy and fidelity.
It is the symbol of faithfulness and loyalty.

Stag Parties These wedding traditions are the male equivalent of the bridal shower. Roman Empire soldiers would feast with the groom the night before his wedding to say goodbye to his irresponsible days of bachelorhood, and to renew their vows of allegiance to their friendships.

Tossing Rice By believing that newlyweds brought good luck, guests used to shower them with nuts and grains to insure a bountiful harvest, and many children to work the land. During years of a poor harvest, rice was tossed instead. These wedding traditions continue today with rice or birdseed, where permitted, or bubbles to wish the bride and groom much happiness. Incidentally, it is not true that birds eating rice thrown after a wedding ceremony will cause their stomachs to enlarge and eventually explode. This myth may have simply evolved from church and synagogue employees weary from cleaning up after every wedding ceremony!

Tuxedo Until the 20th century, the groom simply wore his "Sunday best" on his wedding day. It is said that President Theodore Roosevelt popularized the modern tuxedo.

Tying The Knot This comes from the days of the Roman Empire when the bride wore a girdle that was tied in knots. The groom untied the knots prior to the consummation of their marriage. This can also refer to the tying of the knot in Handfasting Ceremonies.

Wedding Bells The wedding traditions of the ringing of the wedding bells after the ceremony was meant to scare away evil spirits that may destroy the couple's happiness.

Wedding Cake During the days of the Roman Empire, wedding cakes were baked of wheat or barley. At the reception, they were traditionally broken over the head of the new bride by the groom as a symbol of her fertility. Guests would then scramble for pieces of the cake, and take them home for good luck. These wedding traditions later placed many small cakes on top of each other as high as possible. The newlyweds would then try to exchange a kiss over the top of the tower of cakes without knocking them down. During the reign of King Charles II of England, the baker added icing, and the modern style of wedding cake was born. It is unclear when the tradition of the newlyweds smashing wedding cake into each other's face first began, and uncertain if such marriages are consummated later that day or evening!

Wedding Kiss No wedding ceremony is complete without the wedding kiss. In fact, there was a time where 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.

Wedding Ring In ancient times it was believed there was a vein in the third finger of the left hand that ran directly to the heart.  Thus the ring being placed on that finger denoted the strong connection of a heartfelt love and commitment to one another.  According to some historians, the first recorded marriage rings date back to the days when early man tied plaited circlets around the Bride's wrists and ankles to keep her spirit from running away.  Approximately 3,000 BC, Egyptians originated the phrase "without beginning, without end" in describing the significance of the wedding ring.  These rings were made of woven hemp which constantly wore out and needed replacement.  Although Romans originally used iron, gold is now used as a symbol of all that is pure.  Diamonds were first used by Italians, who believed that it was created from the flames of love. Medieval bridegrooms place the ring on three of the bride's fingers, in turn, to symbolize, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.  The ring then remained on the third finger and has become the customary ring finger for English-speaking cultures.  In some European cultures of wedding traditions, the wedding ring is worn on the right hand.  In other cultures, an engagement ring is worn on the left hand, and the wedding ring is worn on the right hand. However, in most European countries the ring is still worn on the brides left hand.  A Greek Orthodox bride wears her ring on her left had before marriage, and moves it to her right hand after the ceremony.

Wedding Toast It is said that this tradition first began in France, where bread would be placed in the bottom of two drinking glasses for the newlyweds.  They would then drink as fast as they could to be the first person to get to the toast.  According to  legend, the winner would rule their household!

White Wedding Dress These wedding traditions were made popular in the 1840's by Queen Victoria, who chose this instead of the traditional royal "silver" wedding dress.  Prior to this, Brides simply wore their best dress on their wedding day.

Why Do the Attendants Dress Alike?  It was once common for the bride, her groom and all their friends to walk together to the church on the morning of the wedding.  Afraid that someone, maybe a rejected suitor, would spot the happy couple and put a curse on them. The groom's friends wore clothes almost identical to his, and the women costumed themselves like the bride.  These disguises tricked evil wishers into letting the real bride and groom live happily ever after.  Of course, today we dress our attendants alike for the beauty and pageantry of the event.

Wedding Traditions, Wedding Customs, Wedding Folklore

Ethnic & Religious Wedding Traditions

Various wedding traditions have their roots and popularity based on ethnic origin.

African-American In these wedding traditions, at some African-American wedding ceremonies, newlyweds "jump over a broom" to symbolize the beginning of a new life.  The ritual was created during slavery, when African-Americans could not legally marry.  Some people trace these wedding traditions to an African tribal marriage ritual of placing sticks on the ground representing the couple's new home. Today, the jumping of the broom is a symbol of sweeping away of the old, and welcoming the new.  Broom Jumping can be performed either at the wedding ceremony, after the minister pronounces the newlyweds husband and wife, or at the wedding reception just after the bridal party enters the reception area.  A fully decorated broom can be purchased at ethnic stores.  Other couples may prefer to use a regular household broom decorated with bows, flowers, and/or other trinkets in the wedding colors.  At some receptions, guests may participate in the ceremony by tying ribbons around the broom before the Broom Jumping begins.

Belgian In these wedding traditions, as the bride walks up the aisle at her wedding ceremony, the bride stops and hands her mother a flower from her bouquet and they embrace. After the wedding ceremony is finished, the new couple walks to the groom's side of the church and the bride gives her mother-in-law a second flower from her bouquet and they also embrace.

Chinese In these wedding traditions, brides may wear a red wedding dress, symbolizing love and joy. At the wedding reception, a nine-course meal, lasting up to three hours, is very popular. A family member may act as the official "Master of Ceremonies" orchestrating family introductions, toasts, comedy sketches, and a reenactment of the newlywed's courtship.

Eastern Orthodox Church In these wedding traditions,the rings are blessed by the Priest, who takes them in hand, and makes the sign of the cross over the bride and groom's head. The "Koumbaros, " the best man, then exchanges the rings three times, taking the bride's ring and placing it on the groom's finger, and vice-versa. This exchange signifies that in married life, the weaknesses of the one partner will be compensated for by the strength of the other, and the imperfections of one by the perfection's of the other. Candles are held throughout the Wedding Service, which begins immediately after the Betrothal Service. The candles are like the lamps of the five wise maidens of the Bible who, because they had enough oil in them, were able to receive Christ when He came in the darkness of the night. The candles symbolize the spiritual willingness of the couple to receive Christ, Who will bless them through this sacrament. The Office of the Crowning which follows is the climax of the Wedding Service. The crowns are signs of the glory and honor that God crowns them during the sacrament. The bride and groom are crowned as the King and Queen of their own little "kingdom", their home, which they will (hopefully) rule with wisdom, justice, and integrity.

French In these wedding traditions, throwing the garter began in France when pieces of the bridal attire were considered lucky. One early French wedding custom signifies the new alliance created by uniting two families through marriage. During the Wedding Reception, the new couple raises a glass of wine from two different vineyards. They then pour their wine into a third glass and each drink from it.

German In these wedding traditions, during the wedding ceremony, the groom may kneel on the hem of the bride's dress to symbolize his control over her. Not to be outdone, the bride may step on the groom's foot when she rises to symbolize her power over him!

Greek In these wedding traditions, some newlyweds wear a crown of flowers during the wedding ceremony. The couple may walk around the altar three times representing the Holy Trinity. At the reception, Greek folk dances are popular, with guests lining up in a single file line.

Hispanic In these wedding traditions, during the wedding ceremony, thirteen gold coins, representing the groom's dowry to his bride, are often blessed by the priest, and passed between the hands of the newlyweds several times before ending with the bride. A large rosary or white rope is sometimes wound around the couple's shoulders in a figure-8 symbol of "infinity" during the wedding ceremony to symbolize their union as one.

Irish In the early 1900's, an Irish couple would walk to church together on their Wedding Day. If the people of their parish approved their union they would throw rice, pots, pans, brushes and other household items at the couple as they approached their church. Today, "hen parties," bridal showers, have replaced this practice. In these wedding traditions, some Irish people wear a "claddagh" ring for a wedding ring. This ring was created by a master goldsmith, Richard Joyce, 400 years ago in a fishing village called Claddagh, which overlooks Galway Bay. The claddagh symbolizes love, loyalty, and friendship. On the right hand, with the heart facing inward, it means the wearer's heart is unoccupied. Facing outwards reveals love is being considered. When worn on the left hand facing outward, it signifies that the wearer is seriously committed or married. At some Irish wedding receptions, the Groom is lifted in a chair ("jaunting car") to celebrate that he is a married man. For good luck, the newlyweds are given a horseshoe to display in their home in the upward position. A traditional Irish wedding cake is a fruitcake. Traditional Irish toasts, in addition to remarks from the best man, are very popular.

Italian In these wedding traditions, some brides may choose to carry a white silk or satin purse, "busta" to store gifts of money that are welcomed. Tarantella folk dances are popular at the wedding reception. Another Italian wedding custom is to present five sugar-coated almonds to the guests which represent health, wealth, long life, fertility, and happiness.

Japanese The bride and her parents might visit the Groom's house on wedding day. At the wedding ceremony, the bride's wedding gown is often a traditional wedding kimono. She usually changes into something else at the wedding reception. The first of nine sips of sake drunk by the bride and groom at their wedding ceremony symbolizes the official union of marriage.

Jewish In these Jewish wedding traditions, a Jewish bride presents her groom with a tallit to wear for his Aufruf, the reading of the Torah prior to their ceremony. The groom's family often gives candlesticks to the bride that can be used during the actual wedding ceremony. It is also a wedding custom for Jewish men to cover their heads at all times, especially during prayers, with a kippot (yarmulkes), as a form of reverence, respect, and acknowledgement that God is present everywhere. In some congregations, women also cover their heads to pray. Some Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform wedding ceremonies take place under a chuppah, a wedding canopy. The chuppah is a rectangular piece of cloth large enough for the bride, groom, Rabbi, and sometimes other members of the wedding party to stand under. The chuppah signifies the new home about to be shared by the newlyweds. Before the procession to the chuppah, the tanaim are signed, and the groom is asked if he is ready to take on the responsibilities outlined in the kepubah. He signifies his willingness by accepting a handkerchief or other object offered to him by the Rabbi. The two witnesses to this sign the ketubah. While the actual text of the ketubah is never meant to vary, the border decorations on this document have over the centuries been the subject of remarkable artistic creations. At the beginning of the wedding ceremony, the bride might observe the Biblical custom of "Circling the Groom" seven times. This practice is seen as a powerful act of definition, where the bride will symbolically create the space that they will share as husband and wife. In Judaism, the number seven is mystical and represents completion and fulfillment. Just as the creation of the world was finished in seven days, the seven circles complete the couple's search for each other. The bedeken, or veiling, is a small ceremony in which the Groom lowers the veil over the Bride's face and by this act acknowledges that he is marrying the correct woman. This custom originated in the story of Jacob who didn't see the face of his bride prior to his wedding and was tricked into marrying Leah instead of his intended, Rachel. The Jewish marriage ceremony consists of two parts: Erusin (pre-engagement) and Nissuin (marriage). These ceremonies were historically performed up to one year apart, but more recently the two have been combined into one ceremony. The Eursin ceremony begins with Kiddush, the blessing over the wine. Kiddush is part of virtually all Jewish observances as a prayer of sanctification. The exchange of rings completes the Erusin ceremony. In Jewish law, a verbal declaration of marriage is not legally binding unless an act of Kinyan, a formal physical acquisition is completed. This is reached when two witnesses see the bride accept a ring from the groom, and he recites the words of marriage. After the ketubah has been read at the ceremony, wine is often poured into a new glass, and the Sheva Berakhot (Seven Benedictions) are recited over it. The bride and groom then drink from the glass of wine. With the ceremony complete, tradition calls for the groom to break the wrapped glass by stomping on it. This final action symbolizes the destruction of the Holy Temple in Israel, and reminds guests that love is fragile. The audience may shout Mazel Tov and the bride and groom kiss. Immediately after the wedding ceremony, the couple may spend a few private moments together, or Yichud as a symbolic consummation of their marriage. Later, the Mitzvah, or obligation, of rejoicing at a wedding reception is incumbent on the bride, groom, and wedding guests.

Mexican In these wedding traditions, red beads are sometimes tossed at newlyweds to bring them good luck.

Polish In these wedding traditions in Poland, parents greet the wedding couple with bread, sprinkled with salt, and wine. In this wedding tradition, the bread is given so that their children never go hungry, the salt reminds them that their life may be difficult at times and they must learn to cope with struggles, and the wine is given so that the couple may never thirst and have a healthy life of good cheer and many friends. The Mother of the Bride may choose to place the veil on the bride before the wedding ceremony to symbolize her last task that a mother does on behalf of her girl before she becomes a married woman. A traditional folk song, "Twelve Angels" is sometimes played at the reception, allowing the Bride to transfer her veil, and good luck to be married, to her Maid of Honor, Bridesmaids, and Flower Girl. A morning wedding ceremony is sometimes followed with a brief afternoon luncheon, several hours of downtime when guests return home, and then a long evening wedding reception. Polka dances and other audience participation events are very popular. In Poland, guests pay to dance with the bride and this money is used for the honeymoon.

Scottish In these wedding traditions, the groom and his groomsmen often wear Scottish kilts and traditionally no undergarments! The groom may present the bride with an engraved silver teaspoon on their wedding day to symbolize that they will never go hungry. A traditional sword dance is sometimes performed at their wedding reception.

Spanish In these wedding traditions, a Spanish groom sometimes gives his bride thirteen coins in memory of Christ and the twelve apostles. The bride carries them in a small bag during the wedding ceremony as a symbol that the groom promises to support and care for her.

wedding traditions, wedding customs, wedding folklore

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