Have you ever wondered why certain things are almost always done at weddings? For example, why the bride carries a bouquet or wears a veil? Or why guests throw rice or rose petals over the newlyweds? In this section we discuss the origin and symbolism of some of the most popular wedding traditions.
It is believed that “bridal showers” originated in Holland. A Dutch father did not approve of the poor miller whom his daughter wished to marry. Her friends “showered” her with gifts so that she would have the necessary dowry to gain her father’s permission to marry the man of her choice. Years later, an English woman heard of a great friend who was to be married and wanted to give her a gift to express her congratulations, but the gift seemed too small. She remembered the story of the Dutch girl and the miller and began calling the bride’s friends suggesting they present their gifts at the same time. The party was successful, others tried it, and “bridal showers” became popular.
The Brides Bouquet
Bridal bouquets have evolved through the ages. Saracen brides carried bouquets of orange blossoms to symbolize fertility, and Roman brides carried sheaves of wheat to symbolize prosperity for their husbands. In the eighteenth century, the practice of carrying a bouquet of flowers or herbs became a popular tradition which symbolized fragility, purity, and new life. Bouquets of dill were among the most popular herb carried. After the ceremony the dill was eaten to “provoke lust.” Also it was a Roman custom to light the first fire of the couple’s house with a torch, which was then tossed out to be caught by one of the wedding party. In the fourteenth century, the French substituted the bouquet for the torch and thus began the legend that whoever among the bride’s attendants caught the blossoms would be the next to marry. Over the years, certain flowers have been selected as “flowers of the month,” as shown below:
FebruaryViolet or Sweetheart Rose
MarchJonquil or Daffodil
AprilDaisy or Sweet Pea
MayLily of the Valley
DecemberPoinsettia or Narcissus
Bridal gowns are traditionally white because the ancient Greeks and Romans believed white was a symbol of purity, innocence, and joy. Recently, the white or ivory bridal dress has evolved as a symbol of the celebration of the ceremony itself. Lace, considered a work of art in Europe, was often used for festive celebrations and important occasions and has remained a popular grown ornamentation.
The Groom Must Not See His Bride
Tradition holds that the groom must not lay eyes on the bride the day of the ceremony until they meet at the altar. The superstition is that this can bring the couple bad luck, since they have glimpsed the future before it has happened.
The Special Meaning of the Bride’s Veil
The veil represents modesty and respect. It symbolizes the sanctity and exclusiveness of the marriage covenant and reminds the couple and the witnesses that the physical relationship is to be entered into only after the vows are completed.
Rice and Petals
In the Middle Ages, Handfuls of wheat were thrown over married couples to symbolize the hope for fertility. In modern times, rice is thrown instead of wheat to symbolize fertility. In recent years, flower petals have become another alternative, symbolizing beauty, happiness and prosperity.
Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue
The popular wedding phrase, “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a lucky sixpence for our shoe,” has several different meanings. Each of these items is worn or carried by the bride to symbolize something special. “Something old” and something borrowed” are items which represent security and friendship and are given to the bride by a loved one to bring happiness to the new marriage. “Something new” (often the wedding gown) represents the bride’s acceptance of a new life. The origin of something blue can be traced to the rhyme, “those who dress in blue are lover true.” A “lucky sixpence” (usually a penny today) worn in the shoe or carried by the bride is a very old tradition thought to insure future wealth and good fortune for the newly wedded couple.
White Aisle Runner
A white aisle runner symbolizes walking on holy ground. A marriage covenant is not made merely between two people and their witnesses. It is made in the presence of God and he is actively involved in the agreement. The white aisle runner symbolizes God’s holiness.
Special Seating for the Parents
The parents of the bride and groom are part of the marriage covenant. The commitments they make during the ceremony are just as binding as the vows of the couple. The final responsibility of parents for their children is to determine with them God’s will for a life partner. Thereafter, they serve as a chain of counsel for them and their children. Parents enter as the line of authority and leave as the line of counsel.
The roles of various members of the bridal party have origins in ancient customs. Bridesmaids likely developed from the need to have witnesses. Their original purpose for wearing festive attire was to deceive the demons in the identification of the bride. Flower girls originated from a custom that two little girls, identically dressed, walked ahead of the bride carrying garlands of wheat to symbolize the wish for a fruitful union. In the 1600’s, it became popular for flower girls to carry baskets. In the Middle Ages, the groomsmen were known as “Bride Knights” because they served the bride by taking her to the church and to the alter, and then relinquishing her to the groom. Today these “duties” are completed by the bridesmaids. The duty of the best man dates back to the era of marriage by capture. Hundreds of years ago, when a man intended to capture a bride, he was accompanied by a strong- armed friend, thus simplifying the capture.
Bridal Party Dressing Alike
In more superstitious times, the bride and groom were surrounded by friends of similar ages dressed in similar attire, as a way of confusing evil demons. This way the demons could not find the real bride and groom and bring them bad luck.
The Groom Entering First
By this action the groom signifies that he is the covenant initiator. This is important because whoever initiates the covenant assumes greater responsibility for seeing it fulfilled.
The Father of the Bride Walking Down the Aisle
This action has two meanings. By doing so, the Father is saying to the bride, “I am endorsing this young man as God’s very best choice of a husband for you, and I am now bringing you to him.” In addition, the father is saying to the young man, “I am presenting to you a daughter who I have earnestly endeavored to raise as a pure bride.”
The Bride and Groom Taking Each Other’s Right Hand During the Ceremony
The open right hand offered by each party symbolizes their strength, resources and purpose. By clasping each other’s right hand, they pledge these qualities to each other so that each partner can depend on all the resources that the other brings into the covenant relationship. The handclasp goes far beyond sealing the contract. It symbolizes the cleaving together of lives which is to be accomplished in the marriage covenant.
The Groom Making the First Marriage Vow
The groom must be the leader and assume greater responsibility for fulfilling the marriage covenant. As covenant initiator, he must commit himself to the purposes of marriage which God established in the beginning and these must be reflected in his vows.
The gift of a ring is a very old tradition which was used to seal any important or sacred agreement. Engagement rings were given in the days of “marriage by purchase,” both as a partial payment and as a symbol of the groom’s good intentions. Diamonds have been the popular gems for engagement rings because they are the most durable stones. The first diamond engagement rings were worn in medieval Italy. Superstition maintains that a diamond’s sparkle come from the fires of love.
The Symbolism of the Wedding Rings
The wedding rings symbolize the promises binding two people together in marriage. The unbroken circle of the wedding band represents the continuity of undying love. Greek theory believed the fourth finger of the left hand to be connected to the heart, making this the appropriate finger to be “bound” in romantic attachment.
Kissing the Bride
During the Roman Empire, the kiss between a couple symbolized a legal bond. Continued use of the kiss to seal the marriage bond is based on the deeply rooted idea of the kiss as a vehicle for transference of power and souls. It symbolizes the couple’s faith and love, and seals the confidence that they privately share. The kiss also signifies respect and obedience to mutual beliefs.
The Couple Being Pronounced “Husband and Wife”
This establishes their change of names and a definite point in time for the beginning of the marriage. These words are to remove any doubt in the minds of the couple or the witnesses concerning the validity of the marriage.
Signing the Wedding Papers
The newlywed couple signs the wedding papers to establish a public document and a continuing public record of the covenant.
Signing the Guest Book
Your wedding guests are official witnesses to the covenant. By signing the guest book, they are saying, “I have witnessed the vows, and I will testify to the reality of this marriage.” Because of this significance, the guest book should be signed after the wedding rather than before it.
The Purpose of Receiving Line
The receiving line is for guests to give their blessing to the couple and their parents.
The Meaning of Serving Food at the Reception
Food is part of the covenant celebration. It further symbolizes the unity of the couple. Entering into a meal itself is a form of covenant.
Cake and bread have always been a vital part of wedding celebrations. In ancient Rome, bread was considered a symbol of fertility. Thus, to ensure fertility, a loaf of bread would be broken over the bride’s head and the crumbs shared with the guests. Also the couple was not considered married until they ate together. In contemporary wedding receptions, this practice is continued as the bride and groom cut the first slice of wedding cake together and feed each other. Guests eat from the cake, both as a sign of unity and as a way of wishing luck to the newly wedded couple. The tradition of having a second “grooms” cake at the reception has evolved over the years. Originally, the groom’s cake was a dark rich fruitcake and was said to also provide the couple with the blessing of fertility. Today, the cake may be of any type and is often chocolate or fruit flavored.
Historically, marriage was often brought about by capture and was often not agreed upon by either the bride or groom. The groom would take his wife to a place where she could not be found. They stayed approximately 30 days and drank brew made of honey while the moon went through al of its phases. The term “honeymoon” originated with this practice. Today, newlyweds also go away to celebrate their new lives together.
Carried over the Threshold
Centuries ago the bride was not always willing to leave her family home; therefore, the groom needed to forcibly carry her over the threshold into her new home. It was also thought that demons dwelled on the newlyweds’ doorstep; as a result, the groom carried his bride over the threshold to protect her.