Brides and grooms worldwide partake in wedding traditions that date back centuries, but few couples know the origins of these cherished customs. These rituals have surprising backstories, from wearing white gowns to keeping the couple apart before the ceremony.
1. Keeping the Couple Apart Until “I Do”
“The practice of keeping couples apart was initially not romantic but practical,” says wedding historian Martha Collins. “It was a measure to ensure that the marriage took place, especially in cases of arranged marriages which were prevalent before the 18th century.”
2. Something Old, Something Borrowed
The charming English rhyme that dictates the bride should have “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a silver sixpence in her shoe” hails from the mid-19th century. “Borrowing underwear was common in the past, as it was believed to bring good luck and fertility,” explains Collins.
3. The White Wedding Dress
Queen Victoria donned a lacy white gown in 1840, deviating from the popular red. Although she wasn’t the first royal to wear white, her choice sparked a trend. Collins notes, “White became associated with purity and innocence, and this symbolism took root in the Western world.”
4. Bridesmaids and Groomsmen: More Than Friends
What is now an honour was once a duty. “Roman law demanded ten male witnesses, and bridesmaids would disguise themselves to protect the bride,” Collins says. Groomsmen played diverse roles from guardians to kidnappers in some grim historical contexts.
5. Speaking Now or Forever Holding Your Peace
This famous line originated in the Middle Ages as a precaution against bigamy. The church would announce upcoming weddings three times to ensure neither party was already married. This last-minute check became a staple in Christian ceremonies.
6. Handfasting: A Trial Marriage
“Dating back to 7000 B.C.E., handfasting was a Celtic tradition where couples’ hands were bound together. This engagement period lasted a year, after which they could either marry or part ways,” shares Collins.
7. Exchanging Wedding Bands: A Newer Tradition
Exchanging rings is a fairly modern concept. Historically, only women wore rings as a sign of betrothal. “It wasn’t until the 1940s that men’s wedding rings gained popularity, becoming a symbol of love for couples separated during World War II,” Collins reveals.
8. Jumping the Broom: Triumph Over Tragedy
Originating in the sorrowful days of American slavery, enslaved Black individuals would jump over a broom to signify their union, as their marriages were not legally recognized. Today, many Black couples incorporate this tradition to honor their ancestors.
9. Showering Newlyweds with Grains
Tossing rice or grains at the newlyweds is an ancient custom representing fertility. Romans used wheat, while rice became popular in Europe in the Middle Ages. Collins assures, “The myth that rice is dangerous for birds is just that – a myth.”
10. Saving the Wedding Cake for Later
Preserving the top tier of the wedding cake originally signified anticipating the birth of a first child. Collins explains, “This became more common with the advent of home refrigerators in the 1930s. It’s a sweet tradition, with the hope of family to come.”
In conclusion, our wedding customs are steeped in history, carrying with them the weight of ages and the whispers of generations past. Whether you choose to incorporate these traditions or forge your own path, knowing their origins can add a layer of depth and meaning to your special day.
“Understanding the roots of these traditions connects us to our history and enriches the wedding experience,” says Martha Collins. “It is a beautiful way to honor the past as we celebrate the beginning of a new life together.”
As we witness or participate in weddings this season, let’s take a moment to reflect on the rich tapestry of traditions that have been passed down through centuries, shaping the way we celebrate love and unity today.