Recently, we heard about a wedding procession where the bride’s train began to fall off her dress and as she walked alongside her new husband. Traditionally, her maid of honor would have been following normal wedding traditions and attending her, where she could have performed a quick save. But there was no maid of honor, and the bridesmaids were looking at their phones back at the altar.
It brought to mind some of the practical reasons certain wedding traditions arose that may have been lost over time. Indeed, nowadays many traditions, in many cultures, are falling like a house of cards. Where weddings are concerned, it is up to each couple to present their own vibe and interpretation of tradition, but we wanted to showcase some of the outdated, outrageous or outright smart reasoning behind some of them.
The Ring Thing
Wedding rings, symbolizing the eternal circle of love, have been around a long time. Many sources point to ancient Egypt when riverside reeds were twisted and braided into rings. In medieval times, grooms would pay the bride’s father for her hand in marriage, often with precious stones. In Rome, most rings were made from iron and somehow these practices combined to become the modern ring. Incidentally, the fourth finger of the left hand represented the vein Romans believed went directly to the heart.
Surprisingly, blue was the traditional wedding dress color for brides, representing purity, until the 1840 wedding of Queen Victoria. And regarding the veil, which symbolized virginity and modesty, you likely won’t need it as the future burial shroud it was used for in Roman times.
Do Old, New and Borrowed make you Blue?
In the past, an old item represented the bride’s ties to her family and history, while something new symbolized her being the property of a new family. The borrowed article was meant to be from a successfully married wife and supposedly brought good luck. As with the dress, blue stood for purity.
Confounding Evil and Dowries
Another major source of wedding traditions in history revolves around bridesmaids. Maidens dressed similarly to the bride would accompany her on the trek to the groom’s village to deflect spurned suitors from kidnapping the bride and stealing her dowry. Roman law required several witnesses to attend the bride and groom to confuse the evil spirits trying to get the couple; apparently, they were easy to confuse when all were dressed alike…
The chief bridesmaid or maid/matron of honor would likely have been in charge of the dow-purse, much the way today’s maid of honor holds the bride’s bouquet. In ancient Roman weddings, the matron of honor was a moral role model, known for obedience and fidelity, having been married no more than once and have a living husband. Her job was to join the hand of the bride and groom for the first time at the ceremony.
Legend also has it that if the bride’s father didn’t approve of her husband and refused her dowry the bride’s friends would shower her with gifts so she would have the necessary dowry to marry the man of her choice, the birth of the bridal shower.
These responsibilities evolved to become varied, from helping with wedding, shower, stagette and other event logistics, to invitations, dress shopping, and providing practical and emotional support on the wedding day. Like monitoring the bride’s wardrobe functions!
The Valiant Groomsmen
There was a time in history when this role was all about kidnapping. Namely, men kidnapping brides. Apparently when women were in short supply eligible bachelors would troll around for brides in neighboring communities, and their groomsmen, called bride-knights, helped their friend capture a bride. This small army of men would fight off the bride’s angry relatives so the groom could ride away with her. Yet again, the evil spirits would be confused about which one the groom was. Oh, and the night before the kidnapping the bride-knights would host a feast to toast their comrade, pre-kidnapping, the precursor to the stag party.
The Way of the Bouquet
And we’re back in history again, scaring away those infernal evil spirits, this time with aromatic bunches of garlic, herbs, and spices. Each herb represented a different thing, such as Sage symbolizing wisdom. Eventually, flowers came to replace herbs, but the meanings were still significant, such as Lillies for fertility or ivies for fidelity.
Superstition also prevailed in 14th century England when it was considered good luck and a fertility charm to tear off a piece of the bride’s dress. Seriously. People would chase down the bride and tear at her dress, which at that time wasn’t particularly fancy. As dresses became more elaborate brides didn’t want them torn, so they threw other objects out such as the garter and ultimately the bouquet.
This time the only evil spirit involved was the father of the bride, who was likely transferring ownership of the bride to the groom, usually to pay off a debt or the buy a family’s status to a higher social rank, with the guests serving as witnesses to the commercial transaction… Obviously nowadays fathers are honored to “give away” their daughters to the man who will treasure her as much as he has.
Of course, there are dozens of other traditions we will visit another time. At the end of the day, an excellent way to pick and choose traditions is to go with your gut but then check with your wedding planner to ensure there won’t be any gaps or potential problems.