We take modern wedding traditions for granted and use them without a second thought, but originally, most of them were rather creepy customs and not as romantic as we would think. A lot of our wedding traditions originate from the Roman and Germanic culture. And when you find out their original meaning, it might make you not so fond of these romantic moves. Nevertheless, today, all these wedding traditions have very different implication from their basic background. So, we still can use them for your weddings.
So, talk about wedding traditions and, specifically, the origins of some of our most common wedding traditions.
Tying the knot
The first one is called “tying the knot” or “getting hitched”. This actually comes from the Renaissance ceremony called “handfasting”. The handfasting is still done today in some ceremonies.
The definition of handfasting is to make a contract of marriage between the parties by the joining of hands. Traditionally, the hands are joined in a figure “8” – this symbolizes eternity or everlasting love.
Today, though, this would be called the engagement period. Originally, it wasn't part of the wedding ceremony itself, it was to symbolize that you were engaged.
This tradition originated in Holland.
If the father didn't approve of the groom, he wouldn't provide a dowry. And a dowry used to be what a father would pay the groom-to-be to, basically, take his daughter as a wife. The more you valued your daughter, the bigger the dowry would be – it could be money, it could be animals, it could be land or anything of value.
So, if the father didn't approve, there would be no dowry and she wouldn't be that appealing to a groom-to-be. So the friends of the bride would get together, they would hold a party and shower her with gifts. These gifts would be used as a dowry to make her more attractive to a groom. And this way, she could marry who she wanted to.
Today, the bridesmaids dress in similar dresses but of contrasting color from the bride’s wedding gown. Though originally, they did dress the same as a bride, and there was a very practical reason for that.
Keep in mind that, for much of human history, humans have been very, very superstitious. And the idea behind the bridesmaids’ dresses originally was to try to look the same as the bride to protect her from the evil spirits. The bridesmaids could provide a distraction for the evil spirits and they wouldn't know who the bride was.
This position is considered an honor today. The original purpose was a little bit different. It was still an honor but, essentially, they were bodyguards for the groom.
Women were often kidnapped for marriage, it wasn't a voluntary thing that we think of today. Especially in Germanic traditions, where the German tribes’ women were often captured, kidnapped, and then married to the groom. The best man's main responsibility was to stand between the groom and the crowd. If the bride's family came in and they wanted to attack the groom, the best man was there and he could help protect the groom.
Giving away the bride
It seems like such a nice tradition. But there is an unfortunate part of this tradition.
This was an ancient tradition when female children were considered the property of the father. And because they were property, by giving her away to the groom he was, basically, transferring ownership of the girl from the father to the husband.
Bride standing on the left
This is a typical thing and we don’t really think much about it. But the reason for this started in Anglo-Saxon England. If the bride was on the left, this would keep the groom's right hand free just in case he needed it for the sword in case he had to fight somebody and the best man was busy fighting off the crowd as well. Though this would only work if he was right-handed, this tradition got popular.
About a hundred years ago, the rings weren't as popular, but today, they are extremely popular and part of almost every wedding ceremony.
The Romans and Greeks believed that there was a vein in the finger that went directly to the heart. And giving a ring to your spouse became a symbol that held on to your spouse's heart.
Originally, the ring was on the index finger. Today, in American culture, it traditionally is on the left hand and on the finger that’s closest to the pinkie. In Europe, it usually is the right hand.
This comes back to Roman custom. The bride would wear a body-length veil that was later used as her burial shroud, something that she was buried in and that would cover her dead body.
In arranged marriages, the groom was not allowed to see the bride until after he said: “I do”. After the marriage was official and it was too late to back out, the veil was lifted and it was kind of like a surprise package. You don't know exactly what you're going to get until the veil is lifted, but he took a risk.
“Now you may kiss the bride”
After the ceremony is done and the officiant pronounces that they are legally husband and wife, he says, “Now you may kiss the bride”.
This goes back to Roman tradition. And the kiss in Roman tradition was legally binding, it was something that they took very seriously. So this was a fitting act at the end of the binding ceremony.
Some people chose to follow the couple to the wedding chamber to witness the consummation of the marriage. The bride's garter would then be taken as proof that the marriage indeed was consummated, it is valid, and whoever had the garter would show it off.
Today, it's tradition that the groom would take the garter off and toss it to the crowd.
Before the use of flowers in the bridal bouquets, brides would often use bunches of garlic and herbs and grains. And the idea was that these herbs and grains would drive away evil spirits as the bride walked down the aisle.
Flowers later replaced these herbs to symbolize fertility and everlasting love. And in our time, the bridal bouquet is present at almost every wedding ceremony.
Originally, the wedding cake was thrown at the bride. That may not sound like a very polite thing but this was a Roman fertility tradition. Basically, the Romans considered wheat and barley the signs of fertility. When wheat and barley came in, they were considered a sign of life, it was something that would sustain life, and it gave off life at every season. Just as you hope that a female would be able to reproduce life, too.
Cakes were made from these grains and then showered on the couple or at least the bride. It wasn't considered a sign of insult, it was actually considered a sign of good luck and blessing.
Bride and groom running out of the chapel
This comes from a Germanic tradition. And it’s not that romantic. Remember the Germanic traditions that we’ve mentioned earlier? About where the wife would be kidnapped? So, after the ceremony was over, the groom was in a hurry to get out of there. He wanted to whisk the bride away before her family can come and save her. And, of course, the best man was also there to help the groom escape from the angry mob that might be there.
This is a real common thing today. We use birdseed or rice.
But this tradition also dates back to Roman times, where rice, birdseed, bread crumbs, wheat, and other grains could also symbolize the idea of fertility.
Shoes tied to the car
Guess which country gave us this tradition? Right, in Rome, the father gave the bride's shoes to the groom and this was to symbolize a transfer of authority, a property.
Shoes were later thrown at the bride and the groom. Probably, not directly at them but maybe in the vehicle or the carriage that they were leaving in.
Carrying bride over threshold
What a great wedding tradition! The first night that you're together, you carry the bride over the threshold.
In the past, in some cases, that’s because the bride needed to appear to be reluctant to consummate the marriage. He didn't want the bride to be too excited about the wedding night, and so it had to appear that the groom was carrying her in, maybe sometimes against her will or at least reluctantly.
There's also another explanation. There was the fear of evil spirits, that the bride's family would follow her into the house. And so if the groom carried her over the threshold at the base of the door, it would stop the evil spirits from entering the house.
The threshold was believed to contain evil spirits, to help stop them. And also, women were considered vulnerable to “catching” evil spirits (women more so than men), and especially, for some reason, from the soles of their feet.
The idea now is that the bride and groom go to a honeymoon destination, a beautiful location to spend time together.
But the idea probably came from Germanic origins, the time when the groom went into hiding with the bride. It was usually at least a month. And the idea was that the bride would be pregnant by then and the bride's family would then be forced to accept the marriage.