Wedding Traditions & Superstitions

Most Wedding Traditions have been passed from generation to generation, and as such many things associated with Marriage and the Wedding Ceremony have been left open to interpretation and often embellishment. Often those customs which we now call Superstitions, do have their basis in an age old tradition. Likewise, there are many local and national variations of Wedding Traditions and Superstitions.

Wedding

The word itself comes from the Old English “Weddian” to promise, to marry or a derivation of “Wedd” meaning a pledge.

Early Marriages were by capture, the Groom would kidnap the woman, and take her away from her tribe with the aid of his best man, a warrior friend, who would help him fight off other men who wanted his woman, and also help him prevent her family from finding them.

The Honeymonth (honeymoon)

This was the period of time the Groom and his Bride were in hiding from her family and friends. By the time the family had located them, the Bride would be pregnant.

As society evolved, Marriage by purchase was preferred. The woman selected as the Bride would be bartered for land, social status, or political alliances, but sometimes she was exchanged for money or goods, such as cattle.

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The tradition of the father giving away his daughter has its roots in the days of arranged Marriages. Daughters in those times were considered their father’s property. It was the father’s right to give his child to the Groom, usually for a price. Today a father giving away his daughter is a symbol of his blessing of the Marriage.

Dowry

It was formerly a tradition for the Groom’s family to pay a price to the Bride’s family for the woman. In return, the Bride’s family would provide the couple with a dowry of various items for the new home.  As a Bride planned for her future Marriage, she would supplement this dowry with her own items that she had either collected or made like embroidered linens, for example. All items would be kept in a special Hope Chest built by the Bride’s father for the purpose of housing the dowry.

The dowry is also sometimes referred to as the Bride’s “trousseau,” which comes from the French word “trousse,” meaning “bundle.” Indeed, the trousseau originated as a bundle of clothing and personal possessions which the Bride carried with her to her new home and which included all of the new items for the household, as well as for the Bride herself.

10473056_929573497056612_1456540579687904691_nBride On Groom’s Left

Since Grooms in early Anglo-Saxon England often had to defend their Brides during the Wedding ceremony, the lady would stand to the left of her future husband so that his sword arm would be free. It was also customary for the Groom to hold on to his Bride with the left hand. Thus, by association, the Bride’s family and guests sit on the left side of the church.

Wedding Garters

Garters were originally used to hold up stockings and are still regarded by many Brides as an essential Wedding accessory. This is however, one of the oldest surviving Wedding traditions. Originally, a man would present his beloved with a garter and her acceptance denoted a guaranteed faithfulness.

These associations have been absorbed into folk wisdom:

“Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue and a Silver Sixpence for Her Shoe”

“Something old” represents the Bride’s link to her family and the past. The Bride may choose to wear a piece of family jewellery or her mother or grandmother’s Wedding gown.

“Something new” represents hope for good fortune and success in the future. The Bride often chooses the Wedding gown to represent the new item.

“Something borrowed” usually comes from a happily married woman and is thought to lend some of her good fortune and joy to the new Bride.

“Something blue” often takes the form of a Wedding garter / garter belt incorporating a blue bow or a small blue bow stitched into the lining of the Wedding Gown. The significance of the colour blue is that it represents Constancy and Loyalty and from biblical times a symbol of Purity.

“A Silver Sixpence in Her Shoe” is varyingly said to wish the Bride a wealth of happiness and joy, or to have originally been a love token from the Groom. Today, it is often the Father-of-the-Bride who places a coin into her left shoe, before they leave for the ceremony.

Silver Sixpence

The sixpence, an English coin first minted in the reign of Edward VI (1551), has been associated with Weddings since the reign of Elizabeth I. In those times the Lord of the Manor where the Bride lived would often present a sixpence as a Wedding gift.

As time passed the tradition changed and it became the custom for the Bride’s parent to give the coin as a dowry gift.

It was not until Victorian times however, that the present day custom evolved to that of giving a silver sixpence as a lucky charm to bring wealth and happiness to the married couple.

The custom says that to ensure the couple’s wealth and happiness the Bride should put the coin in her left shoe. She would walk a full circle and at the same time make a wish for her wealth. In some areas the custom is for the father of the Bride to put the sixpence in the shoe, this is probably an amalgamation of the older dowry tradition and the more modern interpretation.

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Shoes were once considered to be symbols of authority and possession. The Bride’s Father would hand over one of the Bride’s shoes to the Groom effecting the transfer of his authority to her husband. He then tapped her on the head to show his new role as her master.

It is obvious why this doesn’t continue, but in Tudor times, it was the custom to throw shoes at the couple or their carriage for good luck. Today, people normally just tie shoes to the couple’s car.

Rings & Ring Cushions

Buying the engagement ring and the Wedding rings at the same time is thought to bring bad luck and wearing the Wedding ring before the ceremony can bring supposedly equally dire consequences!

The diamond engagement ring is a medieval Italian tradition, based on their belief that the diamond was created from the flames of love.

Wedding rings, continuous with no beginning and no end, symbolised eternal love to the Romans and Egyptians who used precious stones as well as silver and gold in their rings, which were carried on a cushion. Hence the ring cushion (ring bearer pillow) we have made which carries the precious rings at the ceremony. The Page boy or Chief Bridesmaid would carry the cushion up the aisle to the Best Man who will place the rings on the cushion ready for the Minister to bless.

The Wedding ring has been worn on the third finger of the left hand since Roman times as the Romans believed that the vein in that finger runs directly to the heart.

Wedding Veil

The veil can be traced back to Roman times when it was a complete head to toe cover. In a custom dating back to arranged Marriages, the Groom’s family very rarely let him see the Bride prior to the ceremony. The Groom if displeased with the Bride’s looks, may have refused to marry her. Only after completion of the Wedding ceremony was the Groom permitted to lift the veil and see his Bride for the first time.

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In the ancient world of the Greeks and the Romans, Brides were normally dressed in white for the Wedding ceremony. The white robes were used to symbolise  youth, joy and purity.  Despite this, white Wedding dresses have not always been the fashion in this country and were only made popular by Anne of Brittany in 1499. The symbolism of a white Wedding dresses as denoting virginity is of fairly recent origins, but is probably an adaption of the ancient association with purity.

In ancient times, the traditional color of bridal gowns would be red or some other bright color. However, green was avoided in the choice of a bridal gown since it was considered unlucky. It was also was considered that a woman who wore green on her Wedding day was one of loose morals…her dress would be grass-stained from rolling around in the fields. The choice of a white Wedding gown increased in popularity when this color was chosen by Queen Victoria for her own ceremonies and thus, broke the tradition of royals marrying in silver.

Traditionally, the Bride should never make her own dress and the final stitch should not be completed until she is departing for the church. In addition, it is considered unlucky for the Bride to try on the entire outfit prior to the day.

There is a traditional rhyme which cautions the Bride about her selection of colours:

“Married in white, you have chosen alright.
Married in green, ashamed to be seen.
Married in red, you will wish yourself dead.
Married in blue, you will always be true
Married in yellow, ashamed of your fellow.
Married in black, you will wish yourself back.
Married in pink, of you he’ll think.”

Today pastel shades, stronger colours and even tartans are worn, as always fashion not superstition dictates the current trend!

Wedding Bouquet

In the 14th century, it was customary for the Bride to toss her garter to the male guest, but frequently the men got too drunk, and would become impatient and try to remove the garter ahead of time. In the interests of decorum the custom changed to tossing the Bridal bouquet.

Tossing the bouquet is also a tradition that stems from when other women used to try to rip pieces of the Bride’s dress and flowers in order to obtain some of her good luck. To escape from the crowd the Bride would toss her bouquet and run away.

Today the bouquet is tossed to single women with the belief that whoever catches it will be the next to marry.

Flowers

Flowers are incorporated into the Wedding ceremony as symbols of fertility and to ward off evil spirits. Initially, Bridal bouquests consisted mainly of herbs and spices. The wearing of a wreath of Orange Blossoms (now the traditional Wedding flower) as a crown on the Bridal veil was a Saracen custom and used by the Saracens to symbolize chastity and purity. The evergreen leaves of the Orange Blossom were also thought to represent everlasting love. Soldiers returning from the Crusades are believed to have brought the plant, and the custom back with them. Orange Blossoms were once so expensive that only the wealthy could afford them.

Generally, flowers have been a major feature at Weddings for centuries. By tradition, the Groom wears a flower which appears in the bridal bouquet in his button-hole. This custom originates from the Medieval tradition of a knight wearing his lady’s colors as a declaration of love.10557422_915410505139578_5073328313021298284_n

Each flower possesses its own meaning and displays a special message. Orange Blossom, for example, denotes chastity, purity and loveliness. Some Brides include a spring of live Ivy in their bouquets. Ivy is representative of eternal fidelity and wedded bliss. A popular tradition during Victorian times was for the Bride to plant the Ivy contained in her bouquet after the Wedding and pass the resulting sprigs from that same plant to her daughters and granddaughters for use in their bridal bouquets.

Peonies are avoided in some cultures as they are thought to represent shame. Azaleas are said to symbolize temperance…Roses to represent love…and Snowdrops to be a symbol of hope. In some cultures, Lilies symbolize majesty, but are customarily believed unlucky because of their association with death.

By tradition, a combination of red and white flowers is avoided, believing to be representative of blood and bandages.

The Wedding Purse

The Dolly Bag originally called the Dorothy bag was carried by the Bridesmaid to carry the confetti in. Throwing confetti is probably a relic of former fertility rites. Variations occur throughout the world; flowers, petals, grain, cakes, sugar almonds and rice are all used. The modern use of the dolly bag, or Wedding purse, is as a convenience Wedding accessory for carrying some of the Bride’s or Bridesmaid’s personal effects.

Kiss

The tradition of ending the Wedding ceremony with a kiss originates from Ancient Roman days when a kiss was a legal bond which sealed contracts and thus, the betrothal. Christianity incorporated the bethrothal ceremony into the Marriage ritual.

It was also once believed that when the couple kissed, part of each of their souls was left behind in the other when their breath was exchanged. By occurring at the end of the ceremony, the kiss announces a new life status.

Wedding Bells

It is traditional to have the church bells rung as the Bride and Groom emerge from the church after the ceremony. The sound of the bells is supposed to drive away evil spirits and thereby ensuring the couple’s good fortune.

The Wedding Cake

The Wedding Cake is a very ancient tradition which today forms a focal point at the reception. It is a custom steeped in history and occurs in many cultures in one form or another. The Romans had a cake made out of flour, salt and water which was eaten whilst the ceremony was in progress.

Tiered and iced confection was introduced to Britain from France after the Restoration in 1660. The shape of the modern three tiered cake is associated with the spire of St. Bride’s Church in the City of London.

10593186_932819293398699_4726483653608278830_nIn bygone times it was the custom, probably as a relic of former fertility rites, to throw many small cakes over the Bride, this later evolved to crumbling cake over the Bride’s head.

It is said to be unlucky for the Bride to bake her own cake.

Cutting the cake is now part of the ritual celebrations at the reception. It is traditional for the Bride and the Groom to make the first cut in the cake together, symbolising their shared future. For cutting the Wedding cake, the Groom places his right hand over the right hand of his Bride, her left hand is then placed on top and she places the knife point at the centre of the bottom tier of the cake and slowly cuts the cake, helped by the Groom.

The tradition of the Bride and Groom feeding cake to each other is symbolic of the manner in which the couple will “feed and nourish” their relationship for the rest of their lives.

The Bridesmaids keep their slices and place them under their pillows that night in the belief that they will dream of their own future husbands.

Another tradition that has evolved is that of preserving the top tier to celebrate the Christening of their first child.

Wedding Favours

Many Brides throughout the world have now adopted the European tradition of distributing favours to their guests. The modern Wedding favour can be almost any sort of small gift or keepsake although, originally they were normally pastries or sweets in little pouches where Five Sugared Almonds, representing Health, Wealth, Happiness, Fertility and Long Life. Those female guests who could not attend would also be sent a favour from the Bride. This favour will be kept by the guest as a lasting memory of the Wedding Day.

Wooden Spoons

The tradition of giving a wooden spoon dates back  many many years, the wooden spoon was considered to be the most useful utensil to be used by the woman of the house in her kitchen and would be used to help and assist the new Bride in her kitchen to enable her to cook and produce the best meals for her new husband, and later her family.

An interesting Scottish variation on this custom was the giving of a spirtle (for stirring the porridge) in lieu of a spoon.

Best Man

In ancient times, men would often capture women in order to make them their Brides. A man would take along his strongest and most trusted friend in order to help him fight any resistance from the chosen lady’s family or even the challenges of other men who might have designs on the captured woman. Thus, this friend was considered to be the “best man” among the prospective suitor’s acquaintances. In Anglo-Saxon England, the best man accompanied the Groom up the aisle so he would be at hand to defend the Bride.1912220_902139249800037_8189990569314351883_n

Some modern day duties of the best man include: making sure that once the Groom has begun his journey to the church, he does not return for any reason; arranging for the Groom to carry a small mascot or charm in his pocket on the Wedding day; and to pay the fee of the Minister in an odd amount in order to bring luck to the newly-wed couple.

Car Decorations

The custom of decorating the car originates from the ancient ritual of “bedding” the newly-wed couple…a tradition which used to be a main component of the nuptials. After the Wedding breakfast, the Bride and Groom would be escorted to the bedroom and undressed, the guests refusing to leave until the couple were in bed together. This rite emphasized the importance of procreation in the Marriage. The Bridesmaids would decorate the bed with flowers and ribbons, a custom later transferred to decorating the car of the newly-wed couple as they leave for their honeymoon.

The colors used in such decorations have their own specific meanings:

Red – Justice
Blue – Constancy
Green – Youth
Yellow – Joy and/or honor
Straw Color – Plenty
Gold – Gaiety
Flesh Color – Lust

Carrying Over The Threshold

The Bride was once carried across the threshold so that she might be protected from any evil spirits lurking beneath the threshold. Since it was also necessary for the Bride to avoid tripping or falling (signs of bad luck), transportation by the Groom of his new Bride in this manner ensured the safety and happines of the couple’s new life together.

If however, the Bride chooses to cross the threshold without being carried, then she should step in with her right foot,not her left, in order to ensure good luck. Tradition also dictates that a Bride should enter her new home by the main door.

Leap Year Proposals

The right of a woman to propose on February 29 of each leap year originated centuries ago…a time when the leap year day had no recognition in English law (the day being “leapt over” and ignored, hence the term “leap year”). Thus, since the day was considered to bear no legal status, it was reasonable to assume that traditions also bore no legal status. Consequently, women who were concerned that they might be doomed to spinsterhood would take advantage of this anomaly and propose to the man they wished to marry.

It was also thought at one time that since the leap year day corrected the discrepancy between the calendar year of 365 days and the time taken for the Earth to complete one orbit of the Sun (365 days and 6 hours), it was the perfect opportunity for women to correct a tradition which was one-sided and unjust.

Wedding Superstitions

When it comes to Weddings, everything is superstitious. There was a strong belief that Weddings make the couple particularly vulnerable to evil spirits and bad luck, hence the many superstitions surrounding the event. Some superstitions are hilarious, while others may just have been created to keep the peace and order and prevent some naughty Grooms from delaying the preparations. Whichever the case, here are some superstitions:

  • It is considered bad luck for the Bride to wear the Wedding dress before the big day so much so that Brides often have their Wedding dress fitted but  always with incomplete accessories.
  • Pearls are not jewellery that a Bride should wear because it means her Marriage will be full of tears and sorrow.
    It is considered bad luck for the Groom to see the Bride in her Wedding gown before she walks down the aisle. Doing so will result in an unhappy or tragic end to the Marriage.
  • Dress the Bridesmaids in gowns similar to the Bride to confuse evil spirits and keep the unwanted suitors from interrupting the Bride and Groom.
  • It is considered a very bad omen for the Bridal party to come across a funeral hearse.
  • If the Groom drops the Wedding band, the Marriage is doomed.
  • If candles are lit on your Wedding day and they sputter out, it means that there’s an evil spirit nearby.
  • The Groom should present an engraved silver teaspoon to the Bride at the Wedding to ensure that the couple will never go without food.
  • Throwing rice or confetti increases the couple’s good luck and fertility.
  • Walking through an arch of swords following the ceremony was once believed to ensure the couple’s safe passage into their new life together.
  • A Bride should never practice signing her new name until it is legally hers. In times gone by, Wedding linen was always marked with the Bride’s maiden rather than married initials.
  • It is traditional and thought of as good luck for the Bride to throw her Wedding bouquet backwards over her shoulder towards the guests when she leaves for the honeymoon. The one who catches it is supposed to be the next one married.

10622933_952068968140398_4474598595322264476_nWhen to Marry

“Marry when the year is new, always loving, always true,
When February Birds do mate, you may wed or dread your fate
If you wed when March winds blow, joy and sorrow both you’ll know
Marry in April when you can, joy for maiden and for man,
Marry in the month of May, you will surely rue the day,
Marry when June roses blow, over land and sea you’ll go,
They who in July do wed, must labour always for their bread,
Whoever wed in August be, many a change are sure to see,
Marry in September’s shine, your living will be rich and fine,
If in October you do marry, love will come but riches tarry,
If you wed in bleak November, only Joy will, remember,
When December snows fall fast, marry and true love will last.”
Wedding Day of the Week

The day of the week on which the Marriage takes place also has Superstition surrounding it but, despite this, most people still marry on a Saturday and this is certainly more convenient for working guests. It is however, quite acceptable to have a weekday Wedding if it suits those concerned.

It is said, however, unlucky to be married on a Friday – especially the 13th.

“Monday Brides will be Healthy.
Tuesday Brides will be Wealthy.
Wednesday Brides do best of all.
Thursday Brides will suffer losses.
Friday Brides will suffer crosses.
Saturday Brides will have no luck at all.”

Horseshoes

There are many explanations posed for the association of the horseshoe with the Wedding ceremony. There are ancient pre-Christian supernatural powers attributed to the horseshoe. For the Greeks, it symbolised the crescent moon which was regarded as a symbol of fertility. The Romans believed that the “U” shape afforded protection from evil.

The modern association is more likely to be linked to the legend associated with the 10th century St. Dunstan who trapped the Devil and as a result extracted a promise never to enter the house of a Christian, which he would recognise by a horseshoe hung above the door. The symbolism of the ‘Lucky Horseshoe’ given to the Bride today is still a potent reminder of our culture and historic roots.

Horseshoes have long been regarded as a symbol of good luck. Its silver color was also once believed to keep away witches. To be most effective, it is said that the horseshoe should be hung by ribbons which are attached to the shoulders. A horsehoe should never be turned upside down or all the good luck of the Marriage is likely to fall out.

The luckiest horseshoe to give to a Bride comes from the near hind foot of a grey mare. A related tradition says that it is very good luck to see a Grey horse en route to the Church, even more good luck if the Bride travelled in a carriage drawn by a grey horse.

A Lucky Sweep

There are many myths and traditions associated with chimney sweeps being lucky. Some Brides and Grooms to ensure their good fortune will employ a real live sweep to be present on their Wedding Day.

One reason from folklore is that when on one occasion King George II’s carriage horses bolted, the only person to attempt to stop them was a small sooty figure of a man, a chimney sweep.

It is considered extremely good luck, if on the journey to the Church you see a chimney sweep and even greater good luck if you saw the sweeps brush emerging out of the top of the chimney. So to this day to see a chimney sweep and receive the Kiss of Luck after the Wedding ceremony is supposed to bring good fortune to the newly married couple.