Most of us have attended a wedding at some time in our lives, and have seen the same customs carried out year after year, and wedding after wedding. Have you ever wondered why..... why a bride wears a white wedding dress, a veil, or why the post-wedding vacation is called a honeymoon? Virtually every part of a wedding, from the engagement ring to the honeymoon, has rich history. Ancestry, cultural roots, traditions and religious beliefs have shaped these celebrations for centuries. The following descriptions will help to provide you with some brief history of these various wedding elements. It's pretty safe to say that you'll see some of them at yours or someone else's wedding. So you might as well find out where some of them originated.
The term wedding is believed to have derived from the Greek and Old English word "wed" meaning "pledge." Essentially that is what weddings have been and continue to be, a pledge between two people.
The Engagement Ring
The engagement ring represents a couple's promise of a future together and In medieval Italy, precious stones were seen as part of the groom's payment to the brides father, for the bride. The groom would give a gift of such stones, which symbolized his intent to marry. The symbol of using diamonds goes back to ancient Greece and Rome. The Greeks believed them to be tears from the Gods and Romans thought they were splinters from the falling stars that tipped the arrows Eros, of the god of love.
The Bridal Shower
Traditionally, a bridal shower be traced back to Holland during a time when the bride's father was expected to pay a dowry to the bridegroom. If the father did not agree with his daughter's choice of a mate, he could refuse to pay her dowry. Therefore, her girlfriends provided her with the essential dowry by "showering" her with gifts.
The Bachelor Party
This celebration in the groom's honor was originally called the bachelor dinner, or stag party.
It's when the groom and his friends go out and have one last night on the town. Bachelor parties haven't changed much since their inception. Men have been gathering and getting drunk, celebrating the groom's last days as a single man, since the Spartan times. Today it has become known as the groom's last taste of freedom.
The Bachelorette Party
The bachelorette party is modeled after the bachelor party, and is usually thrown by the bride's girlfriends where the bride is taken for a night out on the town. It is meant to be a bonding experience and to celebrate her upcoming nuptials and married life.
Something Old, Something New,
Something Borrowed, Something Blue
The odds are pretty strong that you'll be wearing all of the above on your wedding day, but do you know why? The old stands for a bride's ties to her past; the new represents good fortune and success in the bride's new life. The borrowed symbolizes the love and support of her family and friends; and the blue is for faithfulness and loyalty.
White Wedding Dress
Today it is common for women to wear a white wedding dress. We know this traditionally denotes purity and virginity; however, the fashion statement wasn't popular until Queen Victoria wore a white dress for her wedding, instead of the usual silver. The Queen's photo was posted all over England. Soon after women across the country began to wear white for their own weddings.
Although in today's weddings it is common for brides to forgo the presence of a veil, but very traditional ceremonies still may incorporate it. In Victorian times, it symbolized modesty and chastity, but when pre–arranged marriages were common, the veil was used to hide the bride's face from her intended groom until he took his final vows. Therefore, no matter what she looked like he was stuck with her. This is also where the superstition about seeing the bride on the wedding day evolved from.
Flowers are expensive and elaborate decorations meant to make a wedding feel beautiful and colorful. Flowers were originally incorporated to represent fertility, purity and the life cycle. The smell of the flowers and herbs were meant to ward off evil spirits.
The Maid Of Honor and Bridesmaids
Serving as a bridesmaid in today's modern weddings is seen as both an honor. Historically, bridesmaids would dress similarly to the bride and were used as a deterrent for evil spirits planning to attack the bride on her special day. They also helped the bride get away from her overprotective family and other suitors, so that she could be captured by the groom she wanted.
Best Man and Groomsmen
The best man in today's society is usually the groom's brother or best friend. The best man three main duties. The first, to throw the bachelor party. Second, to keep the rings safe and lastly, to make sure the groom gets to the ceremony, hopefully on time. Many years ago when it was common for men to steal or capture their brides, the groom invited his "best man" to help fight off her male relatives or other potential suitors, thus helping him get away with the girl. Additionally, he would then stand at the groom's side during the ceremony and help fight off anyone that would try to steal the girl back.
Commonly a metal ring represents the strength and a never ending circle of love between two people. There are some stories that ancient people, dating back to cave man days, would bind the women's wrists and ankles with circles of braided grass, to ensure her spirit would stay with her for a very long time. Over time, the bands evolved into leather, carved stone, metal, and later silver and gold.
The Ring Finger
The third finger on the left hand is considered the ring finger. All engagement and wedding rings are worn there because that finger was believed to be connected by a vein, directly to the heart.
The kiss now symbolizes the union and joining of souls of two people in front of their friends and family, but in early Rome it was a legal bond that sealed the wedding contract.
Typically, the best man is assigned the task of toasting the new couple on their happy union, which is usually accomplished by telling a few funny and embarrassing stories. However, the tradition of toasting the bride and groom goes back hundreds of years. Toasting is the ancient French custom of placing a piece of bread or a crouton in the bottom of a glass filled with wine, champagne or some other libation. There are two ways of "toasting." One, when the person giving the toast is finished with their speech they would drain their glass and drink the bread. The second is the glass would be passed around to party guests and when it reached the person being toasted he would drink whatever was left, including the piece of soggy crouton.
Cutting the wedding cake is a common ritual seeped in tradition and often performed by couples without any idea where the custom comes from, how it started or what it means.
Wedding cakes originated in ancient Rome, where a loaf of wheat bread was broken over the brides head to symbolize hope for a fruitful and fulfilling life. The guests would then eat the crumbs, believed to be good luck. Later, the custom found it's way to England in the middle ages, where the guests would bring small cakes to a wedding. The cakes were put in a pile, where the bride and groom later stood over them and kissed. At some point, someone came up with the idea of piling all the cakes together and frosting them, hence the multi-tiered wedding cakes that are common today. It's said that unmarried guests that sleep with a piece of cake under their pillow will dream of their future partners
Throwing the Bouquet
There is also an old tradition that can be dated back to England where guests would clamor and claw at the bride tearing bits of clothing hoping to obtain some of her good fortune. As a distraction, she would throw her shoe into the crowd. Later she began throwing her bouquet.
Tossing The Bouquet And Garter
This custom began in the thirteen hundreds, where the bride used to throw her own garter. Because they believed it was good luck, the impatient guests would chase the bride and try to tear off a piece of her dress. To save herself from potential injury from the drunken men and to keep her dress in one piece, the bride began removing the garter voluntarily and tossing it into the eager crowd. As a distraction, sometimes she would throw her shoe into the crowd. As the custom evolved, the bouquet was eventually substituted for the shoe. The lucky recipient of the bouquet is now believed to be the next woman in the group to get married. The man who catches the garter is supposed to be the next groom.
Decorating the Outside of the Limo
Frequently, we see a limo or car decorated with shaving cream, cans and condoms driving across town. This tradition has several beginnings. In England, as the couple rode away in their carriage after the wedding, the guests would gather and throw old shoes at them as they drove away, it was considered lucky if they hit the carriage. Later people began tying the shoes to the back. Additionally, guests would bang pots and ring cowbells because they believed loud noises would scare off the evil spirits bent on ruining the couple's union. In place of shoes, people began to tie cans and other objects that would make noise off the back of the carriage to scare off the evil spirits.
Carrying The Bride Across The Threshold
Many new couples have no idea why they perform this age–old ritual. Today the concept of carrying a new bride over the threshold is more for show than anything else. However, this wedding custom originated in Rome, where the bride had to be carried across the threshold because she was reluctant to enter her new husbands home or bedroom. In those days, it was considered "ladylike" to be hesitant, or at least look hesitant. Instead he would have to carry her in.
Honeymoons today have become expensive get–a–way vacations to dream locations, but the bride and groom's honeymoon hasn't always been a post-wedding vacation. A general consensus believes that newly married couples used to hide away for the cycle of one moon and drink honey wine made from mead intended to help with fertility. In some cases, this was voluntary and in others, the men would hide their stolen or captured wives for one month to ensure a pregnancy.
Today, these old rituals are still practiced in traditional weddings. Many of these traditions have evolved from silly superstitions left over from superstitious cultures. Many people claim not to believe in superstitions, yet, most still carry out the actions with little or no question as to where they came from or what they mean. I guess the consensus today is "better safe than sorry".