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The History Of Wedding Traditions

An aspiring author and journalist, Kay is looking to help others learn and grow through exploring culture and hobbies.


Something Old, Something New...

We all have heard the old adage, that you need 'something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a sixpence in your shoe' to have good luck on your wedding day. But what does that even mean? There are many traditions in western weddings which we take for granted as just being part of the day, but the history behind many of these traditions may have you rethinking that garter toss... and possibly leaving a few other traditions in the past as well.


The Best Man for the Job

Today, the best man is responsible for standing at the grooms side during the wedding and supporting him however needed. The origins of the roll, however, involve a similar underlying concept, but that support sometimes served for a much darker purpose.

The concept of a groom having a 'best man' likely originated in 16th century Scotland. During that time, it was not uncommon for men to kidnap women from neighboring villages and and take them back home to be their wife. In contrast, other marriages were genuine, consensual, and between two people in love, but went against the one or both of the families' plans for an arranged marriage. In either situation, there was a real concern at the wedding ceremony that someone from the bride's side would appear and try to 'steal' her back.

Here's where the best man steps in. The groom usually chose the strongest male and best fighter for the job, and it would be his duty to protect the new couple and fight off any members of the bride's family or community who tried to kidnap her back. For this task, the groom often chose the strongest, the most skilled fighter, the 'best man' for the job.


Bridesmaids and the Maid of Honor

The tradition of a bride having bridesmaids stems all the way back to early recordings of ancient Roman traditions. According to their religious practices of the time, a wedding ceremony must include 10 maidens all dressed in similar fashion to the bride with veiled facial coverings for two significant reasons.

The first was to ward off evil spirits and ill fortune by attempting to confuse them as to which person was the bride. The second is for a very similar reason; as mentioned above, occasionally a bride would be taken from other villages, or perhaps willingly marrying a partner against her family's wishes. As there would be almost a dozen similarly-dressed, veiled young women present at the ceremony, the plan was to distract any potential rescuers (well-intentioned or not) as to whom the bride actually was.


The maid of honor was to hold the highest importance in this tradition. Often, she was dressed in an identical matter to the bride for the aforementioned reasons, to distract any potential wedding crashers, spiritual or material. Additionally, the MOH was often the primary party responsible for helping the bride get ready for the occasion. She would help her dress and prepare, and be by her side throughout the day Thankfully for all, this aspect of the tradition has carried on to this day, with the maids of honor often being the bride's primary support and confidante during this important occasion.


The Bouquet Toss

The bouquet toss is a time-honored tradition in western weddings, where all of the unmarried women gather around the bride, who then throws a bouquet into the group of waiting ladies. According to lore, whoever catches the bouquet will be the next to marry.

This tradition stems from practices in many different cultures, and has evolved greatly over time. Originally, in Greek, Roman, and Babylonian societies, bouquets were composed of various herbs and florals which were thought to bring good luck and fertility to a marriage. Throughout much of European history, bouquets and spices were often used to perfume the bride and ceremony space. In Medieval Europe, after a wedding ceremony had concluded, onlookers would occasionally accost the bride and groom and try to rip away small bits of their clothing or accessories for themselves to take with them. These items were believed to carry the good luck and fortune which the bride and groom received on their wedding day, and by taking a small bit, the guests were attempting to procure some of that good luck for themselves!

To distract the picking crowds, the bride would often throw her floral bouquet at the handsy group so they could divvy up the lucky arrangement for themselves, and allow the new couple to make a hasty exit, hopefully with most of their belongings and garments still intact.

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Today, this idea of receiving a piece of the bride's ensemble from her big day to bring the recipient good luck has taken on a much more fun and light-hearted meaning.


The Garter Toss

In modern Western weddings, the garter toss is often a fun, if not occasionally*spicy,* tradition, which is a sort of reversal of the bouquet toss. During the reception, the groom tries any number of creative ways to remove the garter from the bride's thigh, and will then throw it to one of the unmarried people waiting in the audience. The lucky person who catches the garter is said to be the next to wed as well.

This practice stems back to many cultural traditions, where the wedding night was perceived to be the first time a couple may have 'consumated' the marriage. Particularly in medieval western Europe, the tradition entailed the groom exiting the bedchamber after the wedding night, and producing the garter for the guests to see as proof that the deed had been done.


The White Wedding Dress

Throughout the history in many nations around the world, the traditional wedding dresses of olden times often consisted of fine fabrics and the best dress the bride could obtain, regardless of color or style.

In western culture, this typically served as a conservative and demure gown, the style and color of which depended more on local custom than any other influence. Only the very wealthy could often afford a gown that would be worn only once, so in many weddings, the dress was simply a nice ensemble that could be reused in the future.

This was the way of things until history's quintessential trend-setter, Queen Victoria, hosted her royal nuptials.

During this time of fervent religious conservancy, Victoria decided to make a dramatic statement by wearing an elaborate, all-white gown during her wedding. The white symbolized purity and virginity, which were considered virtues in the Christian-based culture in Europe during that time. Additionally, it was often difficult for most to obtain pure white garments, as the fabric was very difficult to launder and not in high demand. After witnessing Europe's style icon present this bold, new take on matrimonial garb, the world started to replicate the look in their own ceremonies as well.


This made the marital white dress a symbol of wealth and importance, highlighting the significance of the day. Additionally, during the time of solely colorless photography, white dresses tended to stand out marvelously in sepia-toned photo prints, showing the bride in an almost angelic portrayal.

This trend quickly became tradition, and today a white gown is considered inexorable to the common image of a bride on her wedding day.

While most of these traditions have some unromantic origins, it's a fact that these practices have been around for many years, and are often considered essential parts of many weddings. For generations, marrying couples have thrown bouquets, look stunning in their white garb, and danced the night away with their bridesmaids and groomsmen.

While the origins of some of these concepts may be dark, the long, later years of couples in love who used these traditions on their big day are often filled with joy, and have created many wonderful memories for so many. So, don't be afraid to carry on with tradition and implement some of these into your own big day... or invent new traditions of your own!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Kay Plumeau

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