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Wedding Traditions and Customs

Margaret Minnicks has been an online writer for many years. She writes about interesting things.


A wedding is a ceremony in which two people are united in marriage. Wedding traditions and customs vary greatly between cultures, ethnic groups, religions, countries, and social classes.

There are traditions leading up to the wedding as well as what happens during and after the wedding at the reception.

Most of us have attended weddings. But have you ever wondered what some of the wedding traditions and customs mean when you see them in that brief ceremony that most women look forward to for most of their young lives? You might be surprised to know that some of the traditions are biblically based but just as many are based on superstition and folklore.

Everything from the veil, wedding dress, rice, flowers, and old shoes, to the bridesmaids and processions, and the honeymoon at one time originated in the past and these traditions have been incorporated into modern weddings.


The Engagement Before the Wedding

Why is the engagement ring placed on the third finger on the left hand?

A bride’s engagement ring and wedding ring are traditionally worn on the third finger of the left hand (the finger next to your little finger). It is believed that the ring finger follows the vein of love that runs directly to the heart.

Bridal Shower and Bachelor Party

Bridal shower
Bridal showers were meant to strengthen the ties between the bride and her friends who provide her moral support and help her prepare for her marriage. This gathering is called a shower because the bride’s friends placed small gifts inside a parasol and opened it over the bride’s head so that the presents would "shower" over her. Of course, brides still have bridal showers today, but the gifts are not put into an umbrella to fall over the bride's head.

Bachelor party
The male equivalent of the bridal shower is the bachelor or stag party. The groom has a party for his friends the night before he is to marry to bid farewell to his bachelorhood and to pledge his continued allegiance to his friends after his wedding.

Bad Luck to See Bride Before Wedding

Why is it considered "bad luck" for the groom to see the bride before the wedding ceremony?

Until recently, brides were considered the property of their fathers. Women's husbands and futures were arranged without their consent. The marriage of an unattractive woman was often arranged with a prospective groom from another town without either of them ever seeing their prospective spouse.

In more than one instance, when the groom saw his future wife, usually dressed in white, for the first time on the day of the wedding, he changed his mind and left the bride at the altar. To prevent this from happening, it became "bad luck" for the groom to see the bride on the day of the wedding prior to the ceremony.

"Tie the Knot" is an expression that comes from the days of the Roman empire when the bride wore a girdle that was tied in knots. The groom's duty was to untie the many knots of the girdle prior to the consummation of their marriage.


The Wedding Ceremony

Month and Day for the Wedding
June was considered to be a lucky month to marry in because it is named after Juno, the Roman goddess of love and marriage. Most weddings take place on a Saturday because it is not a work day and the community is usually invited to the wedding to witness a couple's wedding ceremony and vows and to share in their joy and celebration.

Why does a flower girl put petals on the runner for the bride to walk on?
A wedding aisle runner was used long ago to protect elaborate dresses, especially for outside weddings. This symbolizes the pathway to the bride's new future.

The Seating Arrangement in the Church
The bride’s family and guests are seated on the left side of the church and the groom’s family and guests are seated on the right. The bride walks down on the left arm of the father. In medieval times, the men wore their swords on their right side and they needed that side free in case they needed to draw their swords to protect the bride. That’s also the reason the bride stands on the groom’s left while the groom stands on the right facing the person performing the ceremony.

Giving the Bride Away
In times past in some cultures, women had few privileges and were treated as property. The bride was literally given away to the groom by her father, usually in exchange for monetary gain.

Today, it is symbolic of the blessings and support of her union as a promise of continued trust and affection. Often when the question is asked by a clergy during the ceremony, “Who gives this woman to be married to this man,” the father’s response is, “Her mother and I.”

Jumping the broom is an African tradition

Jumping the broom is an African tradition

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The Bride and Groom

Why Does the Bride Wear White?
The color white has been a symbol of joyous celebration since early Roman times. At the beginning of the twentieth century, white stood for purity as well. Today, it holds its original meaning of happiness and joy.

Why Does the Bride Wear a Veil?
When marriages were arranged by family members, the newlyweds very rarely were allowed to see one another. Family members exchanging a dowry were afraid that if the groom didn’t like the appearance of the bride’s face, he might refuse to marry her. This is why the father of the bride “gave the bride away” to the groom at the actual wedding ceremony. Only after lifting her veil just prior to the ceremony did the groom see the bride’s face for the first time.

In the Book of Genesis, Rebekah veiled herself and brides have been wearing veils every since. When veils were first used, they were so thick that the face of the bride could not be seen until it was lifted at the end of the ceremony. That’s why Jacob could not see that he was marrying Leah instead of Rachel because Leah was completed covered and veiled.

Why Does the Bride Carry Flowers?
The carrying of flowers by the bride has its roots in ancient times when it was believed that strong-smelling herbs and spices would ward off and drive away evil spirits, bad luck, and ill-health. Garlic and chives were also popular for the same reason.

During Roman times, the bride and groom wearing floral garland signified new life and hope for fertility.

Bouquets are still used today by many brides.

The Attendants
The bride has bridesmaids who help her. The first attendant is the maid of honor if the woman is not married. However, if she is married, she is called a matron of honor. The attendants usually are dressed alike.

The groom also has his attendants. His first attendant is called his best man who is usually a close friend. The other attendants are called groomsmen. The groom is usually dressed in a tuxedo patterned after what President Teddy Roosevelt made popular. His best man and groomsmen also might wear a tuxedo or a suit.

Something Old, Something New; Something Borrowed, Something Blue

Wearing something blue dates back to biblical times when the color blue was considered to represent purity and fidelity. Over time this has evolved from wearing a blue clothing to wearing a blue band around the bottom of the bride’s dress and to modern times where the bride wears a blue or blue-trimmed garter.

Something old refers to wearing something that represents a link with the bride’s family and her old life. Usually, the bride wears a piece of family jewelry or maybe her mother’s or grandmother’s wedding dress.

Wearing something new represents good fortune and success in the bride’s new life. The bride’s wedding dress is usually chosen if purchased new, but it can be any other new item of the bride’s wedding attire.

Wearing something borrowed, which has already been worn by a happy bride at her wedding, is meant to bring good luck to the marriage. Something borrowed could be an item of bridal clothing, a handkerchief, or a piece of jewelry.

Exchanging Wedding Rings

Exchanging Rings
The circle is the symbol of the sun, the earth, and the universe, of wholeness and perfection, continuity, and love. It is worn on the third finger because of an ancient Greek belief that a vein from that finger goes directly to the heart.

Why does the groom kiss the bride after they have been pronounced husband and wife?
The kiss dates back to the earliest days of civilization in the Middle East. A kiss was used as the formal seal to agreements, contracts, etc. In Ancient Rome, a kiss was still being used as the legal bond to seal contracts. Kissing at the end of the wedding ceremony is to "seal" the marriage vows.


The Wedding Reception

The Receiving Line
In ancient times, it was believed that the bridegroom was blessed. Those who touched them would have good luck.

The Wedding Cake
The cake has been a special part of the wedding celebration for many years beginning back in Roman times. During the Middle Ages, it became traditional for the couple to kiss over a small cluster of cakes. Later, a clever baker decided to stack several cakes atop one another, as tall as possible and covered them with frosting. That was the beginning of the modern tiered cake.

The bride and groom cut the cake and then fed each other symbolizing how the couple will “feed” and nourish the relationship for the rest of their lives. No one knows how the “smearing” and pushing cake into each other’s faces started, but it is considered to be in bad taste.

To keep from spending a lot of money on an expensive wedding cake, modern brides are choosing to use cupcakes arranged in tiers. In this case, the bride and groom miss out on cutting the cake.

The First Dance
At the evening celebrations, the bride and groom traditionally dance first alone on the floor to a waltz. Today, the newlyweds usually dance to a favorite romantic song. During the playing of this song, it is traditional for the groom to dance with his new mother-in-law and then with his mother, while the bride dances with her new father-in-law and then with her father. After the first dance, all the guests are invited to join the newlyweds on the dance floor.

Throwing Rice
The throwing of rice on the couple has always been symbolic of wishing prosperity and good luck. Rice has been used as a symbol of fertility and as a wish for a "full pantry" in various parts of the world from ancient to modern times. Since rice is harmful to the birds that eat it, birdseed has replaced it for most weddings. In the past, rice was not the only thing thrown at the bride and groom as they left the wedding.

Wheat, instead of rice, was thrown in France, figs and dates were thrown in Northern Africa, and a combination of coins, dried fruit, and candy was thrown in Italy. Flower petals, confetti, and balloons are often used today instead of rice. However, the throwing of confetti is not permitted at most churches because of the mess it makes.

Tying Old Shoes to the Car
This tradition originated in England during the Tudor period. At that time, guests would throw shoes at the bride and groom as they left in their carriage. It was considered good luck if their carriage was hit. Today, more often than not, it is beverage cans that are tied to a couple’s car instead of shoes. It should also be noted that the English consider it good luck if it rains on their wedding day!


Bouquet Toss and Garter Toss

In the mid-twentieth century, it became common for a bride to toss her bouquet over her shoulder to the assembled single women during the reception. According to superstition, the woman who catches it will be the next to marry.

The groom takes the garter from the bride and tosses it to the single men. The man who catches it places it on the leg of the woman who caught the bouquet.


Other Traditions

Groom Carrying Bride Over Threshold
Traditionally, the bride had to enter her new home for the first time through the front door. If she tripped or stumbled while entering, it was considered to be very bad luck. To prevent this, the tradition of the groom carrying the bride over the threshold was brought away.

Why the Honeymoon?
The honeymoon is the period just after the wedding to celebrate the tradition goes back to the time when the couple was supplied with enough honey wine for a month until the moon changed. That's how we get the word "honeymoon." The honeymoon was considered necessary to ensure happiness and fertility.


Margaret Minnicks (author) from Richmond, VA on December 27, 2011:

marititina, thankd for reading and responding to my article.

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