Old World Customs and Traditions
The wedding is one of life’s primeval and surprisingly unchanged rites of passage.
Nearly all of the customs we observe today are merely echoes of the past. Everything from the veil, rice, flowers, and old shoes, to bridesmaids and processionals, at one time, bore a very specific and vitally significant meaning. Today, although the original substance is often lost, we incorporate old world customs into our weddings because they are traditional and ritualistic.
Always keep in mind, that customs we memorialize today, were once “brand new” ideas, an obvious truth we often overlook. Although historical accuracy is hard to
achieve, because myths and legends abound and are interspersed with facts, the historical weight attached to old world wedding customs and traditions are significant.
While reading through these pages, consider ways to use old customs and traditions in your own wedding.
Remember, as you plan for your wedding, to create new family traditions and customs to be handed down to your children and their children.
Just think, maybe someday, your “new custom” will become as common and exciting as these presented here.
Why Does the Bride Wear a Veil?
The bride’s veil and bouquet are of greater antiquity than her white gown.
Her veil, which was yellow in ancient Greece and red in ancient Rome, usually shrouded her from head to foot, and has since the earliest of times, denoted the subordination of a woman to man. The thicker the veil, the more traditional the implication of wearing it.
According to tradition, it is considered bad luck for the bride to be seen by the groom before the ceremony.
As a matter of fact, in the old days of marriage by purchase, the couple rarely saw each other at all, with courtship being of more recent historical emergence.
The lifting of the veil at the end of the ceremony symbolizes male dominance. If the bride takes the initiative in lifting it, thereby presenting herself to
him, she is showing more independence.
Veils came into vogue in the United States, when Nelly Curtis wore a veil at her wedding to George Washington’s aid, Major Lawrence Lewis. Major Lewis saw his
bride to be standing behind a filmy curtain and commented to her how beautiful she appeared. She then decided to veil herself for their ceremony.
Why a Wedding Ring?
The circular shape of the wedding ring has symbolized undying, unending love since the days of the early Egyptians.
A primitive bride wore a ring of hemp or rushes, which had to be replaced often. Durable iron was used by the Romans to symbolize the permanence of marriage. Today’s favorite is of course, gold, with it’s lasting qualities of beauty and purity.
Why is the Ring Worn on the Third Finger, Left-hand?
In ancient times, it was believed there was a vein in the third finger of the left hand that ran directly to the heart. Thus, the ring being placed on that
finger denoted the strong connection of a heartfelt love and commitment to one another.
Although during times of modern autopsy, this long held belief was found not to be so, the tradition continued to this day.
Medieval bridegrooms placed the ring on three of the bride’s fingers, in turn, to symbolize God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
The ring then remained on the third finger and has become the customary ring finger for English-speaking cultures. In some European countries, the ring is worn on the left hand before marriage, and is moved to the right hand during the ceremony. However, in most European countries the ring is still worn on the brides left hand. A Greek Orthodox bride wears her ring on her left had before marriage, and moves it to her right hand after the ceremony.
Why an Engagement Ring?
In the early days of “Marriage by Purchase,” the betrothal ring served a twofold purpose.
This twofold purpose included partial payment for the bride and was a symbol of the groom’s honorable intentions. The diamond was found first in Medieval Italy, and because of its hardness, was chosen to stand for enduring love. (Also see “Engagement Customs”)
Giving the Bride Away?
In times when women were granted few privileges and even fewer personal rights, the bride was literally given away to the groom by the father, usually in
exchange for monetary gain. Today, it is seen as 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.”
Why Old Shoes and Rice?
The throwing of rice on the couple has always been symbolic of wishing prosperity and good luck. In the Orient, throwing rice means, “May you always
have a full pantry.”
Wheat and other grains are sometimes thrown in addition to rice, thereby also wishing prosperity and lack of want. Each shower bestows “Goodwill Traditions” of wealth upon the newlyweds. To this day, rice remains a token of a life of “plenty.”
Why Carry the Bride Across the Threshold?
During the days of “Marriage by Capture,” the bride was certainly not going to go peacefully into the bridegroom’s abode, thus, she was dragged or carried across the
threshold. In even earlier times, it was believed that family demons followed the woman and to keep her family demons from going into the groom’s home, she was carried across the threshold upon her
entering for the first time. After that, the demons could not enter as she would come in and go out of the home.
The Tradition of the Bridal Shower?
Tradition says that the first bridal shower was given to a poor couple in Holland who was denied the bridal dowry because of the groom’s lowly miller
status. The miller’s friends showered the bride with gifts to help them set up housekeeping. Also see our section on “Pre-Wedding Parties and Events”
Why a Wedding Cake?
Beginning in early Roman times, the cake has been a special part of the wedding celebration. A thin loaf was broken over the bride’s head at the close of the ceremony
to symbolize fertility.
The wheat from which it was made, symbolized fertility and the guests eagerly picked up the crumbs as good luck charms. During the Middle Ages, it became traditional for the couple to kiss over a small cluster of cakes. Later, a clever baker decided to amass all these small cakes together, covering them with frosting. Thus, the modern tiered cake was born. Also visit our section on “Choosing your Wedding Cake.”
Why Something Blue?
Brides of ancient Israel wore blue ribbons on the border of their wedding cloths to denote, love, modesty and fidelity.
These are ideals still associated today with that color. Blue also denotes the purity of the Virgin Mary and is the most popular of all colors. Also see, “Why the Blue Satin Garter.”
Why Does the Bride Carry Flowers?
For centuries, flowers have stood for a variety of emotions and values. Roses for love, lilies for virtue and so on. In ancient marriages, the brides
carried herbs beneath their veils to symbolize fidelity.
Greek brides carried ivy as a symbol of never-ending love. Orange blossoms, (the world renowned wedding flower) were chosen by the Spaniards to represent happiness and fulfillment, because the orange tree flowers and bears fruit at the same time. During even earlier times of “primitive marriage,” when the fear of demons was most prevalent, the brides carried stinking garlands of herbs and spices for the purpose of frightening off evil spirits.
Today, brides carry flowers in the color scheme of their wedding, bringing beauty and elegance as well as old world customs to their special day.
Have you considered spelling out the name of your groom in the flowers of your bouquets? Be sure to visit our section on “Your Wedding Flowers.”
Why Does the Bride Wear White?
The color white has been a symbol of joyous celebration since early Roman times.
At the beginning to the twentieth century, white stood for purity as well. Today, it holds it original meaning of happiness and joy.
Why a Trousseau?
The word trousseau came from the French word, trousseau, which meant bundle. The trousseau originated as a bundle of clothing and personal
possessions the bride carried with her to her new home. This was later expanded upon into a generous dowry. Today, the trousseau includes all of the new items for the household, as well as for the
Why a Matchmaker?
For centuries, the matchmaker enjoyed the honored, if occasionally ridiculed position of ensuring ethnic identity and compatibility. Groups that wanted
this assurance regularly employed the services of a matchmaker, whose commission was a certain percentage of the dowries.
Today, the modern version of the matchmaker is found as easily as turning on your computer. Computer programs can allegedly match individual backgrounds and traits so accurately that two people brought together for a date can be assured of “common interests” for the very least. In any event, it is only the dating that can be arranged, not marriage. So matchmaking of a sort has not disappeared; it has merely changed its appearance and emphasis, as is the case with any custom that expresses enduring human needs. (Also see Engagement Customs)
Why the Blue Satin Garter?
Why this “Something Blue?”
In ancient Israel, brides wore a blue ribbon to signify “fidelity.” The garter-throwing itself derive from a bawdy ritual called “flinging the stocking.” In Britain, the guests would playfully invade the bridal chamber. The ushers grabbed the bride’s stockings; the maids; the grooms. They took turns sitting at the foot of the bed flinging the stockings over the heads of the couple. Whosoever’s stocking landed on the bride’s or the groom’s nose would be the next to wed.
Today, many brides will wear two garters. The one she wishes to keep as a memento of her wedding day, possibly to be displayed on her grooms rear view mirror,
and another, to be retrieved and tossed by the groom to all the young unmarried men attending the event.
The “toss garter” is likely to be in the color of the wedding, and not as elaborate as the more decorative garters kept by the bride. Be sure to visit our site of “Exquisite Wedding Accessories.”
Why Do the Attendants Dress Alike?
Who hasn’t noticed that the maids, ushers, and entire bridal party dress very much like the bride and groom?
It was once common for the bride, her groom and all their friends to walk together to the church on the morning of the wedding. Afraid that someone, maybe a rejected suitor, would spot the happy couple and put a curse on them, the groom’s friends wore clothes almost identical to his, and the women costumed themselves like the bride. These disguises tricked evil wishers into letting the real bride and groom live happily ever after. Of course, today we dress our attendants alike for the beauty and pageantry of the event.
Why the Honeymoon?
In ancient times, many of the first marriages were by capture, not choice. When early man felt it was time to take a bride, he would often carry off
an unwilling woman to a secret place where here relatives wouldn’t find them.
While the moon went through all its phases, (about 30 days) they hid from the searchers and drank a brew made from honey. Hence, we get the word, honeymoon.
Why a Bride’s Handkerchief?
Early farmers thought a bride’s wedding day tears were lucky and brought rains for their crops.
Later, a crying bride meant that she’d never shed another tear about her marriage. Today, we carry a handkerchief to dab away the tears of happiness and joy. How special to keep your wedding hanky and pass it down from mother to daughter capturing all the love and emotion of such a special event from one generation to another.