We’ve been seeing grooms kiss brides in movies for years, have watched as she throws the bouquet over her shoulder, have clapped as cars trailing tin cans or shoes drive off into the sunset…and maybe you’ve done all these things yourself.
But do you know why? Do you really know what it all means?
I mean, why does a bride wear a veil? Why can’t she see the groom before the wedding? And what’s the deal with the bouquet? Why rings are exchanged? Why is the wedding cake a counterpoint in most ceremony’s?
The truth is a lot of unusual things go down at weddings, but they don’t really raise eyebrows because we’re so used to the rituals. Because many of these traditions been around for centuries. However, almost every thing we do at weddings has a significant meaning, and historical rationale.
Below you’ll discover answers to all of the above questions and more. Logical (kind of) explanations about why we do the things we do at weddings.
1. Bachelor Party
While this often seems to be the ultimate excuse to hire a stripper, it used to be called the bachelor dinner and came about during Roman times when men would gather for a feast and to toast their comrade. And then they would go kidnap the bride, apparently.
2. Bridal Shower
This tradition is said to come from Holland. There is a legend that a bride’s father didn’t approve of her husband and refused her dowry. So this brides friends would shower her with gifts so she would have the necessary dowry and could marry the man of her choice. After that, any woman who didn’t have a dowry was given a shower by friends. Whether or not the legend is true, the shower stems from friends and neighbors coming together to help a bride with her dowry whether it was because her father didn’t approve of her groom or because her family was too poor to afford a dowry.
Bridesmaids — at least as we know them — help the bride prepare for her big day, but once upon a time their duties were much more serious. A custom once existed where maidens dressed similarly to the bride would accompany her as her protectors on her way to the groom’s village. This would deflect spurned suitors from kidnapping the bride or from stealing her dowry. Also, it was Roman law that several witnesses accompany the bride and groom so as to confuse the evil spirits trying to get at the couple. That’s why in many older photos the bridesmaids are dressed like the bride. It wasn’t tacky to dress like the bride, it was crucial!
The most popular myth associated with having groomsmen is from in a more primitive time when men kidnapped their brides. When women came into short supply “locally,” eligible bachelors would have to seek out and capture a bride from a neighboring community. The groomsmen, called bride-knights, helped their friend capture his bride. The first ushers and best men were more like a small army, fighting off the brides angry relatives as the groom rode away with her. Then they stood guard at the ceremony to protect the groom from the bride’s angry family. Additionally, as with bridesmaids, having groomsmen present would help confuse evil spirits as to the groom’s true identity.
5. White Wedding Dress
There was a time not so long ago when the bride’s dress was just the nicest one in her closet and it wasn’t necessarily white. Queen Victoria’s wedding in 1840 set the tone for the next 150 years. Her white wedding dress is the one that started it all. Although brides continued to wear dresses of other colors, Queen Victoria’s decision to go with white became the top option for most brides and has been ever since. Interestingly, before Queen Victoria’s wedding and the prevalence of white dresses, blue was the traditional color choice for bridal gowns; blue represented purity, as white does for today’s bride.
6. Bride Wears A Veil
Veils can be traced back to Roman times and symbolized the bride’s virginity, modesty and purity. That symbolism has been lost over the years but the tradition of wearing a veil has continued. Interesting note, in Roman times the veil covered the bride from head to toe and was later used as a burial shroud.
7. Bride Carries A Bouquet
Nope. Not just because flowers are pretty. In fact, the history of bouquets come from ancient times when women carried aromatic bunches of garlic, herbs and spices to ward off evil spirits. Different herbs meant different things. Sage meant wisdom, for example. Later, flowers replaced herbs and took on meanings all their own. Orange blossoms, for example, mean happiness and fertility. Ivy means fidelity; lilies mean purity.
8. Old, News, Borrowed & Blue
Superstition. That’s all this is. It dates back to the Victorian era and is said to bring the bride good luck. The something old was meant to tie the bride to her family and her past, while the something new represented her new life as the property of a new family. The item borrowed was supposed to be taken from someone who was already a successfully married wife, so as to pass on a bit of her good fortune to the new bride. The color blue, as mentioned, stood for purity.
9. Can’t See One Another Before The Wedding
Many couples are breaking this tradition because the best time to snap photos is before the wedding when the bride is still fresh-faced. And when you hear the origin of this one you may be inclined to do away with it as well. This basically stems from the days of arranged marriages or when a bride’s father pretty much sold her to her groom. The bride and groom’s first meeting was actually at the wedding. The two were kept from seeing each other before the ceremony to keep the groom from bolting if he didn’t think the bride was hot. However, not seeing each other before the wedding has now become a fun way for couples to increase the excitement of the big moment. To see or not to see, it’s up to you but it won’t bring you bad luck if your future husband catches a glimpse.
10. Father Giving The Bride Away
This one stems from the time when brides were sold to their husbands by their fathers or were participating in some other kind of arranged marriage. Basically, dad giving away the bride is a transfer of ownership to the groom, with guests acting as witnesses to the contract. Over the years this meaning has dissolved into something much more emotional and sentimental. Dad is honored to give away his little girl to the man who will care for her as much as he did.
11. Groom To The Right, Bride To The Left
You know that part when they ask if anyone objects to the wedding? It used to be a whole lot more common for folks to object. Sometimes it was other suitors of the bride, sometimes it was her own family members. The groom historically stood to the right of the bride to keep his sword hand (usually his right hand) free. If anyone came to attack he could push the bride aside with his left hand and draw his sword with his right. However, you can stand wherever you want, there is no hard and fast rule unless it conflicts with your faith somehow. During a Jewish ceremony, the bride is often on the right and the groom is on the left.
12. With This Ring, I Thee Wed
Most sources agree that the exchange of wedding rings comes from ancient Egypt, about 4800 years ago, when rushes and reeds, growing alongside rivers were twisted and braided into rings for fingers an other decorative ornaments worn by the women in those days. Later, during medieval times, when it was common for a groom to pay a bride’s father for her hand in marriage, he often did so with precious stones. While this eventually went away, the gift of a precious stone still symbolized intent. In ancient Rome, most rings were made of iron, which led to the tradition of metal wedding rings. Somehow, a combination of all this has come to what we know today. All wedding and engagement rings are worn on the fourth finger of the left hand. The vein in this finger was once believed (by ancient Romans) to go directly to the heart.
13. You May Now Kiss The Bride
Originally, it was assumed that the bride and groom had not kissed before the wedding so this would traditionally be their first kiss, and in Roman times kissing was a legal bond that sealed all contracts. However, though many ceremonies do include this line, the kiss is not traditionally a part of the religious ceremony.
14. Throwing Rice On Newlyweds
This tradition stems from the same one as smashing wedding cake on the bride’s head. Showering a couple with rice was believed to help them have children. Ancient Romans would shower a newly married couple with wheat, which symbolized fertility. By the Middle Ages, wheat had been replaced with rice, which was also considered to be a symbol of fruitfulness. And, of course, it helped keep those pesky evil spirits away. A lot of couples choose to blow bubbles or throw flower petals these days. According to ehow.com “ceremony venues like churches often forbid guests from tossing rice because it leaves a mess on the sidewalk and walking over the grains of rice can cause guests to slip. A rumor has circulated for years that birds and other critters can get sick from eating rice but, according to the USA Rice Foundation, this rumor is untrue.”
15. Bride Throws The Bouquet
Back in 14th century England it was considered good luck (a fertility charm) to tear off a piece of the bride’s dress. Seriously. People would chase the bride and tear at her dress! Typically the bride didn’t wear a fancy dress so at the time this was no problem. As dresses got fancier and brides didn’t want them torn they threw other objects like the garter. Ultimately the bouquet became the item always thrown.
16. Bride’s Garter
This is one of the oldest traditions surrounding weddings. Back in the Dark Ages it was customary for some wedding guests to accompany the bride and the groom back to the wedding bed to see them safely into their new marriage. As you can imagine, guests got rowdy or bawdy and tried to grab her garter for good luck. It eventually became a game of sorts to try and steal the garter from the bride. Sometimes the bridal party would toss the garter at the groom’s nose and the person who successfully landed the garter on his nose would be the next to marry. Eventually it was, of course, deemed inappropriate to go to the new couple’s bedroom and the garter tossing was held at the wedding reception.
17. Wedding Cake
Wedding cakes weren’t originally eaten but thrown at the bride for fertility luck. In fact, In ancient Rome, marriages were sealed when the groom smashed a barley cake over the bride’s head. Bet you didn’t realize all that cake smashing couples still do was rooted in history, did you? Anyway, getting cake smashed on your head was probably preferable to eating it because early wedding cakes weren’t exactly tasty. But, by the mid-sixteenth century nicer tastier cakes were being made. Though they were nothing like the insane creations of today, the nice cakes stopped all the cake smashing and inspired more cake eating. Brides of the early 1900s notably had a cake that resembled fruitcake. The wedding cake as you know it has only really taken off over the past 70 years or so.
18. Tying Shoes/Cans To The Getaway Car
A variety of reasons for this strange tradition can be unearthed. One theory says that back in Ancient Egypt a father would give the groom his daughter’s sandal, marking that an exchange had taken place. Another explanation, one that seems most likely considering all the superstition surrounding wedding traditions, is that tying shoes and cans to the departing vehicle made a noise that was believed to keep evil spirits away. Another explanation is that shoes were yet another sign of fertility. The strangest explanation I found is this one on brideandgroom.com: “Brides’ shoes once were considered to be symbols of authority and possession. They used to be taken from her when she was led to the wedding place, and given to the groom by her father, effecting the transfer of his authority to her husband and as a sign that the husband now had possession of her (and she couldn’t run away). The new husband then tapped her on the head to show his new role as her master.”
19. Carrying The Bride Across The Threshold
Another one from Roman times. One theory says the bride had to show that she wasn’t happy about being torn from her parents’ household so her husband had to carry her into their new home. Another one falls back to that whole kidnapping thing that used to happen in so many weddings of yore. Basically, kidnapped brides were carried into their new homes against their will. According to Plutarch, subsequent brides continued the tradition in honor of those kidnapped virgins. So every time a new husband takes wife in arms and walks across the threshold of their new home, the couple is participating in a symbolic kidnapping that stretches all the way back to the legendary founding of the eternal city of Rome.
20. Saving Wedding Cake To Eat One Year Later
The most cited explanation for this tradition is that in the late 1900s, when expensive multi-tier wedding cakes were coming into fashion, couples saved the top level to serve it at their first child’s christening, which was expected within a year after the wedding.