10 Wedding Traditions With Unusual Origins
Even for someone who’s never been to a wedding, there are a few aspects of the ceremony that are instantly recognizable. The white dress, the bouquet, the all-important kiss… tradition has become such a part of the legal union that most weddings could easily swap out one happy couple for another, and almost nothing would change. These customs act as a sort of script that couples follow when they decide to tie the knot.
That’s the funny thing about tradition. When asked for a reason, most people simply respond with “Because it’s tradition,” and leave it at that. Well, even though tradition may be reason enough for us today, there was a time when each of these customs were motivated by solid reasoning and logic—or at least lots and lots of kidnapping. Here are 10 traditions with origins you might not have known.
1. The White Dress. Said to stand for purity and virginity, the white gown actually originated with Queen Victoria. Before she came along, most Brides simply wore their favorite dress, whatever color that may have been (purity and virginity were usually just implied).
2. The Engagement Ring. These days we like to say that marriage is about love, but that wasn’t always the case. For most of history, it’s been about financial contracts. The engagement ring began as a sort of “down payment,” to prove that the Groom was serious about the agreement.
3. Using the Ring Finger. The wedding ring goes on the ring finger because certain ancient cultures believed that that finger contained a vein which ran directly to heart. Why constricting that vein would be a good thing has never been explained.
4. The Best Man. Originating with certain Germanic tribes, the custom of having a best man is one that would make most friends of the Groom even more proud to fulfill the role. See, “best man” actually refers to the “best swordsman.” If a Bride needed to be captured from her family, or if that same Bride required a guard during the ceremony (in case someone else came to claim her), the best man would be in charge of all the holy matrimonial killing.
5. Groomsmen. These were kind of like sidekicks to the best man. After all, why just have one deadly soldier in your wedding party when you could have your own personal army?
6. Giving Away the Bride. Again, this has more to do with fulfilling a contract than with showing familial devotion. The father would originally “give away” the bride to show that the financial contract (i.e. marriage) was being entered into willingly. Think of it as being similar to signing a contract in front of witnesses.
7. The Bouquet. Brides originally carried aromatic bunches of flowers and herbs to help ward off evil spirits. Bouquets were also very symbolic, with each flower representing a certain virtue or hope for the future (purity, fertility, happiness, etc.). Additionally, there’s a good chance that the bouquet was the only thing at the wedding that didn’t smell like body-odor; deodorant wasn’t invented until quite recently.
8. Bouquet/Garter Toss. It’s hard to see a smiling, beautiful bride without feeling just a little envious. After all, this may well be the happiest day of her life! Well, ancient peoples had the same idea, which was why guests would sometimes attempt to take some of that happiness and good fortune for their own, in the form of a piece of the bride’s clothing. This would sometimes result in the bride’s dress being torn to pieces. To fight this, the customs of tossing parts of the bride’s costume (specifically the bouquet and the garter) developed. One can assume that the happy couple would throw the item, and then make a run for it while the guests fought amongst themselves (not unlike throwing food to distract a charging dog).
9. Bridesmaids. Remember all that talk about kidnapping brides? Well, to make sure that the young woman made it to the altar, she would be surrounded by a group of ladies who were dressed to match her style. This way, should a spurned suitor, an angry family member, or anyone one else try to dart in and snatch away the bride, they’d be unable to quickly locate the correct target. That’s right; bridesmaids are just kidnap-decoys.
10. The Honeymoon. There are two possible origins. The first being that in ancient Scandinavia the bride’s father would supply the new groom with as much mead as he could drink for one month after the wedding (mead is made from honey, and a month was often referred to as a “moon,”). Of course, given some of the other traditions listed here, it probably has more to do with abduction. Specifically, after the wedding was complete, couples would hide out at an undisclosed location for one month, thus giving grooms ample time to impregnate their new wives before the bride’s family could intervene. Romantic, no?
Getting Married? Download Our NH Wedding Planning Guide!