Wedding Traditions

The word 'wed' means to unite closely, to join in marriage, to marry.

The ceremony of 'Marriage' in Britain had a significant development in the Middle Ages when the Church  found it necessary to create marriage ceremonies and legislation to make  marriage, a legal and binding contract. Prior to this, various traditions in  various countries, allowed marriage by verbal consent, with no real means of  confirmation and legality.
The Church therefore established  the tradition we have today of public ceremonies in the presence of a priest and  witnesses to a marriage and by the twelfth century, ecclesiastical wedding  ceremonies had become common in Europe.
The ceremony of getting married in  Britain in the 21st Century is made up of traditions, folklore and ritual. These  date back to the Middle Ages and it's important to understand how life was in  the Middle Ages (a time when evil spirits and magic charms were believed to rule  our lives) to be able to understand the basis of some of the rituals and  superstitions now associated with a modern marriage ceremony.
It was believed that evil spirits  lurked close to people during rites of passage (the marking of the end of one  life and the beginning of the next) so it was very important for good luck  charms and rituals to be employed to keep the bride and groom safe on their  wedding day and to ensure their future happiness.
A marriage in Britain can be a  religious ceremony or a civil ceremony. A religious ceremony is conducted in a  Church, whilst a civil ceremony can be in a Registry Office or place that has  been licensed to hold civil ceremonies, which can now be as diverse as a British  Zoo or in a British double decker bus. The possibility to marry in places other  than a Church or Registry Office is allowed because of the 1994 Marriage Act.

The Proposal  and Engagement
In the Middle Ages it was often  that a woman was 'kidnapped' by her groom. A single woman was a very  valuable asset to her family - to do the work and work the soil - so many  families were reluctant to let their single daughters leave the family to get  married. Therefore a man, accompanied by his best friend, who would stand by him  in case a fight broke out, would take his bride by force. (This led to the  tradition of 'Best Man' - someone who would stand by the groom to protect  him and look after him). The Ushers or Groomsmen also stem from  this 'kidnapping'
A family having lost their very  valuable labour asset of a daughter would then demand a 'payment' from  the groom to be - this payment was to compensate for the employment of another  to do the work previously carried out by the daughter. A time period was  arranged for the man to pay for his bride (nowawadays referred to as the 'Engagement') and in the Middle Ages gold rings were used as currency -  so a gold ring was given to the family in payment for the bride and is the  reason why a gold ring is now placed on the third finger of the left hand. The  unbroken circle is also an age old symbol of 'Eternity'. The tradition of  placing the Wedding Ring on the third finger of the left hand is perhaps  because during Medieval Times,  a ring was placed on three of the bride's fingers in turn to represent the Holy  Trinity -- the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Or perhaps it's because as  far back as the ancient Romans who believed that the vein in the third finger  ran directly to the heart, so the wearing of rings on that finger joined the  couple's hearts and destinies.
The earliest rings have been found  in Egyptian tombs - these were usually signet rings and were worn with a crest  or pattern to identify the wearer and were used to authenticate  documents.
Often Gimmal Rings which are  a set of three interlocking rings, were separated and worn in Elizabethan times  by the bride to be, the groom to be, and their witness, during the engagement.  On the wedding day the three pieces were united as a single ring for the bride.
The formality of the groom asking  the father of the bride to be, for her hand in marriage, relates to olden times  and is an acknowledgment that respect should be paid to a woman's family for the  loss of their daughter.
The  Engagement Ring
Is usually in gold because of the  tradition above and are given as 'an intent to marry'.
Diamonds are the most chosen stone  to decorate rings, either in a wedding ring or engagement ring. Cupid (the  Goddess of Love) is reputed to have had diamond tips on his arrows which could  pierce the heart of any unsuspecting victim and make them fall in love. The  tradition of diamond engagement rings perhaps started with the Archduke  Maximilian of Austria when he gave a diamond ring to Mary of Burgundy in 1477.
The diamond is said to represent  innocence, and is a symbol of love and courage. The ancient Greeks believed that  diamonds were splinters of stars that had fallen down on the earth. They have  also been said to be the tears of Gods, crystallised lightning or hardened dew  drops.
Stag  Parties
Spartan soldiers in  Sparta, Greece, were the first to hold stag parties. The groom would feast with  his male friends on the night before his wedding to celebrate leaving his days  of bachelorhood but he would also swear continued allegiance to his comrades.  The grooms friends would also give him money - to ensure that he would still be  able to go drinking with them - because after the wedding the bride was supposed  to control the money!
Hen  Parties
A woman's  hen party is her way to leave her old life but assure her girlfriends she would  still remain their friend. The women also gathered to offer advice and support  to the new bride.

After The  Ceremony
Walking through the arch of swords  following the ceremony was done to ensure the couple's safe passage into their  new life together.
In Pagan times rice and grain was  usually thrown at the bride and groom to represent fertility and continuity.  This has been adapted to paper and dried petals.
Releasing  White Doves
The Dove is a symbol  of love, peace and faith.

The  Wedding Breakfast
Wedding  Cakes
The wedding cake dates back to the  Middle Ages when the bride would carry a bouquet of wheat and scatter the grains  after the ceremony. This was then made into cakes and broken over the Bride's  head to ensure good luck and fertility. Essentially the wedding cake is a  fertility symbol.
King Charles II was probably the  first person to establish the wedding cake was made of sugar icing and  decorated. The choice of symbols to decorate a cake have special  meanings.Doves, horseshoes etc  all bring good luck and fortune.
The wedding cake is cut by the  bride and groom to represent sharing their new life together. All the guests  should eat some to ensure good luck. A single woman can place a piece of wedding  cake under her pillow and should dream of the man she is going to  marry.
If you have a very tall three  tiered cake the bride and groom should kiss over the cake and if they don't  knock it over they will have a life of good fortune.
The traditional gift is almonds and  this is because of the motto: 'A gift of five almonds represents health, wealth,  long life, fertility and happiness'
Tying shoes  to cars
Shoes were a powerful symbol in  ancient times. In Egyptian society, shoes were exchanged when they exchanged  goods and the father of the bride would give the groom to be, her shoes, as  confirmation of the contract.
The shoe is also a symbol of  fertility and a sign of passing responsibility for his daughter onto her  husband. In Anglo-Saxon times, the groom would tap the heel of the bride's shoe  to show his authority over her.
The tradition of the honeymoon  comes from the time when the groom would kidnap his bride to be and carry her of  to a secret hiding place where he would keep her for a set period of time until  depending on the laws/traditions at the time - her ownership would pass on to  him.
On the first night of the honeymoon  it was tradition for the wedding party to accompany the bride and groom to the  marriage bed. With the effect of the mead that had been drunk, the wedding party  would become very rowdy and try and undress the bride, so she would toss her garter into the crowd to distract them. It is  also now traditional to make an 'apple pie' bed or disrupt the first night in  some way or other. This dates back to the Middle Ages when a group of friends  would gather and just for fun, try to disturb the married couple by making a lot  of noise.
Returning  Home
The bride should be  carried over the threshold by her groom because the threshold of houses were  supposed to contain evil spells. The groom had to carry his bride over the evil  spirits in order for her to start her new life, spell free. It was also  considered very bad luck if the bride should trip or fall.

Marriage/Hope  Chest/Bottom Drawer
Some families began  collecting items for their daughter's marriage as soon as they were born and  stored these items in a chest or 'bottom drawer'
Linen was embroidered  with the daughter's maiden name - even when they knew who was to be her groom -  in case they tempted luck and she didn't get married.

The Marriage Ceremony
Choosing the day on  which to marry was very important in olden times. There are rhymes which  indicate which is the best day to marry.
Monday for health, Tuesday for wealth, Wednesday best of all,  Thursday for losses, Friday for crosses, Saturday for no luck at all
Little regard is paid to  this rhyme in modern times as Saturday is the most favoured day to  marry
Another pagan rhyme tell  us which time of year to marry: The sun has always been associated with  fertility and summer is traditionally a time when most couples marry. In  Scotland it was traditional for the Bride to 'walk with the sun', proceeding  from east to west on the south side of the church and then circling the Church  three times for good luck.
Married when  the year is new, he'll be loving, kind & true,
When February  birds do mate, You wed nor dread your fate.
If you wed  when March winds blow, joy and sorrow both you'll know.
Marry in  April when you can, Joy for Maiden & for Man.
Marry in the  month of May, and you'll surely rue the day.
Marry  when June roses grow, over land and sea you'll go.
Those who in  July do wed, must labour for their daily bred.
Whoever wed  in August be, many a change is sure to see
Marry in  September's shrine, your living will be rich and fine.
If in October  you do marry, love will come but riches tarry.
If you  wed in bleak November, only joys will come, remember.
When December  snows fall fast, marry and true love will last.
During the service the  groom stands on the right of the bride, this dates back to the days when men  wore swords. If any man challenged the groom to the rights of his bride he could  draw his sword with his right hand while still hold hers with his left.
The taking of each  others right hand as part of the ceremony is because the open right hand is a  symbol of strength, resource and purpose. The coming together of both right  hands is a symbol that both the bride and the groom can depend on each other and  the resources that each brings to the marriage. It also represents the merger of  their lives together into one.
The journey of the bride  to the church is an important ritual when the bride must look out for 'lucky omens'
You must:
see a  rainbow.
have the sunshine on  your back
have a black cat cross  your path.
be greeted by a chimney  sweep
'Bad Omens' include:
seeing a pig, hare or  lizard running across the road,
seeing an open grave.
seeing Monks or Nuns as  they foretell barrenness and a life dependent on charity.
Seating in the Church
The bride's family sits  on one side of the church whilst the groom's family sits on the other. This goes  back to the time when a girl of one tribe would be offered by her father as a  peace offering to another tribe. The tribes had to be kept separate in case  someone started a fight.
The Kiss
After the marriage  ceremony the bride and groom are asked to kiss. This is a way of showing they  are accepting the contract of marriage. In olden times a kiss, usually on the  cheek, was a sign of acceptance of an agreement.
Because of the susceptibility of  the bride to evil spells and in order to confuse the spell landing on the bride,  her best friends would dress in the same clothes as herself - so the evil  spirits would not know on which person to land.
Flower  Girl
In olden times as the  bride and her party walked to the church a little girl would throw flower petals  in her path to ensure good luck and ward off evil spirits.
Best  Man
The best man originates from the  time when a bride to be was often 'kidnapped' from her family and the groom  would take his very best friend who would help him and support him in case of a  fight.
In early times a woman wore her  best dress and the groom and guests their best clothing but it is thought that  Anne of Brittany started the tradition of wearing a white wedding dress in 1499.  It is a myth that white is a sign of virginity, the colour was always associated  with 'joy' and the colour was also thought to ward off evil  spirits.
It was believed that the bride  should never make her own dress or try on the outfit before the wedding, or let  her groom see her in her wedding dress before the wedding. Enthusiastic rituals  ensured the last stitch of the dress was not made until the bride left for the  church. All these rituals were to ensure the marriage took place and the bride  was not at any risk of not getting married.
The colour of the brides dress was  written in another rhyme.
Married in White, you  have chosen right
Married in Grey, you  will go far away,
Married in Black, you  will wish yourself back,
Married in Red, you will  wish yourself dead,
Married in Green,  ashamed to be seen,
Married in Blue, you  will always be true,
Married in Pearl, you  will live in a whirl,
Married in Yellow,  ashamed of your fellow,
Married in Brown, you  will live in the town,
Married in Pink, you  spirit will sink.
Something Old, Something New,  Something Borrowed, Something Blue, and a Silver Sixpence in Her Shoe is a  Victorian rhyme associated with wedding clothing for the bride.
The interpretations are:
Something old is usually  something belonging to a grandparent or parent and shows the continuity of  'family' - although the bride is leaving her old family behind she is showing  she will still remember them.
Something new represents the  new life the bride is entering and the hope for success and good  fortune.
Something borrowed should be  something borrowed from a family member or an already happy bride and is  supposed to pass on good luck. The item must be given back or bad luck will  follow.
Something Blue - blue is a  sign of fidelity and constancy. The custom of wearing a blue ribbon in a bride's  hair began in ancient Israel and symobolised fidelity.
Silver Sixpence in her shoe. A silver sixpence is considered a lucky charm and in olden times silver was  ascribed with healing powers. It is often interpreted as bringing wealth to the  newly weds.
The  Veil
The veil perhaps originated in the  Middle East and because of arranged marriages. The groom was not allowed to see  the bride - in case he changed his mind - until the legal ceremony was over and  he lifted the veil, revealing her for the first time.
Bridal  Bouquet
Flowers played a very important  part in olden times - the smell of the flowers were believed to ward off evil  spirits and bring good fortune.
During the plague in England people  would wear pouches of flower petals around their necks so they would not be  infected with the Plague believed to be carried by strong bad smells. The  throwing of the bouquet is a way of spreading the brides good fortune and luck.  Whoever catches it will be blessed with good luck and will be the next to  marry.
The choice of flowers in a bouquet  is usually for visual purposes and to retain a'colour' theme for the wedding but  all flowers have a meaning:
Apple blossom - good  fortune
Aster - daintiness, symbol  of love
Bluebells - everlasting  love
Blue Violets - faithfulness
Carnation White - honesty
Daisies White -  loyalty/innocence
Forget-me-nots - true love
Gardenias - joy
Iris - wisdom
Ivy - fidelity
Lilies - innocence &  purity
Lily of the Valley -  happiness
Orange blossoms - fertility  & purity
Orchids - beauty
Red Rose - passion/beauty
Grooms  Buttonhole
The Groom is supposed to wear a  flower that appears in the Bridal Bouquet in his buttonhole. This stems from the  Medieval tradition of a Knight wearing his Lady's colours, as a declaration of  his love.