Bouquets and Brides—Wedding Superstitions & Symbolism

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Brides and weddings

Despite the modern trend for couples living together as partners, marriage is still a booming business in most parts of the world.

The rites of marriage go back thousands of years and have always been associated with traditions and taboos. Even in our ultra modern 21st century, many traditions are still practiced.

In the past, certain customs were thought to bring good luck and prosperity for the marriage. Others were believed to ward off bad luck and in some cases the evil eye!

The word ‘bride’ comes from the Old English word ‘bryd’ that meant ‘newly married woman’. The word ‘bryd’ is thought to originate from the Old High German word ‘bruthiz’ that means ‘woman being married. However, other sources state that the word ‘bride’ derives from old Irish folklore and the stories of St. Bride.

The word wedding comes from the Old English word ‘Weddung’ that meant the ‘ceremony of marriage’. This word was used as early as 1300. The usual word for ‘ceremony’ was ‘bridelope’ that meant the ‘bridal run’ or the act of taking the bride to her new home.

Lets now look at some of the age old traditions of the bride.

A modern bride wearing many of the traditional items - white dress, veil, flowers and tiara.
A modern bride wearing many of the traditional items - white dress, veil, flowers and tiara. | Source
The sixpence, a traditional item that is said to being good luck for the bride.
The sixpence, a traditional item that is said to being good luck for the bride. | Source

Blue flowers are often used within bouquets for 'Something Blue'

Blue flowers are a traditional colour for bridal bouquets as they are often used for the 'something blue'.
Blue flowers are a traditional colour for bridal bouquets as they are often used for the 'something blue'. | Source

Bridal traditions of old and new


Something old, Something new,

Something Borrowed, Something Blue,

And a silver sixpence in her shoe.

(An old Victorian Wedding Rhyme.)



This rhyme was written in Victorian times but the wedding traditions it describes goes back much further.

There are slight differences in meaning depending on where you live:

Something Old:

To wear something old links the bride not only to her family but to her ancestors. In the past this was very important for families as the ancestors were revered. The wearing of an old item also signifies continuity of family and tradition.

Items that might be chosen by a bride include a piece of jewellery or clothing. The bride often chose something from her mother or grandmother's wedding attire such as a veil, tiara or necklace. A bride would also have an old piece of lace or a handkerchief from her mother as part of her wedding outfit.

Something New:

A bride having something new is a very positive symbol.

Traditionally the wedding dress is the 'something new'. However, this was not always the case as daughters would often wear their mother's wedding dress or even one worn by their grandmother.

The 'something new' could then take another form such as wedding jewellery, flowers or a token worn on the wedding dress. Something new was always a good luck and prosperity symbol and was meant to ensure many happy years ahead for the young couple.


Something Borrowed:

The item that was borrowed was very important and careful thought was put into the choice.

The borrowed item was usually one that had brought joy and happiness to another person. An item belonging to a family member or close friend was traditional.

The borrowed item would signify the bride's link to those who will be there to support her in the years to come. Therefore, it was important to have positive associations with the item of choice. Naturally the borrowed item had to be returned after the marriage took place.

The item borrowed can be anything at all. Traditional items such as a necklace or prayer book are still practiced, but the choice is up to the bride.


Something Blue:

‘Something blue’ is the oldest of the traditions of the rhyme and goes back thousands of years.

In ancient times many brides would wear blue ribbons in their hair. In later centuries it was common to see the bride and groom with blue trimming sewn onto their wedding garments.

In medieval times a blue garter was also frequently worn by the bride. On her wedding night she would often toss the blue garter into the crowd of guests. Whoever caught the garter was assured good luck.

The colour blue itself symbolised purity, modesty, fidelity and love. Brides may also have blue flowers within their bouquets.


Silver Sixpence in Her Shoe:

The placing of a silver sixpence - in some traditions a penny - in the bride's shoe was a good luck charm.

The silver coin helped to attract prosperity to the newly weds. It’s also interesting to note that silver was the age old remedy for warding off evil and bad luck. Therefore it’s probable that the tradition of the silver sixpence is linked to very old beliefs and superstitions.


The traditions of bridal wear go back thousands of years.
The traditions of bridal wear go back thousands of years. | Source
The veil is one of the oldest traditions of a bride's trousseau.
The veil is one of the oldest traditions of a bride's trousseau. | Source
Modern weddings have many perks but the old traditions remain the same.
Modern weddings have many perks but the old traditions remain the same. | Source

The Bride

The white wedding dress:

In the past the colour white was not always the choice for most brides. Many different colours were chosen for the bridal dress. In fact in earlier centuries white was often used as a mourning colour rather than the black or grey of later periods.

In Britain it’s widely believed that a white wedding dress was introduced by Queen Victoria when she was married in 1840 to Albert of Saxe-Coburg. However there are well documented cases that as early as 1499, Anne of Brittany wore white on her marriage to LouisXII of France.

Indeed in the Regency Period - from the Napoleonic to the rise of Queen Victoria - muslin was the material the majority wore and this by definition is white. Nevertheless, Queen Victoria seemed to have set the standard of white being the socially accepted colour.

By the 1920s, the white wedding dress was the universal choice for brides.

The Veil:

The tradition of the bride wearing a veil probably goes back thousands of years. The Middle East may have been the origin for this practice as grooms were not allowed to see their bride's face until after the ceremony.

Other customs maintained that the bride's face remained covered until after the marriage contract had been completed. This was to ensure that if the husband didn't like what he saw when the veil was lifted, it was too late to back out.

There are numerous beliefs and superstitions that centred on the use of a veil. One of the main reasons was to protect the bride from evil spirits and this idea dates back to Roman times.

Old customs stated that the bride was symbolic of purity and innocence; therefore it was assumed that she would be a target for malicious spirits.

In more modern times the veil still represented the virginal purity of the bride before entering the state of marriage.

The Bouquet:

Most of the flower traditions at weddings seem to date from medieval times; others date back even further.

Historically brides would not carry flowers as such, but garlands of potent herbs. Their aim was to frighten evil spirits away. In later centuries brides began to carry more flowers within their bouquet. Nevertheless, they were not used as a decorative accessory.

Before modern running hot water was available to all, personal hygiene was not a priority. When a bouquet of flowers was carried this was to cover any odours from unwashed bodies and clothes.

In addition, many flowers were used for medicinal purposes. It was believed that having them at the wedding, would keep all manner of dangerous pestilence at bay, especially the plague. The choice of flower was significant since they all had different meanings. For example, some flowers would represent love or prosperity, others protection or good luck. The Victorians were particularly interested in choosing wedding bouquets because of the floral meanings.

When the bride tosses her bouquet over her shoulder for one of her guests to catch, this symbolises the bride's good fortune passing onto the person who catches the flowers.

From the earliest of times the bride was considered to be very lucky. So lucky in fact that often pieces were torn off her dress by enthusiastic guests all hoping for the bride's good luck to rub off on them.

Traditionally the groom's flower was taken from the bride's bouquet. This can be traced back to the days when a knight would wear his lady's colours.

Flowers and herbs were originally used at weddings to keep bad smells away.
Flowers and herbs were originally used at weddings to keep bad smells away. | Source
According to folklore, choosing the appropriate day for your wedding was just as important as what you wore.
According to folklore, choosing the appropriate day for your wedding was just as important as what you wore. | Source

Choosing Your Wedding Day

There are a few versions of this very old Pagan rhyme. However, no matter what version you read the advice tends to be the same:

  • · "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."


Times and fashions may change but wedding traditions such as the bridesmaids remain.
Times and fashions may change but wedding traditions such as the bridesmaids remain. | Source
The tradition of bridesmaids is a very old one dating to Roman times.
The tradition of bridesmaids is a very old one dating to Roman times. | Source

Wedding Traditions

Do you think the old wedding traditions should still be used?

  • Yes I do. They are great fun and important for a bride to use.
  • Some of them. However a bride should be able to choose what is right for her.
  • No I don't. Old wedding traditions are meaningless in the modern world.
See results without voting

The Bridesmaids & Flower Girls

The tradition of the Bride and Groom having attendants at their wedding can be traced back to at least Roman times and may be even older.

In Roman law there had to be at least ten witnesses to the marriage ceremony. What was the reason for this? Basically it was to ensure that any evil spirits in the vicinity would be confused by the numbers of people and so the bride and groom would remain unmolested.

In old traditions it is a major theme that evil and mischievous spirits love nothing more than to spoil a good wedding day.

However, other Roman traditions relate that the reason for the bridesmaids was certainly for safety, but from more earthly dangers. It was very common in those far off days for brides to be kidnapped by robbers and highwaymen. To stop this happening, the bridesmaids wore almost identical dresses to the bride in order to act as decoys and cause maximum confusion. This tradition was maintained as a way to ward off any ill feelings from people who might wish the couple harm. Therefore, in effect the bridesmaids originally had the same role as the bride's veil - to keep evil and bad luck away from her.

In later centuries of course the role of the bridesmaids evolved into one of supporter and close companion to the bride on her big day.

The tradition of having a flower girl can again be traced back to ancient Rome. The little girl would lead the marriage party, carrying herbs and sheaths of wheat to induce the blessings of prosperity and fertility.

In Elizabethan times, the flower girl would walk immediately behind the wedding musicians. She would carry the bride's silver cup, decorated with ribbons and in her other hand she would carry a painted sprig of rosemary. The bride's path would also be decorated with new, sweet smelling rushes and rose petals. Often the rose petals would be scattered by the flower girl as she walked in front of the bride.


I hope you've enjoyed this article on the origins of wedding day traditions. If you have any stories you would like to relate then let us know in the comments section.


©Seeker7/H M Howell, August, 2013

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Comments 26 comments

kelleyward 4 years ago

This is an amazing hub! I love how you organized it and the pictures you added are beautiful. Voted up and shared on Pinterest! Take care, Kelley


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 4 years ago

Wow, this is a very iteresting hub and so well done! I didn't know many of the reasons on these points. I do like the something borrowed (support of family) and the blue ribbon ideas. Thanks for sharing. I am sure future brides will enjoy the information presented in your hub. Voted up.


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 4 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hello kelleyward, many thanks for stopping by and glad that you enjoyed the hub. Many thanks for sharing this as well - really appreciated!


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 4 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi teaches12345, many thanks for stopping by and glad that you enjoyed the hub. Some of these traditions were also knew to me, so it was really enjoyable doing this research.


Alastar Packer profile image

Alastar Packer 4 years ago from North Carolina

Only you, the one and only Seeker7, my bestest Scottish friend- could make a hub on bouquets and brides a half -way enjoyable look-see for AP. Now, don't you dare tell anyone I was here- like I told Sannel once- mustn't lose me membership in the Manly Man He-man Club you know!


CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 4 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

From what I remember from my Catholic education, weddings were not encouraged in the month of May because it was the month of the Virgin Mary. Very interesting wedding traditions, Seeker7, and it just goes to show what a potential minefield getting married is!


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 4 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

LOL! Alastar your secret is safe with me!! The only reason I got into the Brides & Bouquets was noticing that some of the rituals involved keeping evil spirits away!!! Disappointly I couldn't find any evidence at all for evil spirits spoiling a wedding or indeed possessing a bride - shame really - so I thought I'd opt for the superstitions instead!


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 4 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi CMHypno, many thanks for the visit and glad that you enjoyed the hub. I remember from my own Catholic education that May was indeed frowned on. However, my sister was brave enough to break with tradition and got married on the 8th May and her marriage has worked out to be a very happy one - so perhaps it's us humans who take dates much more seriously than the powers that be? LOL!


grandmapearl profile image

grandmapearl 4 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

Hi Seeker, Loved this Hub! I knew the first rhyme quite well, but didn't know any of the rest. Interesting to see how so much of tradition stems from the fear of evil and evil spirits. That's the one constant that never seems to go away. Voted Up and pushed many buttons. Also shared!


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 4 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

hi grandmapearl - lovely to hear from you and glad that you enjoyed the hub! That was what really took my interest at first. So much effort in order to keep away evil spirits. And this theme seems to run right through every symbolism connected with weddings and marriage - very odd indeed!!


molometer profile image

molometer 4 years ago

Looks like you have covered just about everything possible here on this excellent, well researched and detailed hub.

I have learned so much, I am shocked at how little I knew.

We assume we 'know' all about weddings. Well I for one didn't know even half of this information.

Never knew about the silver sixpence, colour scheme rhyme and a whole bunch of other stuff.

Fascinating and interesting. Voted up 4/5 buttons and sharing on twitter.

Well done.


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 4 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi molometer,

Many thanks for the visit and for the vote up and share - really appreciated! The silver sixpence was definitely new. But the fact that I have been a bridesmaid but never had a clue about my true role - keeping dodgy spooks away from the bride - is an eye opener!! Knowing my sister however, it was probably best that we were all ignorant of this fact! LOL!


kittythedreamer profile image

kittythedreamer 4 years ago from the Ether

You've done it again, my friend! I guess it's a good thing that I got married on a Wednesday in January. :) Though I don't know how prudent of a housekeeper I've been the past couple of days. ;) Awesome hub. I enjoyed learning the traditions of weddings. It seems that we incorporate ancient practices into almost all of our modern-day celebrations, just most people don't know it!


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 4 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi once again Kitty!! Before I forget who is the wee beauty in the photograph with you - what a really lovely child or 'bairn' as we say in Scotland.

Anyway, glad that you enjoyed the hub. And yes I agree with you. What would we do without our ancestors? How much ceremony or ritual would we actually have if they hadn't started it all in the first place?

It's so interesting just how we go about so many things without really knowing the symbology behind them or realising just how long ago these traditions started!


Ruchira profile image

Ruchira 4 years ago from United States

our age old traditions, which at times are considered overwhelming sure have their own importance. you have explained each of them beautifully.

voted up as interesting.


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 4 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hello Ruchira,

Many thanks for stopping by and I apologise for the dealy in responding.

Glad that you enjoyed the hub and I have to say I did learn many things that I hadn't realised before.

Thanks for the vote up - greatly appreciated.


Rosemay50 profile image

Rosemay50 4 years ago from Hawkes Bay - NewZealand

I enjoyed reading this hub and learned a lot from it. Even though we still carry out some of these traditions it is sad that we do simply because it is a tradition and not know the reasons why.

I had to smile at the tradition saying that the bride's face was covered until after the marriage contract had been completed. This was to ensure that if the husband didn't like what he saw when the veil was lifted, it was too late to back out. I guess this came about because there were so many arranged marriages.

Interesting too that many brides now like to have coloured trim to their gowns, usually red.

Well researched and wonderful photos making a splendid article


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 4 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi Rosemay - as always lovely to hear from you and to get your view on things, always informative and interesting!!

I have to say I had a lot of fun with this hub and there was so much I had no idea about either.

I laughed as well about the veil and not being able to back out until after the ceremony!! Poor woman didn't have that same option though! Still, she could at least cover the look of shock and disgust when first clapping her eyes on the ugly mug of her soon to be husband!

I've noticed that as well about brides trimming their dresses with certain colours - I think they look very pretty. I've seen on young lass with, as you say, red trimming and I thought it made her dress look stunning, and made the white even more white looking. But it's the same old story - these beautiful young brides thinking that they are ultra modern with their trimmings etc., when we know that the saying 'there is nothing new under the sun' still holds today!


Rosemay50 profile image

Rosemay50 4 years ago from Hawkes Bay - NewZealand

Haha yes good for hiding her shock and grimmace.

I like those dresses with just a touch of colour, but of course then you have to plan the colour scheme around that. That is true about fashion, it is just one big never ending circle. I remember my daughters face when I've said 'Oh your great grandmother had something just like that' Of course it sends all the young one routing through grandmas wardrobes. Lol


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 4 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

I've seen my nieces rumagaing around their Grandma's old boxes in the attic!! They got a necklace, a scarf and a table top ornament! The girls thought these things were so cool! I guess then if you'er not so far back in time, to youngsters you're old fashioned, but go way, way back in time and your cool?LOL!


thelyricwriter profile image

thelyricwriter 4 years ago from West Virginia

Just another awesome article full of knowledge and wealth to the collection Seeker7. This is very impressive. I never heard of this rhyme before, but I have heard of others. Very interesting to say the least my friend. All the different meanings behind months, days, interesting as well. Just a great job, well structured and written. Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting. Best wishes.


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 4 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi LW - as always great to hear from you and glad that you enjoyed the hub! I had fun writing this one and quite a bit of it was new to me, so this always makes it more interesting. Even the rhymes - well most of them - I hadn't seen before and I was just so fascinated that so many young folks still go through traditions without probably realising how old they are or their origins!


samtebbutt profile image

samtebbutt 4 years ago from Ireland

Really well researched and interesting to read. I found this a very inspirational folklore and history hub, thankyou Seeker7


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 4 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi samtebutt - your welcome and many thanks for the compliment, glad that you enjoyed the hub and thanks for visiting!


FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

Very nice hub. I especially enjoyed the old sayings and the photos. I didn't do the whole veil thing 18 years ago; my husband was getting what he was getting. Voted up and more.


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 3 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

LOL!! Hi FlourishAnyway, many thanks for stopping by and you had me giggling with your comment about the veil! Loved it!!!

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