Bouquets and Brides—Wedding Superstitions & Symbolism
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.
Blue flowers are often used within bouquets for 'Something Blue'
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:
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.
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.
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’ 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 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 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.
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.
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."
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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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