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Popular Wedding Customs

Updated on July 4, 2016

“So then, they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore. what God has joined together let no man put asunder." (Matthew 19:6)
Most of us have attended weddings. But have you ever wondered what some of the wedding traditions and customs mean when you see them in that brief ceremony that most women look forward to for most of their young lives? You might be surprised to know that some of the traditions are biblically based but just as many are based on superstition and folklore.

Everything from the veil, wedding dress, rice, flowers, and old shoes, to the bridesmaids and processionals, and the honeymoon at one time originated in the past and these traditions have been incorporated into modern day weddings.

A wedding is the ceremony in which two people are united in marriage. Wedding traditions and customs vary greatly between cultures, ethnic groups, religions, countries, and social classes. For the sake of the program I am giving traditions mostly used here in the Western culture. Also, Where possible, I will give the biblical perspective concerning the wedding traditions.

I am also going to try to give you the wedding traditions in the order in which they occur. First, what happens before the wedding, what happens during the wedding, and finally what happens during the wedding reception and the honeymoon.

THE ENGAGEMENT traditions leading up to the Wedding Traditions

Why is the Engagement Ring placed on the Third Finger, Left-hand? It was believed there was a vein in the third finger of the left hand that ran directly to the heart. Therefore, the ring is placed on that finger, denoting the strong connection of a heartfelt love and commitment to one another. A bride’s engagement ring and wedding ring are traditionally worn on the third finger of the left hand (the finger next to your little finger). It is believed that the ring finger follows the vein of love that runs directly to the heart.

The Tradition of the Bridal Shower Bridal showers were meant to strengthen the ties between the bride and her friends who provide her moral support, and help her prepare for her marriage. In this gathering, the bride’s friends would give her moral support and help her prepare for her marriage. This gathering is called a shower because the bride’s friends placed small gifts inside a parasol and opened it over the bride’s head so that the presents would "shower" over her. Of course, brides still have bridal showers today, but the gifts are not put into an umbrella to fall over the bride's head.

The Tradition of Stag Parties
The male equivalent of the Bridal Shower is the Bachelor or Stag Party. The groom has a party for his friends the night before he was to marry to bid farewell to his bachelorhood and to pledge his continued allegiance to his friends.

Why is it considered "bad luck" for the groom to see the bride before the wedding ceremony?
Until relatively recently, brides were considered the property of their father. Their futures and husbands were arranged without their consent. The marriage of an unattractive woman was often arranged with a prospective groom from another town without either of them having ever seen their prospective spouse. In more than one instance, when the groom saw his future wife, usually dressed in white, for the first time on the day of the wedding, he changed his mind and left the bride at the altar. To prevent this from happening, it became "bad luck" for the groom to see the bride on the day of the wedding prior to the ceremony.

As a matter of fact, in the old days of marriage by purchase, the couple rarely saw each other at all, with courtship being of more recent historical emergence.


Month and Day for the Wedding
June was considered to be a lucky month to marry in because it is named after Juno, the Roman goddess of love and marriage. Most weddings take place on a Saturday because it is not a work day and the community is usually invited to the wedding to witness a couple's marriage ceremony and vows and to share in their joy and celebration.

Why does a flower girl put flower petals on the runner for the bride to walk on?
A wedding aisle runner was used long ago to protect elaborate dresses especially for outside weddings. It is the pathway into the bride's new future.

The Seating Arrangement in the Church
The bride’s family and guests are seated on the left side of the church and the groom’s family and guests are seated on the right. The bride walks down on the left arm of the father. In medieval times, the men wore their swords on their right side and they needed that side free in case they needed to draw their swords to protect the bride! That’s also the reason the bride stands on the groom’s left while the groom stands on the right facing the person performing the ceremony.

Why Does the Bride Wear White?
The color white has been a symbol of joyous celebration since early Roman times. At the beginning to the twentieth century, white stood for purity as well. Today, it holds it original meaning of happiness and joy.

Why A White Wedding Dress?
The white wedding dress was made popular in the 1840’s by Queen Victoria (instead of the traditional royal “silver” wedding dress). Prior to this, brides simply wore their best dress on their wedding day. Most brides today marry in white which symbolizes maidenhood. This tradition started by the rich in sixteenth century. The tradition was given a boost by Queen Victoria who chose to marry in white instead of silver which was the traditional color of Royal brides. Before the white dress brides wore their best dress. The color was a matter of preference.

Why Does the Bride Wear a Veil?
When marriages were arranged by family members, the newlyweds very rarely were allowed to see one another. Family members exchanging a dowry were afraid that if the groom didn’t like the appearance of the bride’s face, he might refuse to marry her. This is why the Father of the Bride “gave the Bride away” to the groom at the actual wedding ceremony. Only after lifting her veil just prior to the ceremony did the groom see the bride’s face for the first time!

The lifting of the veil at the end of the ceremony symbolizes male dominance. If the bride takes the initiative in lifting it, thereby presenting herself to him, she is showing more independence.

Rebekah veiled herself and brides have been wearing veils every since. When veils were first used, they were so thick that the face of the bride could not be seen until it was lifted at the end of the ceremony. That’s why Jacob could not see that he was marrying Leah instead of Rachel because Leah was completed covered and veiled.

Blue Satin Garter
In ancient Israel, brides wore a blue ribbon to signify “fidelity.” The garter-throwing itself derives from a bawdy ritual called “flinging the stocking.” In Britain, the guests would playfully invade the bridal chamber. The ushers grabbed the bride’s stockings; the maids; the grooms. They took turns sitting at the foot of the bed flinging the stockings over the heads of the couple. Whoever’s stocking landed on the bride’s or the groom’s nose would be the next to wed.

Today, many brides will wear two garters. The one she wishes to keep as a memento of her wedding day, possibly to be displayed on her grooms rear view mirror, and another, to be retrieved and tossed by the groom To all the young unmarried men attending the event. The “toss garter” is likely to be in the color of the wedding, and not as elaborate as the more decorative garters kept by the bride.

Why Does the Bride Carry Flowers?
The carrying of flowers by the bride has its roots in ancient times when it was believed that strong smelling herbs and spices would ward off and drive away evil spirits, bad luck and ill health. Garlic and chives were also popular for the same reason. During Roman times, this tradition was extended, with the bride and groom wearing floral garlands signifying new life and hope for fertility. During Victorian times, flowers took on an additional significance as lovers would send messages to each other using different flowers, with each flower having its own meaning. These associations were soon adopted for the bride’s bouquet and are still used today by many brides.

Something Old, Something New; Something Borrowed, Something Blue
And a silver sixpence in your shoe

Brides of ancient Israel wore blue ribbons on the border of their wedding cloths to denote, love, modesty and fidelity. Wearing something blue dates back to biblical times when the color blue was considered to represent purity and fidelity. Over time this has evolved from wearing a blue clothing to wearing a blue band around the bottom of the bride’s dress and to modern times where the bride wears a blue or blue-trimmed garter.

Something old refers to wearing something that represents a link with the
bride’s family and her old life. Usually, the bride wears a piece of family jewelry or maybe her mother’s or grandmother’s wedding dress.

Wearing something new represents good fortune and success in the bride’s new life. The bride’s wedding dress is usually chosen, if purchased new, but it can be any other new item of the bride’s wedding attire.

Wearing something borrowed, which has already been worn by a happy bride at her wedding, is meant to bring good luck to the marriage. Something borrowed could be an item of bridal clothing, a handkerchief or an item of jewelry.

The Attendants
The bride has bridesmaids who help her. The first attendant is a the maid of honor if the woman is not married. However, if she is married, she is called a matron of honor. The attendants usually are dressed entirely alike and they wear similar outfits.

The groom also has his attendants. His first attendant is called his Best Man who is usually a close friend. The other attendants are called groomsmen. The groom is usually dressed in a tuxedo patterned after what President Teddy Roosevelt made popular. His best man and groomsmen also might wear a tuxedo and a suit.

Giving the Bride Away
In times when women were granted few privileges and even fewer personal rights, the bride was literally given away to the groom by the father, usually in exchange for monetary gain. Today, it is seen as symbolic of the blessings and support of her union as a promise of continued trust and affection. Often when the question is asked by a clergy during the ceremony, “Who gives this woman to be married to this man,” the father’s response is, “Her mother and I.”

Giving Away the Bride
The tradition of the father giving away his daughter has its roots in the days of arranged marriages. Daughters in those times were considered their father's property. It was the father's right to give his child to the groom, usually for a price. Today a father giving away his daughter is a symbol of his blessing of the marriage.

What is meant by the scripture I read at the beginning of the teaching. what God has joined together let no man put asunder. This simply means that since the couple has been joined together in the sight of God, no man should separate or split them apart.

Exchanging Rings
The circle is the symbol of the sun, the earth and the universe, of wholeness and perfection, continuity, and love. It is worn on the third finger because of an ancient Greek belief that a vein from that finger goes directly to the heart.

Why does the groom kiss the bride after they have been pronounced husband and wife?
The kiss dates back to the earliest days of civilization in the Middle East. A kiss was used as the formal seal to agreements, contracts, etc. In Ancient Rome a kiss was still being used as the legal bond to seal contracts. Hence the obvious use of the custom at the end of the wedding ceremony to "seal" the marriage vows.

The Receiving Line
In ancient times, it was believed that the bridegroom was blessed. Those who touched them would have good luck.

The Wedding Cake?
Beginning in early Roman times, the cake has been a special part of the wedding celebration. A thin loaf was broken over the bride’s head at the close of the ceremony to symbolize fertility. The wheat from which it was made, symbolized fertility and the guests eagerly picked up the crumbs as good luck charms. During the Middle Ages, it became traditional for the couple to kiss over a small cluster of cakes. Later, a clever baker decided to stack several cakes atop one another, as tall as possible and covered them with frosting. Thus, the modern tiered cake was born.

The bride and groom cut the cake and then feed each other symbolizing how the couple will “feed” and nourish the relationship for the rest of their lives. No one know how the “smearing” and pushing cake into each other’s faces started, but it is considered to be vulgar and in bad taste.

The Wedding Toast
A wedding toast is usually given by the Best Man at the Reception.

The First Dance
At the evening celebrations, the bride and groom traditionally dance first alone on the floor to a waltz. However, as ballroom dancing is not so popular these days, the newlyweds usually dance to a favorite romantic song. During the playing of this song, it is traditional for the groom to dance with his new mother-in-law and then with his mother, while the bride dances with her new father-in-law and then with her father. After the first dance, all the guests are invited to join the newlyweds on the dance floor.

Bouquet Toss and Garter Toss
In the mid-twentieth century it became common for a bride to toss her bouquet over her shoulder to the assembled unmarried women during the reception. The woman who catches it, superstition has it, will be the next to marry. In a similar process, her groom tosses the bride's garter to the unmarried men, followed by the man who caught the garter placing it on the leg of the woman who caught the bouquet. While still common in many circles, these practices (particularly the latter) are falling into less favor in
the 21st century.

Throwing Rice
The throwing of rice on the couple has always been symbolic of wishing prosperity and good luck. Rice has been used as a symbol of fertility and as a wish for a "full pantry" in various parts of the world from ancient to modern times. In the past, rice was not the only thing thrown at the bride and groom as they left the wedding. Wheat, instead of rice, was thrown in France, figs and dates were thrown in Northern Africa, and a combination of coins, dried fruit, and candy were thrown in Italy. In some European countries eggs are thrown! Since rice is harmful to the birds that eat it, birdseed has replaced it for most weddings. Flower petals, confetti, and balloons are often used today instead of rice. However the throwing of confetti is not permitted at most churches because of the mess it makes.

Tying Old Shoes to the Car
This tradition originated in England during the Tudor period. At that time, guests would throw shoes at the bride and groom as they left in their carriage. It was considered good luck if their carriage was hit. Today, more often than not, it is beverage cans that are tied to a couple’s car instead of shoes. It should also be noted that the English consider it good luck if it rains on their wedding day!

Groom Carrying Bride Over Theshold
Traditionally, the bride had to enter her new home the first time through the front door. If she tripped or stumbled while entering it was considered to be very bad luck. Hence the tradition of the groom carrying the bride over the threshold. In ancient times, many of the first marriages were by capture, not choice. When early man felt it was time to take a bride, he would often carry off an unwilling woman to a secret place where her relatives wouldn’t find them. While the moon went through all its phases, (about 30 days) they hid from the searchers and drank a brew made from honey. Hence, we get the word, honeymoon.

Why the Honeymoon?
The honeymoon is the period just after the wedding to celebrate the tradition goes back to time when the couple were supplied with enough honey wine for a month until the moon changed. That's how we get the word "honeymoon." The honeymoon was considered necessary to ensure happiness and fertility.

The Origin of the Expression "To Tie the Knot
This expression comes from the days of the Roman empire when the bride wore a girdle that was tied in knots. The groom's duty was to untie the many knots of the girdle prior to the consummation of their marriage.

Read this article for tips on how to plan an intimate wedding.


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    • revmjm profile image

      Margaret Minnicks 5 years ago from Richmond, VA

      marititina, thankd for reading and responding to my article.