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Wedding traditions - where do they come from?

When planning a wedding there are certain expectations surrounding the big day. Formality and tradition have been passed down over decades and centuries that form the make-up of the day. Some people go for a very classic wedding and others decide to break from the norm but whatever your wedding is like you can almost guarantee parts of it will have been played out by happy couples throughout the ages. A lot of historic wedding traditions came from superstition at the time but now they are just customs and rituals that we include in the planning of the event. We have researched some of these practices and we are sure you will be surprised at where one or two come from!

The superstition that it is bad luck for a groom to see his bride the night before the wedding comes from the Dark Ages when a groom with wealth and breeding spent the night before the wedding in a church praying for the forgiveness of past sins and strength to avoid new ones.   

In the ancient world of the Greeks and the Romans, brides were normally dressed in white for the wedding ceremony. The white robes were used to symbolise youth, joy and purity.  Despite this, white wedding dresses have not always been the fashion in this country. Queen Victoria popularized the white wedding dress when she wed in 1840. White dresses became popular in these times as a show of wealth.  The wearing of a veil was thought to originate in the Middle East where the groom was not allowed to see the bride before marriage. The Roman custom for the bride to wear a veil was to disguise her and protect her from evil spirits. In Victorian times in England it was to symbolise her virginity and modesty.  

For a long time the purpose of the bridal party was to fool evil spirits. The bride's friends, richly dressed in a similar fashion to the bride, were thought to cause confusion among any malignant presences that might be lurking. The role of younger flower girls comes from times when sanitation was poor; the girls would carry herbs of flowers to mask these smells.

In ancient times, men sometimes captured women to make them their brides. A man would take along his strongest and most trusted friend to help him fight resistance from the woman's family. This friend, therefore, was considered the best man among his friends. In Anglo-Saxon England, the best man accompanied the groom up the aisle to help defend the bride.

Something old, something new
Something borrowed, something blue

The rhyme began in the Victorian times. The "something old" traditionally was an old garter which given to the bride by a happily married woman in the hope that her happiness in marriage would be passed on to the new bride. "Something new" symbolises the couple’s happy and prosperous future. The "something borrowed" is often an item much valued by the bride’s family. The bride must return the item to ensure good luck. The custom of the bride wearing "something blue" originated in ancient Israel where the bride wore a blue ribbon in her hair to represent faithfulness.   

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 a fight started.   The tradition of a Father giving away his Daughter came from times when a single girl belonged to her father and his to control. The act was literally the Father giving control of the woman to her new husband.   The bride stands on the left of the groom during the marriage ceremony to allow his sword arm to be free ready to fight off other men who may possibly want her as their bride.   The tradition of ending a wedding ceremony with a kiss originates in roman times when a kiss was a legal bond which sealed contracts and thus the betrothal of man and woman.   It is traditional to have the church bells rung as the bride and groom emerge from the church. The sound of the bells is supposed to drive away evil spirits and thereby ensuring the couples good fortune.   

A bride's engagement ring and wedding ring are traditionally worn on the third finger of the left hand. There are two strongly held beliefs to explain the origin of this tradition. The first, dating back to the 17th century, is that during a Christian wedding the priest arrived at the forth finger (counting the thumb) after touching the three fingers on the left hand '...in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost'. The second refers to an Egyptian belief that the ring finger follows the vena amoris, the vein of love that runs directly to the heart.    

Flowers played a very important part in historic times - the smell of the flowers were believed to ward off evil spirits and bring good fortune. The Groom is supposed to wear a flower that appears in the Bridal Bouquet in his buttonhole. This comes from the Mediaeval tradition of a Knight wearing his Lady's colours, as a declaration of his love.   Tossing the bouquet is a tradition that stems from England. Women used to try to rip pieces of the bride's dress and flowers in order to obtain some of her good luck. To escape from the crowd the bride would toss her bouquet and run away.   

The Tudors threw shoes at the couple as they departed and it was considered lucky if the shoe you threw hit their carriage. Today, this tradition is kept alive by simply tying old shoes to the back of the newlywed's vehicle before they leave their wedding reception celebration.   

In Pagan times, rice and grain was usually thrown at the bride and groom to represent fertility and a life of plenty, free from hunger. Now it’s customary to throw colourful paper confetti or rice at the bride and groom as they leave the church after the ceremony.   

In the past weddings were held in the morning, often between 10am and noon. Hence the meal was early too, and known as the wedding breakfast.   

It’s called a "toast" because the French used to place a piece of bread in the bottom of a wine goblet, to impart flavour. Each celebrant quaffed and passed the goblet to the next hardy soul. The person for whom the toast was given would drink the goblet dry while slurping up the toast. According to legend, the winner would rule their household!   

The tradition of giving guests something to remember the day by in the form of favours has been around for hundreds of years. Today, the tradition has evolved to giving each guest five sugar coated almonds to symbolise health, wealth, fertility, happiness and long-life. These also symbolise the sweet (sugar) and bitter (almond) aspects of life. Because the bride and groom were believed to be lucky, anything they touched was also seen as a good luck charm. Small gifts were given to wedding guests to bring them good luck throughout the year.   

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. It later became a tradition to place many small cakes on top of each other as high as possible. The newlyweds would then try to exchange a kiss over the top of the tower of cakes without knocking them down.   It is thought that King Charles II was the first person to have a wedding cake decorated with icing sugar. Today's three tier Wedding Cake is based on the unusual shape of the spire of Saint Bride's Church in London. Traditionally the newly-weds should make the first cut to signify sharing their life. Every guest than eats a crumb to ensure good luck.   

The term “honeymoon” originates from the times when a man captured the bride. The bride and groom would hide from the bride’s parents before the wedding. The couple remained in hiding for the next cycle of the moon after the wedding. The term 'honeymoon' comes from the tradition of the bride drinking mead (a brewed, fermented drink made of honey) for one month after the wedding to encourage fertility, and a male child in particular.    

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