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FREE RESOURCES • Traditions & Trivia • Ancient Traditions • Anniversary Gifts • Birthstones and Flowers • Flower Meanings

ancient wedding traditions

Did you ever wonder how wedding traditions like carrying the bride over the threshold got started? Or why couples typically go on a honeymoon after the wedding? Read on for answers to these questions and more!

Traditions

Wedding Rings

Carrying the Bride over the Threshold

Parents Giving the Bride Away

Bridal Attire: 

The custom of the bride wearing a white dress dates back to the Roman Empire. The Latin word for 'white' also means 'pure', and wearing white when getting married was thus a symbol of purity.

The Bridal Shower:

The tradition of "showering" the bride with gifts originated with the Dutch, who passed down a folktale about a young girl in love with a poor miller. The girl's father was so upset at the prospect of their marriage that he refused to provide the customary dowry. In order that the couple might marry anyway, their friends "showered" them with gifts so that they could start their new life together. Today there are many different types of bridal and wedding showers, many planned around a particular theme.

The Bridal Veil:

The tradition of the bride wearing a veil is also a Roman tradition, as is the wearing of a white dress. To the Romans, as well as the Greeks, the veil was a sign of youth and purity. In some cultures, the veil was worn so that evil spirits could not identify the bride and harm her. In other cultures, particularly in Asia and the Middle East, the veil began as a sign of modesty, and the custom of hiding the bride's face until after the ceremony is still practiced today. The custom continues in our open society because of its romantic aura. Rumor has it that the fashion for lace wedding veils started with Nelly Curtis, who married President George Washington's aide. The story goes that her fiancé was so taken with her beauty after seeing her through a curtain, Nelly added one to her bridal attire.

Carrying the Bride Over the Threshold:

Similar to the tradition of the bridal veil, carrying the bride over the threshold of her new home was meant to protect her from evil spirits with bad intentions. Probably from evil spirits with good intentions as well. Another explanation for this tradition involves the belief that if the bride were to trip over the threshold, her marriage would be filled with ups and downs as well. Because of this, the groom carried her to prevent the possibility of her falling (and dooming him to a life of marital chaos as well!).

Diamonds:

As one of the hardest materials on Earth, diamonds are an obvious choice to symbolize enduring love. This idea appealed to the ancient Italians, as did the Greeks, who additionally viewed the flame of a white diamond as a reflection of the bright flame of love.

Garters:

There are many traditions associated with wedding garters. One of the most familiar is "one to keep and one to throw", where the bride wears two garters. One garter is relatively simple and inexpensive and is used for the garter toss to the unmarried men at the reception. The other is typically more elaborate, and is often an heirloom item, or one that is destined to become one. Tradition says that if the garter is given to the bride by a friend, that friend will soon become engaged. Sort of a shortcut to catching the bouquet, apparently.

At any rate, one or both of the garters is often used to fulfill the "something blue" of the familiar rhyme thought to bring good luck: "Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue" (the British version of this tradition adds "and a lucky sixpence in your shoe"). It is thought that the garter tossing tradition might have its origins in the 14th century, when rowdy wedding guests in France scrambled to remove the bride's garter because they believed it would bring them luck. Embarrassed brides began removing it themselves (and later their stockings as well) to toss to the eager crowd.

Parents Giving the Bride Away:

In many of the patriarchal societies of yesteryear, daughters were considered to be the property of their fathers, and it was expected that a father would choose his daughters' husbands for them. In some cases, the bride and groom wouldn't even meet until their wedding day! Today the tradition of arranged marriages is still practiced in many cultures, but it is more common for the bride-to-be to participate in the selection process nowadays. Like the custom of asking the bride's father for her hand in marriage, the giving away of the bride is meant to show respect, and symbolizes the parents' acceptance of the marriage.

Throwing Rice:

This tradition started in the Orient as a wish for many children.

Old Shoes:

Old shoes used to be thrown at the bride by her father to signify that he was giving her to the groom, as the shoe was a symbol of possession and authority. Another version of this tradition says that the shoes were thrown at the groom as he kidnapped his bride. Fortunately for modern wedding couples, old shoes are now tied to the back of the car they will depart in, instead of being hurled at them.  These days, guests are far more likely to throw rice, flower petals, or birdseed, or to blow bubbles at the happy couple. Which seems like a far less painful alternative.

Wedding Attendants:

The best man and ushers were originally burly friends who helped capture the bride-to-be. Suitors often had to fend off overprotective brothers or other suitors, so it made sense to bring along the 'best men' for the job. The maid of honor and the bridesmaids protected the bride from an overprotective brother because she wanted to be kidnapped. When the rough practice because unfashionable, the pretense continued to add excitement. Besides, to go willingly was considered unladylike.

Wedding Cake:

The wedding cake began in ancient Rome, where a thin loaf of wheat bread was broken over the bride's head to ensure a life of plenty. The guests eagerly ate the crumbs as good luck tokens. By the Middle Ages, English brides and grooms kissed over a mound of small cakes. An enterprising baker put the cakes together, covered them with frosting, and the modern tiered wedding cake was born.

Wedding Rings:

Rings date back to a time when cavemen tied braided grass circlets around the bride's wrists and ankles to keep her spirit from escaping. Later, rings were made of leather, carved stone, and crude metal. Diamond engagement rings first appeared in medieval Italy when precious stones were considered partial "payment" for the bride, and a symbol of the groom's good intentions. Engagement rings are worn on the third finger of the left hand because it was believed that its vein led directly to the heart.

 

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Last modified: 03/20/2012