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Each culture, religious, national, and ethnic group have their own unique traditions surrounding marriage and the wedding ceremony. These traditions are as diverse and varied as mankind itself. The stories surrounding the origin of these traditions are not only interesting but provide an insight into understanding each group and the conditions present at the time.
Most of the wedding traditions common to the western world date from the time of the Roman Empire and the European Middle Ages. Most of these traditions were born from the civilization (or lack there of), culture, and/or the political and economic requirements of the times.
Most of these "traditions" really have no meaning today and are adhered to simply because "it's always been done that way". Each culture has also adopted traditions from other modern and ancient cultures. For example, today in Japan, most couples have a "western" style wedding ceremony in addition to their "traditional" Japanese wedding ceremony.
Many couples today do not want to be bound by what they consider the "outdated" traditions followed by earlier generations. More and more couples over the last ten years have been designing their own ceremonies (within church limitations). Many couples are also writing their own vows.
Most parts of the modern Christian wedding service have their roots in the traditional Jewish wedding service.
Since most couples do not know how many of these traditions came into being we include this brief overview of some of the traditions associated with weddings in the western world.
THE ORIGIN OF THE "RING FINGER"
In 3rd. century Greece the ring finger was the index finger. In India it was the thumb. The western tradition began with the Greeks who believed that the third finger was connected directly to the heart by a route that was called "the vein of love."
THE ORIGIN OF THE "WEDDING RING"
Rings were used as currency in the Middle East prior to the advent of coinage and were a sign of a persons wealth. In ancient times the wedding ring was thought to protected the bride from "evil spirits". Ancient Roman wedding rings were made of iron.
In early Rome a gold band came to symbolize everlasting and commitment in marriage. Roman wedding rings were carved with two clasped hands. Very early rings had a carved key through which a woman was thought to be able to open her husband's heart.
THE ORIGIN OF THE "ENGAGEMENT RING"
In 860 A.D., Pope Nicholas I decreed that an engagement ring become a required statement of nuptial intent. He insisted that engagement rings had to be made of gold which signified a financial sacrifice on the part of the prospective husband.
THE ORIGIN OF THE DIAMOND ENGAGEMENT RING
The diamond engagement ring originated with King Maximillian who presented Mary of Burgundy with a diamond ring in 1477 as a token of his love.
The Venetians Popularized the custom during the 15th. century. Since the diamond was the hardest and most enduring substance in nature it followed that the engagement and marriage would endure forever.
THE ORIGIN OF THE WEDDING CAKE
In the 1st. century B.C. in Rome, the cake was thrown at the bride or broken over her head as one of the many fertility symbols which then were a part of the marriage ceremony.
THE ORIGIN OF THE GROOM'S CAKE
The tradition of a "Groom's Cake" comes from England and Ireland. There, the traditional groom's cake is a fruit cake with white icing. The groom's cake is usually served along with the traditional wedding cake. Today groom's cakes are very often chocolate instead of the traditional fruit cake.
THE ORIGIN OF THE TOAST
The term originates from the sixteenth century. At that time a small piece of bread would be placed in a goblet of wine. The goblet would be passed from guest to guest until it reached the person being honored who would drain the goblet and eat the morsel of bread in the bottom. This tradition is practiced at weddings today - usually in the form of one or more champagne "toasts". The best man has the honor of giving the first toast. Usually the bride and groom remain seated for the toasts while all the guests are usually standing to honor them. The couple may then make a few remarks thanking their families, wedding party members, and guests. They may also "toast" each other or share a "toast" together. Often special glass or silver goblets are used by the bride and groom.
THE ORIGIN OF THE BEST MAN TRADITION
Among the Germanic Goths of northern Europe in 200 A.D., a man usually married a woman from within his own community. However, when there were fewer women, the prospective bridegroom would capture his bride from a neighboring village. The bridegroom was accompanied by his strongest friend (or best friend), who helped him capture his bride.
WHY THE BRIDE STANDS TO THE GROOMS LEFT
After the bridegroom captured his bride, he placed her on his left to protect her, thus freeing his right hand or sword hand against sudden attack.
THE ORIGIN OF THE "HONEYMOON"
After "kidnapping" his bride, the groom would take her and go into hiding. By the time the bride's family tracked them down them, the bride would probably already be pregnant! A "bride price" would then be negotiated.
An earlier source is the early Jewish custom of the bride and groom spending a week together alone immediately after the marriage feast. The earliest reference to this practice is Jacob's marriages to Leah and Rachel.
THE ORIGIN OF THE TERM "WEDDING"
Although some brides were kidnapped, marriage by purchase was the preferred method of obtaining a wife. The "bride price" could be land, social status, political alliances, or cash. The Anglo-Saxon word "wed" meant that the groom would vow to marry the woman, but it also referred to the bride price (money or barter) to be paid by the groom to the bride's father. The root of the word "wedding" literally means to gamble or wager!
THE ORIGIN OF DOWRIES
As civilizations developed, political, military, and economic ties became very important to prominent families and clans. Arranged marriages were a means of cementing ties between families, middle class family businesses, and countries. A man's daughters, who were considered to be his property in those days, provided a means of securing needed alliances with other families. Thus dowries were introduced as a means attracting and securing the most beneficial family alliances possible.
THE ORIGIN OF THE TERM "TO TIE THE KNOT"
The term "tie the knot" also goes back Roman times. the bride would wear a girdle that was tied in many knots which the groom had the "duty" of untying.
THE ORIGIN OF BRIDAL SHOWERS
Bridal showers were meant to strengthen the ties between the bride and her friends, provide her moral support, and help her prepare for her marriage. Gift giving at showers dates from the 1890's.
THE ORIGIN OF STAG PARTIES
In Sparta, during the height of Greek civilization, soldiers were the first to hold stag parties. The groom would have a party for his friends the night before he was to marry. He would bid farewell to his bachelorhood and pledge his continued allegiance to his comrades.
THE ORIGIN OF THE BRIDAL PARTY
This term has many origins from different cultures. In Anglo-Saxon times, the groom had the help of "bridesmen" or "brideknights" to help him capture and/or escort his bride. Later they would make sure that the bride got to the church and to the groom's home afterwards. The women who accompanied and assisted the bride were called "bridesmaids" or "brideswomen".
THE ORIGIN OF SATURDAY WEDDINGS
In early times, for Christians, Sunday was the original day of choice for weddings because it was not a work day. The Puritan revolution in England during the 17th century changed all that - because the Puritans thought it improper to be festive on the Sabbath. Saturday is the most popular day for wedding now.
THE ORIGIN OF THE TRADITIONAL WHITE WEDDING DRESS
In 1499, Ann of Brittany popularized the white wedding gown. Prior to that time, a woman simply wore her best dress or a new dress without regard to the basic color.
THE ORIGIN OF SOMETHING "OLD", "NEW", "BORROWED", AND "BLUE"
The tradition of carrying carrying one or more items that are "old", "new", "borrowed" and "blue" also comes from English. There is an old English rhyme describing the practice which also mentions a sixpence in the brides shoe. Something old, signifying continuity, could be a piece of lace, jewelry, or a grandmother's handkerchief. Something new, signifying optimism in the future, could be an article of clothing or the wedding rings. Something borrowed, signifying future happiness, could be handkerchief from a happily married relative or friend. Something blue, signifying modesty, fidelity and love, comes from early Jewish history. In early Biblical times, blue not white symbolized purity. Both the bride and groom usually wore a band of blue material around the bottom of their wedding attire, hence the tradition of "something blue". Originally the sixpence was presented to the bride by her future husband as a token of his love. Today, very often, it is the bride's father who places a coin in the brides shoe prior to leaving home for the church.
THE ORIGIN OF WEDDING FLOWERS
From the earliest times, brides have adorned their hair with flowers and carried bunches of flowers. Traditionally, each type of flower had a special meaning and significance in and of itself. Flowers were often thrown at the couple after the ceremony. However today, most brides pick their flowers for color and personal appeal not based on the traditional meaning of particular flowers.
The groom's flower, worn on his lapel, usually matches one of the flowers in his bride's bouquet. This tradition goes back to medieval times when knights wore the colors of their lady in tournaments.
THE ORIGIN OF THE GARTER AND BRIDAL BOUQUET TOSS
In parts of Europe during the 14th contrary, having a piece of the bride's clothing was thought to bring good luck. Guests would literally destroy the brides dress by ripping off pieces of fabric. In order to prevent this, brides began throwing various items to the guests - the garter belt being one of the items.
In order to avoid this problem, it became customary in the 14th century for the bride to toss her garter to the men. Sometimes the men would get drunk, become impatient, and try to remove the garter ahead of time. Therefore, the custom evolved for the groom to remove and toss the garter. With that change the bride started to toss the bridal bouquet to the unwed girls of marriageable age.
WHY IT BECAME "BAD LUCK" FOR THE GROOM TO SEE BRIDE BEFORE THE 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.
THE ORIGIN OF THE WEDDING VEIL
Brightly colored veils were worn in ancient times in many parts of the world and were considered a protection against evil spirits Greek and Roman brides for yellow or red veils (representing fire) to ward off evil spirits and demons. At one time, Roman brides were completely covered with a red veil for protection.
In early European history, with the advent of arranged marriages veils served another purpose - to prevent the groom from seeing the brides' face till after the ceremony was over. Brides began to wear opaque yellow veils. Not only could the groom not see in, the bride could not see out! Therefore, the father of the bride had to escort her down the aisle and literally give the bride to the groom.
Nellie Custis, the daughter of Martha Washington, is credited with wearing the first lace veil.
Today, prior to a Jewish wedding ceremony, it is the groom who ritually "veils the bride". This reason for this tradition goes back to the marriage of Jacob to Leah (the older sister) when he thought he was marrying Rachel (the younger sister) whom he loved.
THE ORIGIN OF THE BRIDAL KISS
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 bold to seal contracts. Hence the obvious use of the custom at the end of the wedding ceremony to "seal" the marriage vows.
THE ORIGIN OF THROWING RICE
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 the 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 was 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, baubles, and balloons are often used today instead of rice.
THE ORIGIN OF 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 couples car instead of shoes. It should also be noted that the English consider it good luck if it rains on their wedding day!
THE ORIGIN OF THE GROOM CARRYING THE BRIDE OVER THE THRESHOLD
Ttraditionally, 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.
Top 9 Wedding Traditions
Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.
This is a popular rhyme, which, according to YourWedding101.com, dates back to the Victorian era and is still used for good luck for a successful marriage even to this day. Each part of the saying means something specific to the bride and groom and the change of life marriage will bring. 'Something old' represents the bride's old life, and her ties to her family. 'Something new' is meant to signify the couple's new life together, and the joys it may bring. 'Something borrowed' is meant as a good luck charm from a happily married woman, so that the new bride may enjoy the same happy marriage. 'Something blue' represents fidelity and the hopes that the marriage will last a long time. All of these wedding traditions are actually carried or worn by the bride during her wedding.
Giving the bride away.
The wedding tradition of having the bride given away by an older male relative, usually her father, is one that is found in most weddings. The father "gives" away the bride, as it is now seen as the groom's responsibility to take care of her and her needs, financially and emotionally. Today, it is popular for both parents to have a part in "giving away" the bride. If the bride has a stepfather, he may also give her away.
The giving of wedding rings signifies each partner's commitment to each other. The best man traditionally has the job of keeping track of both rings, and producing them at the wedding ceremony. In the USA and UK, the rings are worn on the fourth finger of the left hand, although other countries traditionally use the right hand instead. According to TheKnot.com, the fourth finger is used as in classical times; they believed the 'vena amoris' or 'vein of love' ran from that ring finger straight to the heart. After marriage, and for the rest of wedded life, both partners are meant to wear their rings at all times until "death do us part". This also has the added social benefit of displaying your status to members of the opposite sex. Today, some jobs require you to remove your ring for safety reasons, but you can also consider wearing it on a chain around your neck.
There are various wedding traditions when it comes to the choice of music for the big occasion. "The Bridal Chorus" by Richard Wagner, commonly known as "Here Comes the Bride," is used for the bride's walk down the aisle towards the waiting groom. Felix Mendelssohn's "Wedding March" is often used as a recessional, after the ceremony has finished. Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" is one of the most popular pieces of music played at a wedding, because of its message of unity and happiness.
After the bride and groom have been pronounced man and wife, the traditional way to bond the marriage and conclude the wedding ceremony is to kiss each other in front of all their family and friends. This particular part of the wedding traditions started as a way of sealing the couple's lifelong commitment to each other. In some countries, the kiss has other symbolic meanings as well, so your personal traditions can be your guide as to if you kiss and, if you do, for how long. These days, it is more done as a way of showing how much you care for each other, and has become the signal to everyone that the ceremony has finished.
Showering a newly wed couple with rice is an ancient custom, although the rice is often replaced with confetti, birdseed, bubbles or dried flowers due to the dangers uncooked rice has to birds. This is one of the most fun wedding traditions, as it enables everyone to cover the bride and groom as they leave the church .The tradition started because of people's belief that this life giving seed will endow the couple with great fertility and enable them to have lots of children,
The wedding cake has grown from being a food for everyone to share after the wedding, to being more of a symbolic gesture. The cakes have also grown in size, and now have a sophisticated amount of detail on them. One of the first things you will do as a married woman is to cut the cake with your husband. According to Hudson Valley Weddings, this is traditionally done together, with the groom's hand being on top of the bride's to show his willingness and commitment to take care of her. After the first cut, the bride and groom can then playfully feed each other with a slice. After the reception, and the festivities have died down, the bride and groom should take the top layer of cake home, and freeze it until their first anniversary. It is believed by some that a cake that is good enough to eat after a year is a guarantee of a long marriage.
Throwing the bouquet.
One of the wedding traditions shrouded in superstition is when the bride throws her bouquet to the crowd. This is usually done before leaving on her honeymoon, and involves the bride assembling all of the unmarried bridesmaids and friends before tossing the bouquet towards them. The lady who manages to catch the bouquet is expected to be the next one to marry. This can lead to some sheepish smiles from unwilling boyfriends looking on in the crowd! Of course, the groom also traditionally tosses the wedding garter, and at some receptions, the man who catches the garter is supposed to playfully put it on the girl who catches the bouquet and then dance with her.
Toasting the happy couple.
At the wedding reception, it's tradition to offer toasts to the newly married couple, wishing them a long and happy marriage. This will usually involve a person being asked to make a speech, in which he or she can make jokes, or play it completely straight, before raising a glass to the bride and groom. The best man is often expected to give the first speech of the occasion, thus breaking the ice. Getting the mix of humor and sentiment perfectly balanced is a tough job.
where everyone spits on the bride!). Weddings are a time of happiness that have endured the ages, which is why we still celebrate them somewhat traditionally today. At your wedding, you don't have to follow all of these traditions—you can always start your own traditions to pass on to your children! All that matters is that you and your new husband enjoy this special day together.