13 bizarre ancient origins to modern wedding traditions

13 tips to get the most out of your wedding photographyAs a wedding photographer I often get asked for advice on certain wedding traditions.  Questions such as “Does the engagement ring go above or below the wedding ring?”, “At the altar, does the groom stand on the right and the bride on the left, or vice versa?”

So I’ve had to study some wedding traditions and customs over the years to make sure I give the right advice.  Here is some bizarre and interesting wedding trivia I picked up in the process.  I hope you find this as interesting as I did…

1. Bride on Groom’s left at the altar
Because grooms in Anglo-Saxon England often had to defend their brides, the bride would stand to the left of her groom so that his sword arm was free.
2. Bridesmaids
The bridal party is a tradition that has been established for many centuries. For a long time the purpose of the bridal party was to fool evil spirits. The bride’s friends dressed similarly to her in order to confuse any virulent presences that might be lurking about. Today bridesmaids are there to support the bride in the stressful times during the wedding.
3. Engagement rings
Before the 1900s a diamond engagement ring was a luxury item; in fact, engagement rings even without a diamond setting were considered extravagant. The Archduke Maximilian of Austria gave one to Mary of Burgundy in 1477, but it was hardly commonplace. It was a diamond company that would change that. In the late 1800s, the diamond market was flooded when big diamond mines were found in South Africa, and that new influx of gems drove the prices down.
In 1939, De Beers hired N.W. Ayer & Son as their ad agency to help them rebound from the slump in sales they’d had as a result of the South African mines. And a new wedding tradition was born: Diamond sales rose 55 percent between 1938 and 1941, and by 1948 America was introduced to the “A Diamond Is Forever” ad campaign — and a new engagement tradition swept the U.S. But those rings didn’t have diamonds.
There’s no dispute that DeBeers singlehandedly created the market for the diamond engagement ring with a simple sentiment in a 20th-century ad campaign: A Diamond is Forever.
Ultimately, the De Beers campaign sought to persuade the consumer that an engagement ring is indispensable, and that a diamond is the only acceptable stone for an engagement ring. The campaign was very successful. In 1939 only 10% of engagement rings had diamonds. By 1990, 80% did

4. 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.

5. The Best Man
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.

6. The bouquet
Did you ever consider walking down the aisle clutching a bundle of garlic and dill?
Well, if you’re a stickler for tradition, you might want to think about it. Until modern times, brides did carry garlic and dill. The practice probably originated from the time of the Plague, when people clutched the herbs over their noses and mouths in a desperate effort to survive.
Survivors of great tragedy can affix tremendous protective powers to anything that has provided comfort, and the herbs made it into the ceremony marking renewal. Over time, brides added better-smelling flora to the arrangement, and a whole dictionary of meaning arose to define each type of blossom.

7. The groom not seeing the bride before the wedding day
The superstition that it’s bad luck for the groom to see the bride before the wedding dates back to the time when it was more common for marriages to be arranged by families — more business transaction, less love. Because it would be embarrassing for everyone involved if the groom backed out before the ceremony if he didn’t like what he saw, the pair were kept separate.
Today couples interpret this tradition in their own way; some honor it, while others prefer to shake off their pre-ceremony nerves together — and it’s a great time to take at least some of your photos because no one (likely) has cried yet.

8. The honeymoon
If you want to really extrapolate links to tradition, the honeymoon is a carryover from the days when grooms abducted their brides from the neighbors. (“Will you take this woman?” Well, for a lot of human history, that’s exactly what the groom did.)
Through time, those abductions became fun-filled, ritualized enactments of capturing brides. Those escapades, in Norse tradition, led to a tradition in which the bride and groom went into hiding for 30 days. During each of those days, a friend or family member would bring them a cup of honey wine, so that 30 days of consumption equaled a “honeymoon.”

9. The ring finger
The wedding ring has been worn on the third finger of the left hand since Roman times

10. The wedding cake
The contemporary wedding cake has grown out of many traditions. One of the first traditions began in Ancient Rome where bread was broken over the bride’s head to bring good fortune to the couple.
The origin of the tiered wedding cake lies in Anglo-Saxon times. Guests would bring small cakes to the wedding and stack them on top of each other. If the bride and groom successfully kissed over the stack they were guaranteed a prosperous life together. This is the origin of the traditional French wedding cake known as Croquembouche, which is built from Profiteroles and given a halo of spun sugar.

11. The white wedding dress
Queen Victoria started the Western world’s white wedding dress trend in 1840 — before then, brides simply wore their best dress.

12. Tossing the Bouquet
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. Today the bouquet is tossed to single women with the belief that whoever catches it will be the next to marry.
The Romans believed that the vein in that finger runs directly to the heart.

13. Tying tin cans to the bumper of the bridal car
is ritual into modern ceremonies, their great-great-grandparents might not have approved.
The practice of jumping the broom started in slave times, when it was actually illegal for slaves to marry. Nonetheless, the people on the plantations sought to form bonds that were acknowledged by the community, so they jumped the broom together in lieu of a legal wedding.
Historians note that freed slaves taught their children to disdain the practice, because to them, it was a symbol of bondage. However, the poignant scene in Alex Haley’s “Roots,” in which Kunta Kinte jumped the broom on the plantation with his bride, led to a revival of the custom. In that scene, the captive from Africa is not accepting his captivity, but he is acknowledging a powerful bond with another person despite being trapped in a life he didn’t choose.
Despite their ancestors’ distaste for the practice, some modern couples incorporate jumping the broom into their ceremonies as a connection to a painful but significant part of their heritage.
OK, so you’ve thrown a wedding and invited the whole neighborhood, and you’re tired. An hour or so after you go to sleep, all your friends turn out and bang pots and pans under your windowsill, and you’re expected to reappear in full wedding attire and feed the rowdies so they’ll go away.
Sound like fun? Probably not. But this was the shivaree, which was practiced on the American frontier into the early 20th century.
The American version originated in France, where communities would conduct a charivari for widowers or grooms from out of town. These grooms, outsiders who had effectively snatched a local girl out of the clutches of the local boys, were to pay a toll to the offended locals by offering a midnight meal.
Early French settlers brought the practice to the Mississippi Valley in the 1600s, and other settlers caught on. The midnight parties became an event that grooms worked to deflect; historians cite cases where prosperous ranchers would throw enormous barbecues for the community just to avoid getting “shivaree’d.”
Tying the tin cans on the bumper may serve as a poor substitution for an all-night party, but it’s interesting to note that the decorating of the car is generally done by the groom’s male friends — men who effectively have lost their chances with the bride who’s being whisked away.

SOURCES

TheKnot – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/the-knot/50-wedding-traditions-and_b_3901136.html

HowStuffWorks – http://people.howstuffworks.com/culture-traditions/cultural-traditions/10-wedding-traditions-with-surprising-origins.htm#page=1
Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wedding_cake

 

Author Details

Patrick Fallon

I am a wedding photographer based in beautiful Queenstown, New Zealand. I have been full-time with the photography thing since 2006 and still can’t believe I get to do what I love for a job! Here are a few words that I think sum me up: I AM…tall and bald, happy, imaginative, constantly hungry, active and friendly. I LOVE…my girl, coffee, photography, fooooooood, my family and friends, riding bikes, being outside, the simple things in life, people… I love my life! I believe that wedding photography can and should be SIMPLE, NATURAL, BEAUTIFUL.

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