Weddings are that special occasion where two people come
together to celebrate their love for one another. Yet, was it
always this way? How did marriage come to be, and what is the
meaning behind some of the many strange traditions observed
We assume that marriage has always been a sanctimonious
tradition; however marriage was not originally about “holy
matrimony” or “true love.” The original intent of marriage was
to insure a safe environment for the bringing up of children, as
well as the acquisition and transfer of property. Indeed it is
the rather superficial “marriage of convenience” which can be
viewed as the original meaning of marriage. Eventually marriage
became more about love, and less about property. Throughout that
time, though, numerous different traditions and superstitions
have surfaced. Here are just a few of these.
Africa, location is everything. Women in Ghana are viewed as the
life force of the tribe. After all, they were where all the
great warriors and chiefs came from. Because of this, Zulu
culture referred to women as “the great homes.” Because of this
status, it was considered customary for the husband to be, to
move to his bride’s village.
The Mande people of Africa
practice clitoridectomies (female circumcision). During this
time, the women are taught how to be good wives. They are also
taught a special “secret” language that is only spoken by
A common African tradition is “jumping
over the broom.” The broom has become a symbol of the sweeping
out of the old, to welcome in the new. The part about jumping
over is actually of North American origin. It was from the days
of slavery, when slaves were not allowed to marry. By jumping
over the broom, the couple was solidifying the seriousness of
In 1076, in Europe, it was decreed that
no man should give away his daughter, or other female relative,
without a priestly blessing. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t
until the 16th century that priests were even required to
perform wedding ceremonies. Another interesting medieval
tradition: women at the time would pluck their hairlines in
order to attain higher foreheads, which were considered more
attractive at the time.
Conservative/Orthodox Jews have
a neat tradition where the bride walks 3 to 7 times around her
husband to be. This is done to signify that she is a protective
wall for her husband, and that by stepping inside, their family
status has changed. Ah, but what of the breaking of glass? This
is done to represent the many, many tragedies that have befallen
the Jewish people. It acts as a reminder of those bad times.
Interestingly, the Muslim faith doesn’t really celebrate
weddings. A marriage is strictly an officious occasion. The
marriage occurs inside an office, rather than a mosque. The
wedding is viewed as a private civil/religious contract. The
only real tradition here is that the groom must give his bride a
dower to serve as insurance for her future.
(Shinto) weddings are also small and private affairs, though
they are far more elaborate. Both bride and groom sip three
times from three separate cups of sake. It is done to guarantee
luck and happiness in the marriage.
Chinese brides are
given chestnuts and jujubes. This was done with the wish of the
bride to conceive a son as soon as possible. Brides wear red
dresses to symbolize the color of love and joy. As we shall see
further down, Europeans viewed the color red in a completely
Speaking of Europeans, many Eastern
orthodox ceremonies featured the placement of wreaths on the
heads of both bride and groom. It was done to symbolize their
place as king and queen of the heavenly kingdom of Earth.
With such a wide variety of traditions out there, it is
interesting to note that two of them are almost universal among
human culture: the wedding veil and the wedding ring.
Wedding veils saw their origin among the
Romans. Ancient Romans believed that women were particularly
susceptible to possession by demonic spirits during weddings
(perhaps they had a lot of runaway brides back then). The veil
was used to “confuse” these spirits. To further help the bride
out, bridesmaids were dressed in clothing similar to the
bride’s. They were to act as decoys for these demons.
When Christianity took over, the veil was changed to represent
chastity and modesty. This really took off in Britain during the
1800s. During some Eastern ceremonies, the groom is not allowed
to remove his wife’s veil until after the ceremony. Jewish faith
took the exact opposite approach. In some Jewish ceremonies, the
groom first validates that the bride is his intended, before
placing the veil over her face.
rings are probably the oldest wedding traditions out there. They
can be traced back over four thousand years, to the Egyptians.
Ancient Egyptians would make rings out of twisted pieces of
plants. The ring was meant to symbolize a love with no end.
Egyptians and Romans both placed the ring on the 4th finger of
the female’s left hand. This was done out of the belief that
there was a vein on the 4th finger that connected directly to
the heart. It was called the “vena amoris,” or “love vein.” When
Christianity became the dominant religion of Europe, the vena
amoris was replaced with a holy seal. Priests would take the
wedding ring and touch the first three fingers of the left hand
(thumb, index and middle) while reciting: “the father, the son
and the holy ghost.” Upon reaching the 4th finger, the ring was
placed on it to seal the marriage.
For a long while the
ring went from being a symbol of endless love, to that of
ownership. The Romans used it like a branding. It was worn by
the husband's wife, to signify his ownership over her. Two
thousand years ago, in Asia, this ownership concept was taken to
a new level with "puzzle rings." These were rings that were worn
by brides as a sign of loyalty. If a bride were to take her
puzzle ring off, it would fall to pieces. These pieces could
then only be put back together by knowing the solution to the
So what of the history of other common wedding
One interesting tradition is the presence of
a flower on the buttonhole of the groom. The flower matches one
of the flowers in the bride’s bouquet. This was a holdover from
medieval times, when a knight would wear his lady’s colours in
order to signify his love for her. I suppose that means that in
one small way, chivalry isn’t dead.
Then we have the
confetti. Prior to being paper, confetti was originally a mix of
rose petals, rice and grain. Before that, it consisted of
various sweets which were thrown over the couples as they
emerged from the church. It originated in Italy. In fact,
confetti is Italian for: candy.
Finally, what “history
of weddings” article would be complete, without a brief rundown
of some popular wedding superstitions?
The day that a
wedding took place, was considered to be vitally important. As
such, a little rhyme was concocted to allow future couples to
pick the appropriate days for their marriage.
Tuesday for health
Wednesday the best day of all
Thursday for losses
Friday for crosses
Saturday for no
luck at all
Then there was the month. Depending on what
month one was married in, one’s marriage could be glorious or
tragic. By far the worst month of all, was May. This was due to
the historic pagan belief that May was the start of summer. This
was celebrated by the festival of Beltane (commonly called May
Day, now). As part of the festival, couples were encouraged to
have outdoor orgies to bless the crops and the Earth. Because of
this, it was considered a bad month for a newly monogamous
couple to marry. The best month of all, for marriage, was June.
This was because June was named after the Roman goddess of love:
Juno. Interestingly, June is now the second most popular month
for marriages. August has recently taken over the top spot for
Next we come to the bridal dress itself. While
most brides today marry in white (which symbolizes maidenhood),
the tradition is only as old as the 16th century. Prior to that,
brides chose whatever colour dress they would like. There was a
general rule of thumb though.
Married in White, you have
Married in Blue, your love will always be
Married in Pearl, you will live in a whirl,
Married in Brown, you will live in a town,
Married in Red,
you will wish yourself dead,
Married in Yellow, ashamed of
Married in Green, ashamed to be seen,
Married in Pink, your spirit will sink,
Married in Grey, you
will go far away,
Married in Black, you will wish yourself
Green dresses were viewed as being a sign of
promiscuity. This lead to the old saying that a woman “has a
green gown.” This was meant to signify that she was rolling
around in grassy fields. Back then, only Irish women were
considered “okay” in a green bridal gown.
Last, but not
least, we have the classic wedding rhyme: Something old,
something new. It started back in Victorian times, but what does
Something old: This represents the friends of
the couple and the hopes that they will remain friends
throughout the marriage. This was traditionally represented by
an old garter which would be given to the bride to be, by a
happily married woman. It was done in the hope that the
happiness would be passed onto the new couple.
new: The happy and prosperous future of the newlyweds.
Something borrowed: This is something lent by the bride’s
family. It is often an item that is highly valued, and that the
bride must return after the wedding in order to ensure good
Something blue: This is an Israelite tradition.
The bride would wear a blue ribbon in her hair to symbolize
There is one more part to the rhyme that is
And a silver sixpence in your shoe: The
placement of money in the bride’s shoe was done to ensure wealth
and prosperity in the lives of the new couple. For some reason
or another, this portion of the tradition doesn’t appear as
popular. Perhaps that is why so many couples run into money
So, when you are consulting the “Ms. Manners” of wedding
etiquette, remember, it’s mostly just folk lore. Just be sure to
bring the ring.
About the Author:
The Iconoclast is a student at the University Of New Mexico and
part of the web building team at Gifteteria.com. View Wedding
and Shower gifts at
The jumping of a
broom was also a Celtic tradition, preceding
Christianity by several hundred years. It was
certainly in common use in Britain, especially
amongst the navvies. The tradition had nothing to
do with the African whatsoever. - And "USEFUL" has
only one "l"