I hope this list helps to clarify the origins and meanings of some of the most popular wedding traditions in America.
Pick and choose which ones you wish to see through at your very own wedding and when we talk, we can discuss how to make you special day exactly how you want it!
“SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW, SOMETHING BORROWED, SOMETHING BLUE”
This wedding saying is derived from an Old English rhyme, which lists the four good luck objects a bride should have on her wedding day.
Something old represents the couples’ past lives.
Something new symbolizes their happy future.
Something borrowed typically means incorporating an item belonging to someone who is happily married, in hope that some of their good fortune rubs off.
Something blue is because the color blue represents fidelity and love.
These days, brides are carrying peonies and roses down the aisle, but back in ancient Greece and Rome, it was all about herbs.
During that time, it was in vogue to hold aromatic bouquets of garlic, dill, and other herbs and spices to ward off evil spirits.
Thankfully, we’ve graduated from pungent herb bouquets to lush floral ones, often comprised of the bride’s favorite bloom.
Carrying a favorite flower variety is a tradition that became popular in 1840, when Queen Victoria married Prince Albert and carried a bouquet of snowdrops, his favorite flower.
Identical bridesmaid dresses may be a little passé these days but in Roman times, matching outfits meant good luck and were a common wedding tradition.
Back then, people believed evil spirits would attend the wedding in attempt to curse the bride and groom. To confuse the spirits, bridesmaids acted as decoys and dressed identically to the bride.
The idea was that the spirits would be unsure which was the bride, which would lead them to leave her alone and allow the couple to wed.
Groomsmen served as the bride’s bodyguards. Back in the early history of groomsmen, the bride’s family would present the groom with a large dowry of money and household goods.
This abundance of riches made the soon-to-be-married couple a target for robbers and bad spirits. Therefore the groomsmen and groom dressed alike to confuse the evil spirits or enemies incase of an attack.
WEARING A VEIL
The tradition of wearing a wedding veil also dates to ancient Rome, where a bride would walk down the aisle wearing a veil over her face to disguise herself from any evil spirits looking to ruin her wedding day. Apparently, spirits were quite the concern back then!
These days, wedding veils come in many styles and lengths, the most popular four types being:
- Blusher: A shorter veil style that grazes the bustline. It can be worn over the face during the ceremony and then pulled back the rest of the day.
- Mantilla: A regal, Old World-style veil that is comprised of a circle of tulle and lace. It is usually worn draped over the head, framing the face.
- Fingertip: A popular style, this medium-length veil grazes your fingertips and can be worn with just about every style of wedding dress.
- Cathedral: With lengths ranging from 9 to 25 feet, this is the veil for you if you’re going for major drama.
LEFT HAND RING FINGER
This tradition also traces its origins back to the Romans, who believed that the fourth finger on the left hand was connected directly to the heart by a vein called “the vein of love.”
Because of this hand-heart connection, this finger has been adopted through the ages as the ideal spot to wear one’s wedding ring.
MAILING GUESTS PRINTED WEDDING INVITATIONS.
Before the invention of the printing press in 1447, weddings were typically announced by the town crier and anyone within earshot was welcome to attend. People were largely illiterate during the Middle Ages, so this was the most efficient way to announce a wedding.
Written wedding invitations were only used by England’s aristocracy during this time. The noble class would commission monks, skilled in calligraphy, to hand-write the wedding announcements. The invitations would often depict the family crest or coat of arms and would be closed with a wax seal.
The wedding tradition of the double envelopes—a wedding invitation enclosed in both an inner envelope and outer envelope—originates from this practice, since a courier’s journey might damage the outer envelope. Upon delivery, the outer envelope would be removed and the sealed inner envelope, with the invitation inside, would be presented to the invited guest.
Despite the emergence of the printing press, printing techniques proved too rudimentary to produce stylish invitations. However, newspapers became popular by the 1600s and the wealthier, literate class began printing wedding announcements in their local paper. Higher-quality printing became possible with the invention of the metal-plate engraving printing press in 1642, which allowed artists to engrave the wording of the invitation on a metal plate in reverse, which was then inked and stamped onto paper. Engraved invitations needed time to dry, so tissue paper would be placed on top to prevent ink smudges. This tradition remains to this day.
Have you ever received a wedding invitation with “honour” spelled out with the British style “u”? This formal spelling style was used in the past to let guests know that the wedding ceremony would be held in a place of worship, like a church. Today the spelling usually shows up if the couple are using the British style of writing. Example Canadian or British nationality.
THE PHRASE “GIVING” THE BRIDE AWAY
This wedding ceremony tradition dates to a time of arranged marriages, where the “giving away” of the bride represented a transfer of ownership.
Back then, young women were used as collateral and were given away in exchange for a “bride price” or dowry.
Thankfully today, this tradition has shifted away from its antiquated origins and is now a loving, affirming moment as a father escorts his daughter down the aisle to meet the person she is about to marry.
THE PHRASE “TYING THE KNOT”
Ever wondered where this commonly used phrase came from?
In many cultures, including during Celtic and Hindu weddings, the bride’s and groom’s hands are joined and tied together to symbolize the couple’s commitment to each other and their new bond as a married couple.
The Celtic ceremony ritual is called handfasting. The Hindu ceremony ritual is called the hastmelap.
TOSSING RICE AT THE NEWLYWEDS
Back in the day, marriage meant expansion, from starting a family to increasing one’s assets.
Rice symbolized both fertility and prosperity and tossing it at newlyweds at the conclusion of the wedding ceremony conveyed best wishes and good luck—for babies, bountiful harvests, and everything in between.
Nowadays, the wedding tradition of tossing things on the couple takes many forms, from dried lavender buds and blowing bubbles to biodegradable confetti.
The tradition of a wedding cake also comes from ancient Rome, where guests broke a loaf of bread over the bride’s head to symbolize fertility. The newlyweds would share a few bites while guests would scoop up the leftover crumbs for good luck.
In medieval England, the bride and groom had to try to kiss over a pile of stacked spiced buns, scones, and cookies—a precursor to the tiered wedding cakes of today—supposedly ensuring a prosperous future if they were able to successfully smooch without toppling the whole thing over.
When Queen Victoria opted to crown her wedding cake with mini sculptures of herself and Prince Albert in 1840, the bride-and-groom cake topper was born.
By the 1920s, the trend had crossed the pond to the United States, gaining popularity in the 1950s when couple figurines came to symbolize marital stability.
Today, toppers aren’t always cookie-cutter brides and grooms, but personalized sculptures highlighting a pair’s identities, pets, or hobbies.
SAVING THE TOP TIER OF THE WEDDING CAKE.
Traditionally, the top tier of the wedding cake was saved and kept frozen to be enjoyed by the wedding couple once again at their future child’s christening. Back in the olden days, many people assumed the couple would have a baby within a year, so by preserving the wedding cake, they wouldn’t have to buy another dessert to celebrate the pregnancy or birth.
Nowadays, some couples opt to just return to the bakery that made their wedding cake on their one-year anniversary to order a cake with the same flavors. But many couples do stick to the cake-saving tradition despite its outdated origins.
If you’re hoping to preserve the top tier of the wedding cake to enjoy on your first anniversary, follow these steps to ensure maximum tastiness (but keep in mind that year-old cake is, well, year-old cake!).
- Freeze the cake immediately following the wedding for two hours. Leave the tier uncovered so that the outer layer of icing fully freezes. Our advice is to delegate this post-wedding task to a trusted friend or family member. You have a honeymoon to get to!
- After two hours, remove the cake from the freezer and wrap the entire tier with freezer-safe plastic wrap. Check the product packaging to make sure it is designed for freezing. Thoroughly wrap the cake with plastic wrap, making sure no spots are exposed, as this will help prevent freezer burn.
- Once the tier is tightly wrapped, place the cake in a cake box. Ask your wedding cake designer to provide one ahead of time.
- Next, wrap the cake box in the same plastic wrap for added protection.
- Lastly, place the cake box in the back of the freezer. Often it stays the coldest in the back of the freezer. On your first anniversary, unwrap your cake and reflect on your wedding day!
CANDY WEDDING FAVORS
Like many Western wedding traditions, candy wedding favors also date back in history to the European aristocracy.
In the 16th century, as a show of wealth, couples gave guests a bonbonniere, which was a small trinket box made of crystal, porcelain, and precious stones that was filled with candy or sugar cubes.
You must keep in mind that sugar was an expensive delicacy at the time. As sugar became more affordable, bonbonnieres were succeeded by sugar-coated almonds.
The now-traditional wedding favor of five Jordan almonds symbolizes five wishes for the newlyweds of health, wealth, happiness, fertility, and longevity.
RAIN ON THE WEDDING DAY
In some cultures, rain on your wedding day symbolizes fertility and cleansing.
While it might seem like it would put quite literally put a damper on the festivities, we say take it all in stride:
At the end of the day, you’re still marrying the love of your life, and that’s what really matters!
THE THRESHOLD CARRY
This superstition began in medieval Europe, when many believed that a bride was extra vulnerable to evil spirits through the soles of her feet.
To avoid bringing in any evil spirits, the groom carried the bride into their new home.
Bells are traditionally chimed at Irish weddings to keep evil spirits away and to ensure a harmonious family life.
Some Irish brides even carry small bells in their bouquets as a reminder of their sacred wedding vows and they are a common gift for newlyweds.
This superstition dates to the time of arranged marriages, when people believed that if the couple saw each other before the ceremony, it would give them a chance to change their minds about the wedding.
Today, however, many couples choose to meet up and even choose to have a “first touch,” during which they can hold hands and chat but still wait to see each other.
Back in the Dark Ages, the garter was considered a hot item. It’s said that family and friends would wait outside the nuptial bedchamber until they were shown evidence—sheets, stockings, a garter—that the marriage had been consummated (seriously!).
In time, the garter came to symbolize good luck, and rowdy guests began making a game of trying to strip the bride of that little fabric band. To distract the mob, brides began tossing it into the crowd.
Today, the practice usually involves the groom throwing the garter to a group of single men; whoever catches it is believed to be the next to marry.
CRYING ON THE WEDDING DAY
It is supposed to be good luck for the bride to cry on her wedding day because it symbolizes that she has shed all her tears and will not have any to shed during her marriage.
So, go ahead and get teary-eyed. Just be sure to wear some waterproof mascara!