From the dress to the rings, the bouquet, the bridesmaids, and the cake, most of us could probably script a wedding. We know the storyline, the characters, the setting details, even the dialogue. Of course, turning that concept into reality is usually much easier said than done!
Jamie and I eloped on a whim, so we didn’t have a wedding or experience the long planning process that accompanies one. Although, we’ve heard from countless brides by now just how crazy and stressful that planning can be! There are so many decisions to be made and traditions to keep. It seems daunting and overwhelming to say the least… And after years of shooting weddings in New Orleans, I had to wonder, “Why?” Why do couples do the things they do? Why are certain elements or traditions so important?
Well, I did my research, and I the stuff I found was crazy! If you’re curious like me, allow me to present the strange origins of our wedding customs and traditions:
When thinking about wedding dresses, one usually envisions a white cascading gown that represents purity, right? Well, as it turns out, white wasn’t “the” color to get married in until 1840, when Queen Victoria married Prince Albert. Although there were other royal women on record who’d chosen to wed in white before Queen Victoria, blue was actually the color that represented purity and virginity back then. Whereas, white was the color French women wore during mourning!
The bridal veil has several different associations. In the days of arranged marriages, the woman’s face was covered in case the groom didn’t like what he saw at the altar. Once he saw her face, it was too late! In ancient Rome, brides were believed to be vulnerable to enchantment, so veils were used to protect them from evil spirits on their wedding day. These brides wore veils in gold, orange, or red colors to ward off such spirits. A Roman bride’s veil was also as long as she was tall, so it could later be used as her burial shroud. (Can you imagine being buried in your wedding veil?!) It wasn’t until the Victorian era that the long, white, and elaborate veil was used -and it was done as a status symbol.
It has been said that women used to carry bouquets down the aisle to meet their grooms, because people smelled really bad way back when. There’s only one problem with this theory: soap was around way back when! The real reason women began carrying bouquets was, once again, to ward off evil spirits. Garlic was specifically included in the bride’s bouquet for this reason. Other herbs were carried to offset the garlic; for example, rosemary and sage were added to represent wisdom. Even dill was added to bouquets to be consumed by the bride and groom to increase desire! I mean, if there’s one thing that turns men on, it’s dill. Right? Lest we forget the flower girls, who carried sheaves of wheat symbolizing growth and fertility for the newlyweds.
This tradition began in order to physically protect the bride from wedding guests! Apparently, in medieval England, there was a thing called “fingering the stocking.” This charming tradition involved guests entering the wedding chamber to inspect the bride’s stockings for signs of consummation. Then, they would literally fling the stockings at the newlyweds! The first to successfully land a stocking on one of their heads was supposedly the next to marry. Over in France, things weren’t any better. At the end of those ceremonies, guests rushed the bride at the altar to snatch a piece of her dress! Because, naturally, tearing a piece of your loved one’s dress was good luck. These practices became so intrusive and invasive that eventually someone, somewhere, decided to pacify the mob by tossing out the garter. Sheesh!
In Ancient times, men stole their brides. This is no joke! They’d show up at the bride’s home and take her kicking and screaming. Since the families of these poor women often tried to save them, grooms began bringing along their best, strongest man to help them fight off angry relatives. And it didn’t end there! Sometimes, the families went to the wedding to steal her back. So it was the best man’s duty to fight them away and “protect” the groom’s bride. As it turns out, this “bride stealing” is also the reason the bride traditionally stands to the left of the groom. Most people are right handed, and the groom needed to keep his sword hand free to defend his bride at the altar. Who said chivalry is dead?
Just in case the veil and the bouquet wasn’t enough, in ancient times the bride and her bridesmaids dressed identically to confuse those dreaded evil spirits. The tradition of wearing the same dresses continued throughout history in order to camouflage the bride as she was walked from her village to the groom’s village. That way, determining who was soon to be wed was harder for anyone waiting to steal the bride and her dowry along the way. By the Victorian era, veils were essentially the only the thing that distinguished the bride from her maids. The bride wore a long voluminous veil, while her maids wore shorter ones. Teamwork!!!
Ready for another bride stealing reference? Well, honeymoons began as a Norse tradition that poked fun at these abductions! In the original tradition, married couples went into hiding for 30 days after their wedding, and a family member or friend brought the couple mead wine (honey wine) every day that they were in “hiding”. Since it takes thirty days for a lunar month to pass, this month of daily honey wine became known as the “honey moon”.
Wedding rings have been used to symbolize betrothal all the way back to ancient Egyptian times. Except their rings were braided circles of reeds tied to the bride’s wrists and ankles to keep her spirit from running away during the ceremony! Later, in European countries, a ring on the finger symbolized the bindings around the hands and feet of a woman stolen to become someone’s bride. It wasn’t until the 12th century, however, that wedding rings became the norm after a Pope decreed that brides must be married in churches and receive rings. That Pope also lengthened engagements to one year, so people began using engagement rings as signs that they were spoken for. And diamond engagement rings didn’t become popular until the recent 20th century, when a commercial by DeBeers stated that “a diamond is forever”. Thank you, DeBeers!!!
Originally, the wedding cake was thrown at the bride for fertility! In ancient Rome, the marriage wasn’t sealed with a kiss, but with the groom smashing a cake made of barley over the bride’s head. The tradition had somewhat evolved by medieval times; in England, cakes were brought to the wedding by guests, and the couple was expected to kiss over the tower of sweet baked goods and breads. However, it wasn’t until the mid-16th century that tastier prettier cakes were being made, already stacked in tiers. Then, couples would save the top tier to serve at their first child’s christening, which was expected to happen within one year of marriage.
Wild, right? I hope you enjoyed learning the bizarre origins of our wedding traditions as much as I did. May it provide you with insight and laughs as you plan and enjoy your wedding day!