Most of us picture lifting the veil for that first “man and wife” kiss or the tossing of grains of rice as the couple rushes off to their getaway car. But, did you ever stop and wonder “why”? We’re rounding off the top 15 wedding traditions and they’re – sometime very odd – origins.
Many customs are expected in modern weddings, but some wedding customs will shock you once you discover the symbolism and intent behind them. But, don’t worry. Most of these strange marriage customs have evolved quite a bit since they began, and carry entirely different meanings now. So, this is just a little education and a lot of fun.
1. Wedding Veil
There’s a bit of debate about this tradition. Some schools of thought are that virgin brides were the preferred prey of evil spirits. Veiling the bride would protect her from being identified and swept away. A competing belief holds its origins in arranged marriages thinking that if the groom saw the bride and did not approve of her looks, he would refuse the marriage before the ceremony took place.
2. Flower Girl
In Ancient Rome, where the flower girl tradition would spread wheat and spice, not flowers. There was a strong connection between harvest season and fertility, which is what this custom is meant to encourage through the newlyweds honeymoon.
3. Throwing Rice
Keeping with the theme of wheat, Ancient Rome, and fertility, the rice wedding tradition was originally – you guessed it – the practice of throwing wheat to encourage fertility. Opposing views state that it’s always been rice and that this mimics rain falling from the sky, symbolizing prosperity and good fortune.
4. Cans on the Getaway Car
You’ll have to choose your favorite here. Some say that hitting the couple’s getaway car with shoes or cans as they drive off is simply good luck. This may stem from another tradition where leaving the wedding with a piece of the bride’s outfit indicates you’ll be the next to wed, but there’s not much support for this.
More likely this is an evolution of the wedding ceremony traditions of “shivaree” where guests escort the couple home banging pots and pans to encourage them to have sex. Finally, like with so many other Western traditions, the cans are meant to drive off spirits with their loud noises.
5. Wedding Cake
This one is a bit of a shocker. The origin of wedding cake is actually bread that the groom breaks over the bride’s head, and guests scramble to scoop up the crumbs to bring home for good luck. Traditionally it was wheat bread they used to, again, symbolize fertility. This transformed into cake when Romans started adding salt to the wheat and serving it as cakelike discs. The first occurrence of the white tiered cake was mid-17th Century when a French baker saw stacks of cakes and determined there must be a better presentation for the likes of King Charles II. We’re not sure if it was measurably “better”; the first tiered cake was atop broomsticks.
6. “Tie the Knot”
This ritual still holds roots in modern, non-traditional American marriage traditions. Instead of an aisle and a set of rings, ancient Pagans (Celtic tribes to be specific) would wander into the woods and perform and handfasting ceremony. Couple’s hands were literally tied together as a symbol of unity.
7. Wedding Ring
If you aren’t already familiar with these common wedding traditions, some of the ladies reading this may be a little disappointed. In Western culture, wedding rings were part of the dowery that the father of the bride would receive. The groom wouldn’t wear a ring, but the bride would as a display of being a man’s “property”.
But, there’s a silver lining. Go back further and head east to Egypt. This is likely the very first instance of wedding rings, and they believed that the “ring finger” holds a vein the leads directly to the heart. They wore a ring on this finger because the circle represents eternity. Now that’s more like it!
8. Wearing White
You would assume that wearing white is a tradition of virginal purity, but you would be wrong. The actual origin is a little more superficial than that. Head back to Victorian-Era England and just try to imagine how difficult it would be to get cloth to be pure white, let alone keep it clean. White clothing was incredibly expensive, and Queen Victoria chose the color for her gown to show off her elite status.
But, as everything else on this list, meanings change over time. You can choose an off-white color for your bridal gown and try to explain how things really are, but people will assume things.
This is probably the most fun tradition from this entire list. Competing suitors and evil spirits were constantly trying to get at engaged brides. For protection, the bride would surround herself with friends dressed identically to throw off the villains. “Always the bridesmaid and never the bride” takes on an entirely different meaning when there’s a chance you’ll be kidnapped!
10. Something Borrowed, Something Blue
Spring boarding from the misinterpreted “pure white”, it’s actually the color blue that represents purity as well as fidelity. Why? Think of every image you’ve ever seen of the Virgin Mary. She’s always wearing a blue robe.
11. Toss the Bouquet
In medieval times, wedding traditions for bride would force women to go out of their way to tear a piece of the bride’s gown, often ripping it to shreds. They did this to get a piece of the bride’s good luck in life and in love. Because of the destructive nature of this tradition, brides began tossing bouquets and garter belts instead.
12. Poker Face
Most couples are grinning ear-to-ear through the days leading up to their wedding. But, in the Congo it’s considered a bad omen if the bride or groom smile; it means they aren’t serious about their marriage.
13. Get Cupid
One of the more different wedding traditions in China, the groom shoots his bride several times over with a bow and arrow, and then breaks the shafts for good luck. Don’t worry, the arrow tips are removed to prevent injury.
14. Above and Beyond
We’re all familiar with the formality of asking the bride’s father for his blessing before popping the question. This is nerve racking for us North Americans, but it’s no sweat compared to what men go through in Fiji. When considering giving his blessing or not, the future father in law is also expecting a traditional whale’s tooth. Perhaps the thought behind this is that if a man is tough enough to pluck a tooth from a whale he’s tough enough to take care of this daughter.
In Germany, guests follow through with the tradition of smashing porcelain dishes on the ground. We’ve seen this elsewhere around the globe, so nothing strange right? Well, the Germans add an extra step. The bride and groom must band together to clean up the giant mess in an exercise that’s meant to prove they can tackle any task together.
There are dozens of wedding traditions out there, and it seems like each is stranger than the next. When it comes time for you to walk down the aisle and you’re feeling stressed, think about this post and about how you’ll be tossing your bouquet so that women don’t tear your gown apart, or that your bridesmaids are protecting you from ghosts.