By now, you’ve had a chance to read our recent blog post about the bizarre origins of today’s common wedding traditions. “Part 1” covered the weird and wild history behind bridal attire—including everything from engagement rings to wedding veils.
Today, we’re covering “Part 2″… The Ceremony! You might be surprised to find out how many of these common wedding traditions are tied to fertility and good luck. Read on to find out why we use the phrase “tie the knot,” or why it’s traditional to save the top layer of a wedding cake. Or perhaps the most entertaining… why we have a “best man!”
1. Tie the Knot: it’s a little funny that we commonly use the phrase “tie the knot.” In some cultures, the bride and groom would literally tie a knot (with ribbon, silk, or rope) around each other’s hands to symbolize their new commitment. Most American weddings do not include any kind of knot-tying at all, but we still like to borrow the phrase.
2. June Weddings: June weddings have always been popular, but not because of the weather. In ancient times, it was ideal to host a wedding during the month of the Roman goddess Juno—goddess of marriage and fertility.
Later, June weddings were preferred as a matter of “hygiene” (if you can even call it that!). Some historians speculate that peasants might have bathed only once or twice a year… so a June bride would still be smelling relatively good after her springtime bath in May.
3. Best Man: these days, your Best Man is tasked with throwing a great bachelor party and delivering a meaningful speech. However, his responsibilities used to be much more serious!
Long ago, bachelors seeking a wife would often plunder neighboring communities to find an eligible young wife and refresh his the isolated lineage of his own community. The “best” man was actually the best man a groom could find to help kidnap his intended bride (or protect his bride-to-be from kidnappers). The “Best Man” was chosen as a skilled swordsman and trustworthy soldier, who would even stand guard outside the newlyweds’ bedchamber to protect the consummation of their marriage.
4. Ring Bearer and Flower Girl: small children in a wedding ceremony were symbolic of the newlyweds’ own future children (hopefully!). The flower girl’s basket of petals symbolized fertility and prosperity. The ring bearer may have originated from an older tradition, where a bride’s ring was delivered on the tip of a sword… but, over time, evolved into an adorably dressed toddler reminding the happy couple of their duty to start a family.
5. Wedding Bells: not every venue still rings wedding bells for the modern bride, but the idea of “wedding bells are ringing” is still a common image today—and hearing the chime of church bells certainly reminds us of a happy bride and groom! However, in olden days, bells were tolled loudly to scare off evil spirits.
6. Wedding Cake: seems like a delicious treat to wrap up a fun party, right? Actually, wedding cakes originated from more serious symbolism… in ancient Rome, wedding guests broke a loaf of bread over the bride’s head to encourage fertility and to symbolize her husband’s dominance over her. We’re not sure why crumbs in your hair would promote fertility, but we’re definitely glad this tradition has evolved; we would much rather eat our cake than have it crumbled overhead!
7. Wedding Cake’s Top Layer: some couples might save the top layer of the wedding cake to enjoy on their one-year anniversary. It seems like a sweet way to celebrate one year of married happiness, but the original purpose was slightly different. It was assumed that the bride would be expecting a child soon after the wedding… so it made sense to save that top layer for nine months (give or take), when it could then be re-used as a celebratory treat at a child’s birth or christening.
8. Throwing Rice: guests sprinkled the newlyweds in rice to symbolize (yep, you guessed it!) fertility and prosperity. Though rice was most popular, any grain or oat could be used to symbolize the same goodwill.
9. Over the Threshold: grooms used to carry their new brides over the threshold so her feet wouldn’t brush up against any evil spirits living in the floor. Not surprisingly, most newlywed couples don’t seem too concerned about this anymore!
The threshold was also a contrived opportunity for the bride to demonstrate her purity… an innocent young bride wouldn’t want to appear too enthusiastic to enter the bedchamber. So, she would let the groom carry her across the threshold – as an act of courageous protection from evil spirits, and an act of “encouragement” – ultimately protecting the appearance of her purity.
10. Honeymooning: ancient Norse newlyweds went into hiding after the wedding ceremony, in order to protect the young bride from being stolen away (… and also to prevent any acquiescing brides from running away). A family member would bring the newlyweds a cup of honey wine to sustain them for 30 days (one moon). Thus—the honeymoon!
It’s always fun to peek into history and uncover the downright bizarre origins of today’s popular wedding traditions. However, it’s safe to say… we’re very glad that today’s weddings focus more on the couple than on their ability to immediately have children! Plus, we’re quite grateful that none of you have been forcibly kidnapped prior to the ceremony!
Luckily, today’s brides have plenty of options: put a modern twist on any of these traditions to make it your own, or feel free to skip any rituals that don’t fit your personality. Your day should be all about you.
Ready to start planning your big day? Whether or not you choose to save your cake topper, throw rice, or have a flower girl… we’ll make sure every detail of your special occasion reflects your vision. And of course, from bridal veil to wedding bells, we’ll do whatever we can to ward off all those evil spirits 😉
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