Although it’s hard for historians to pinpoint the exact genesis of the varied wedding traditions, you might be surprised by the origins of the most common bridal customs still being practiced today.
Veils – At some point, veils were used to keep the bride’s looks a secret so that a groom wouldn’t back out of an arranged marriage should he not find his bride attractive. These days, your man undoubtedly knows exactly what he’s getting!
Bouquets – Some suggest the bouquet may have started with brides carrying spices (such as sage and garlic) in an attempt to ward off evil spirits or even the plague. At the very least, they camouflaged the smell of unwashed bodies. Aren’t we glad we no longer have to walk down the aisle smelling like grandma’s tortellini?
Best Man – The strongest and most capable of a groom’s friends would go with him to kidnap his bride. He was charged with stamping out any resistance the bride’s family might put up. Luckily these responsibilities have been reduced to picking up the tuxes and arriving on time.
Garter Toss – In days gone by, the bride’s dress was said to be good luck and guests would sometimes rip a souvenir off for themselves. Happily, these days most are satisfied with this tidbit of discarded lace.
White Wedding Dresses – Queen Victory started this trend in 1840 when she wed Prince Albert. Seen as a sign of luxury, white was unaffordable for most women of the time, impractical and impossible to keep clean. The association with virginity came later, and luckily for most modern brides, isn’t a requirement.
Groom’s Cake – Lore has it that taking a slice of this dessert home and placing it under your pillow would allow single women to dream of their future mates. Given how delicious and decadent they usually are, modern singles may have to be satisfied with a few crumbs in a Ziploc bag.
Handfasting – Originally this may have been a Celtic tradition which bound the couple for a little over a year. The modern adaptation of tying the knot, however, is considered a little more permanent.
Bridesmaid’s Dresses – The role of this tradition, where bridesmaids dressed in dresses similar to the brides, was to confuse evil spirits lurking around to curse the happy couple on their big day. If you are one of the unlucky bridesmaids forced to wear pink taffeta, ruffles and bows however, you might be cursing the bride yourself.
Carrying the Bride Across the Threshold – Perhaps this is a leftover from the Roman days, when brides were often kidnapped and forced into matrimony, or an attempt to save face for the bride whose modesty demanded she be reluctant to consummate the marriage in Medieval days, or as a way to avoid the bad luck of a bride tripping on the threshold. Whatever the case, it’s all the more reason for that pre-wedding diet!
Wedding Bells – Wedding bells not only announced a pending marriage, but also kept evil spirits at bay for the ceremony, the modern day equivalent of newspaper announcement and bouncer rolled into one.
Jumping the Broom – The hotly debated origins of this ritual may have been in Africa, Asia, or Europe, but came to be widely practiced by African American slaves, who in lieu of formal state recognition of marriage, could at least recognize it symbolically. Couples today keep the symbolism alive, jumping into wedding bliss across the country.
For the happy bride,
Something old, something new,
Something borrowed, something blue,
And a silver sixpence in her shoe.
In this time-honored English rhyme the something old represents the bride’s family and past; the something new is hope for the future; the something borrowed is for a little good luck from another happily married couple; the something blue stands for fidelity; and the sixpence is for sheer good luck.