Origins of Wedding Traditions

Image of wedding cake

In a historical context or why we celebrate the way we do. Gathered from a lecture at the Taft Museum about the history of wedding traditions.

  • June is the best month for marriage because Janis is the goddess of marriage. You want to bear a child in spring so as not to interrupt the harvest.
  • The Wedding Party was a group of men that instigated a marriage by capture. They would scout out a nearby village and take a look at the women there. Later,they would return with their warriors, including their “Best Man” meaning the toughest and strongest, to do the kidnapping of the best prospective woman to be the bride. 
  • In ancient Roman times it took 10 witnesses for a couple to become legally married.These ten were called The Wedding Party. An Usher was often needed to separate the bride’s and the groom’s families to avoid fighting to erupt between sometimes warring factions of the marrying families. 
  • Maid of Honor did all the work for your wedding. She made the dress for the bride and prepared the feast for the celebration.
  • The Shower is a tradition from Holland. A bride without a dowry would be given gifts by friends to provide one for her. Sometimes a Parasol would be filled with gifts that was semi-closed.When it was opened by the bride to be, she would get showered with gifts.
  • A Bouquet would be created for very specific reasons. One would be for fragrance. You would usually include some stinky herbs to ward off evil spirits as it was thought that brides were especially vulnerable to evil spirits and these herbs kept them away.
  • Tossing of the Bouquet and the Garter could preserve the dress by getting rid of the flowers. It was also good luck for anyone to have a piece of a bride.
  • The Ring represented unending love with no beginning and no end. 
  • The Romans were aware that our hearts were on our left side. The vein through the left arm to the finger in the left hand is “Venus Amoris” which means vein of love. Thus you needed to wear your wedding band on your left hand on that particular finger.
  • The Kiss - When you kissed another on the mouth souls were exchanged to “Seal the Deal”
  • The Veil - Many couples never saw each other before their wedding.The father of the bride would walk the betrothed up to the altar and not until the bride and groom were officially married could the groom lift up the veil to see his bride. In the 1920s bobbed hair and shorter dresses were the fashion with long veils.
  • To Tie the Knot is more like untying the knot.This refers to the groom untying the brides corset before consummating their marriage.
  • Cake - The Romans broke a loaf of bread over the brides head so they would never be hungry.
  • Receptions in medieval times were a BYOB feast. One might bring a spiced bun and leave it at the entrance to the feast. There the chef would ice it with frosting and tier it up with other sweetofferings.Thus, the first tiered cake. 
  • The Hoopa in the Jewish culture represented a heritage of no particular country, symbolic of a tent. 
  • When the bride and groom stomped on a glass to break at the ceremony, it represented that love was fragile. 
  • African American Culture, under slavery, often had to keep their marriages a secret, so they called it “jumping the broom’. Count 1-2-3 then jump into a new life together. If you jumped high, you would have many children.
  • Rice throwing also included other nuts and grains which encouraged fertility.
  • The White Wedding Dress -Queen Victoria was quite plain. She wore a gown of white satin and lace to surprise her groom. It was the first white wedding gown recorded. She also wore fresh orange blossoms in her hair instead of a crown. This was 1840.
  • Victorians set up the simple tradition that we try to fulfill today:
    • Something Old (taking your family with you) Something New (gift from one’s future husband), Something Borrowed( symbol of a happy marriage), Something Blue( symbol of faithfulness) and a Silver Sixpence in Her Shoe( to start out with money of her own) 
  • The Honeymoon is a combination of two traditions. Honeymead was a wine made of honey which was given to the newlyweds and at one time the bride and groom went off alone together for 28 days, a full cycle of the moon.