Wedding Traditions: What You Didn’t Know
Evil spirits and bridesmaids’ dresses
The typical North American wedding is just bursting with meaningful traditions—if you know where to look. Take bridesmaids’ dresses. They’re not just evil looking; they’re evil-repellent.
If you’ve ever wondered why bridesmaids all dress the same, it’s because Roman law required ten witnesses to make a wedding legal. Several of these witnesses dressed up exactly like the bride and groom, to confound any malevolent forces who might show up uninvited. Europeans followed a similar tradition, and later bridesmaids and groomsmen sometimes did have to defend the happy couple against real-life thugs and warriors.
Ring around the…
If you’ve ever wondered why Americans put the wedding ring on the third finger of the left hand, it’s because of an ancient Greek belief that a vein in this finger ran directly to the heart. And if you’ve ever groaned at having to buy both an engagement ring and a wedding ring, you can blame Pope Innocent III, who instituted a waiting period between engagement and marriage in the 13th century and also insisted that a ring be used in the wedding ceremony. Before that, rings were used to seal an engagement only (as well as other important agreements).
You may exchange souls with the bride
Yes, this is what the big wedding kiss symbolizes—the swapping of souls between the bride and groom. Even earlier than this Christian belief, the Romans used a kiss to seal a contract. The kiss was considered legally binding. I don’t know about you, but I’m glad that a handshake suffices today.
What’s more, a bride marrying in the Church of England had to kiss the minister before she smooched the groom. I would really love to go to a wedding where the minister said, “Now, I may kiss the bride.”
Where’s the toast?
We call it a “toast” when we drink to someone because of an old French custom in which a piece of bread was put in the bottom of the wine cup—for flavor.
Partygoers would drink and pass the cup; when it reached the person being toasted, he would drain it—crouton and all. It sounds pretty unhygienic. But think of how much more excitement a crunchy beverage would bring to the traditional wedding toast. I’d drink to that.
Toss me a garter
Many things are thrown through the air at weddings: rice (for fertility), bouquets (for luck and protection), and garters (also for luck). The garter is my favorite.
Apparently, in the good old days, before wedding dresses cost as much as small cars, people used to rip off chunks of the dress for good luck. The garter was like some lizards’ tails: something that could be shucked off in self-defense.
In long-ago England, in a slightly related custom, friends of the groom would rip off their socks and throw them; the first to hit the groom’s nose would be the next to be married.
Lefty loosey, righty…bridey?
No, lefty loosey, righty tighty is for screws. Traditionally, the bride stands on the left, the groom on the right. (Although the Jewish wedding tradition reverses this). Weddings used to be a lot more like the ones you watch on daytime TV, with dastardly ex-suitors and other thugs sometimes rushing the altar. Of course, some wedding crashers were heroes just trying to rescue a captured bride. Whatever the reason for the interference, the groom needed to keep his right hand free so he could grab his sword, thus the bride stood clear and to the left. I have no idea what happened when the groom was left-handed.
Used with permission from Martha Brockenbrough.