Brides wear a white dress and a veil, grooms toss garters, and we save the top tier of our wedding cakes. But why? Weddings are full of traditions. Have you ever wondered where they originated? Wonder no more!
The white wedding dress. Before Queen Victoria married Prince Albert in 1840, brides typically wore colorful wedding gowns. The trendsetting queen elected to wear a white ball gown instead of royal silver for her wedding, thereby giving rise to the tradition of wearing white. Queen Victoria also introduced the fresh flower bouquet. Prior to her wedding, brides held wreaths of herbs and spices to ward off evil spirits. Her offspring proved equally influential. “Here Comes the Bride” only became the go-to tune for walking down the aisle after Princess Victoria had it played at her wedding in 1858.
Lifting the veil. Back when marriage was considered more of a business deal than a romantic commitment, the father would lift the bride’s veil at the altar, symbolically offering her to the groom, or the groom would lift the veil after the ceremony to signify his ownership or dominance. In Jewish tradition, the veil was lifted before the ceremony to ensure the groom was marrying the right woman.
Something old, new, borrowed and blue. The tradition of the bride wearing something old (for continuity), new (optimism for the future), borrowed (happiness) and blue (fidelity, good fortune and love) on her wedding day stems from an old English rhyme. Brides often forget that there’s a fifth line to the rhyme: “A penny in your shoe.” Each token is said to help ensure a lifetime of fortune. Also, because happiness was believed to rub off on others, the “something borrowed” was to come from a happily married woman.
Wedding rings. A symbol of eternity and everlasting love (marked by its circular shape), the wedding ring’s origins can be traced back thousands of years. In ancient Egypt, a band of hemp or rush was worn on the third finger of the left hand, as it was believed that the vein on this finger led directly to the heart. Gold was traditionally used to represent enduring beauty, purity and strength.
Matching bridesmaids. Attendants originally served as protection against jealous demons out to get the bridal couple. Bridesmaids wore the exact same outfits as each other and the bride in order to confuse evil spirits.
The garter toss. Throwing the garter originated from old English custom called “flinging the stocking.” Guests would invade the bridal chamber, steal the bride’s stockings and take turns flinging them. Whoever threw the one that landed on the groom’s nose would be the next to marry.
The bouquet toss. It was considered good luck for guests at medieval weddings to tear off and take a piece of the bride’s dress. To distract them from grabbing and ripping their wedding dresses, brides began throwing their flowers.
The wedding cake. In ancient Rome, the wedding ended when a wheat or barley cake was broken over the bride’s head as a symbol of fertility. It wasn’t until later that edible confections began to appear at European weddings. Queen Victoria’s son Prince Leopold served the first entirely edible cake at his nuptials. Ever hear the rhyme, “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in the baby carriage?” Back in the day, when it was common for newlyweds to start families right away, the leftover top tier of the wedding cake was saved for the christening (usually one year later).
Carrying the bride across the threshold. Grooms in ancient cultures would carry brides over the threshold to prevent evil spirits from possessing the brides through the soles of their feet. In medieval Europe, the groom carried his virginal bride inside the home so she wouldn’t look too eager about what was expected to ensue and, thus, have her innocence called into question. Lifting the bride was more of a preventative measure in Western Europe, where it was considered unlucky for the bride to trip on her way inside.
For more information, check out The Knot.