Down to Details: The Origins of Wedding Traditions
When we’re at a wedding we give little thought to why things happen the way and when they do during the ceremony. But like many things we do today, wedding traditions, from the main elements to the smallest details, are centuries old.
The origins of marriage customs often come from a time when marriage happened by force or capture, and in later times when marriage was arranged through purchase or contract. Thankfully marriage by mutual love means there are less brides fleeing the altar, but lots of these traditions from those times are still being practiced by couples today.
Lots of the old traditions have been forgotten, but we take a look at some that still exist in a modern marriage ceremony.
Wearing a veil
The practice of covering the bride’s face is one that is seen around the world. But did you know that the first veils were worn out of superstition? The veil was worn as protection against evil spirits, because they would not know who the bride was until it was too late. The Romans believed that demon spirits were jealous of people’s happiness, and since weddings were happy events, it was necessary to confuse the devil. So Roman brides wore veils to bamboozle the devil who was out to ruin the day.
Giving Away the Bride
Have you ever wondered why the minister asks ‘Who gives this woman to be married to this man? The tradition of the father giving away his daughter has its roots in the days when women were the father's property until they got married. It was the father's right to give away his child to the groom, usually for a bride price or dowry. Once the bride had been ‘given away’ she then became her husband's property. Good thing that modern grooms know better!
Bride on the left
Have you noticed that a bride always stands on the groom’s left at the altar? The tradition stems from the days when the groom needed to keep his right hand, which he used to hold his sword, free in case he had to defend his bride from other suitors who may try to whisk her off at the last minute. He also needed his hand free in case she decided to run off because the groom had kidnapped her!
The Best Man
There was a time when a bride didn’t get much choice about who she married, so a groom would bring his strongest and most trusted friend in case the bride would decide to run away. He was also there for weddings where the bride’s family were against the union and might try to stop the wedding and break up the happy couple. The word ‘Best’ refers to his skill with a sword, although we doubt many modern best men would be very useful with one. The best man stands guard next to the groom right up through the exchange of vows just in case he’s needed.
Where would a bride be without her bridesmaids - but where does the tradition of bridesmaids come from? Well, the theory is that they originated in Roman Law which required ten witnesses at a wedding in order to outsmart evil spirits who had crashed the ceremony. The bridesmaids would be dressed in identical clothing to the bride, and groomsmen dressed the same as the groom, so that the spirits would not know who was getting married. Even in Victorian England you would see some weddings where the bride and groom dressed in the same clothes as other members of the bridal party. By 1898, fashion dictated that the bridesmaids' dresses were different to the bride's so it would not distract from the beauty of her gown.
Kissing the bride
The Romans are the ones who started this tradition too! If the wedding satisfied Roman laws, the bride and groom were committed to marry each other at the betrothal, a formal ceremony between the two families. Gifts would be exchanged and the dowry agreed. Then a written agreement would be signed and the deal was sealed with a kiss. The kiss has become more of a sign of commitment today, but it’s our favorite way to end a wedding ceremony.