The scary truth behind Wedding Traditions
Do you ever think about the wedding traditions that get incorporated into wedding days without a second thought? Wedding traditions are so deeply ingrained into us that skipping any could lead to gasps of horror from your guests along with the odd raised eyebrow. But how significant are they still in today’s society? Well, with my need to bulk up on more random facts and basically because I love reading and history, let’s discuss, shall we?
In this post, I wanted to share the surprising and sometimes scary truth behind some 12 wedding traditions out there in the big wide world of weddings. But before we start, a little reminder. People will always have an opinion whether you want it or not, so you do you. It’s the best and quickest way to relieve some of that pesky wedding stress.
So, if you’re thinking of ditching any wedding traditions and your cries of ‘because we said so’ are falling on deaf ears, read on for a few solid reasons to back you up and alternatives to incorporate into your day instead.
Wedding tradition no. 1: Couples shouldn’t see each other before the wedding
Today, we’re told the reason not to see each other before the ceremony is because of luck. The bad kind. Most people love the build-up of excitement and anticipation, which I’m all for as I’m a sucker for taking reaction photos to the first look down the aisle. However, back in the Middle Ages when weddings were arranged, they were very much seen as a business deal between the families. A father, handing his daughter over to a rich family, would want to keep her under wraps until she reached the altar so the groom couldn’t back out if he didn’t find her attractive. I have no words.
Alternative ideas to not seeing each other before the ceremony: Most couples tend to live together before getting married so you may opt to get ready and enjoy a leisurely morning together. Elopement couples tend to do this a lot but it doesn’t mean you can’t if you’re having a big wedding. The last person least likely you to stress you out on your wedding day, I’d hope would be your partner!
Alternatively, if you’ve been dreaming of bucks fizz and croissants with your wedding party as you get ready, but want to see your partner before your wedding, why not consider a first look? This trend originated in the US a few years back and is when a couple meet before the ceremony to have a private moment, while your photographer captures your reactions. For a lot of couples, this can also help calm their nerves and feel less stressed to get some of the photos out of the way to avoid any time crunches later in the day.
Wedding tradition no. 2: Wedding veil
I was going to combine this with the tradition above but veils are the ultimate wedding accessory so deserve their own section. Back in the days of setting traditions that will last centuries, large dowries of money, title or land would be part of the deal and the couple often didn’t know each other.
Veils have two traditions surrounding them. The first is that the veil was to hide the bride’s beauty and ward off evil spirits and jealousy that could ruin her happiness. In Ancient Greek, brides wore bright red veils to protect themselves from demons. The second reason is that during the times of arranged marriages the bride’s face would be covered until the groom had committed to the marriage and prevent him from having second thoughts. This slowly gave way to the idea the veil was to retain the bride’s purity. She wasn’t supposed to be seen by another man on her wedding until she was wed to her husband.
The veil is also the reason that up until October 2012, weddings in the UK (not Scotland - they were trendsetters here) could only take place between the hours of 8 am and 6 pm. In the 19th century, and pre-electricity, veils were heavy and thick. So a groom couldn’t make out the face of his bride if the church was too dark. Some families would swap out the daughter the groom thought he was marrying to get their spinster daughters off their hands! The candlelight made it hard to see through the veil!
In Victorian times, veils became a status symbol to show the social standing of the bride. The longer and heavier the veil the better.
Alternative wedding veil ideas: This one is simple as not every bride wears a veil so either wear one or don’t. Your choice and no stress.
Wedding tradition no. 3: Brides should wear white
Sticking with the bride, let’s talk about that white billowing wedding dress. Though white is often associated with purity and was thought to be the reason for it being the traditional colour for a virgin bride. The truth is women wore the best clothes they had to get married. Their Sunday best. They didn’t have the luxury of owning multiple dresses. White was also closely linked to wealth and only the wealthy could afford to wear it and keep it clean.
White has been a popular choice since Queen Victoria set the trend in 1840 for her marriage to Prince Albert wearing a white gown trimmed with lace.
Alternative ideas to the white bridal outfit: Although white and ivory is still the colour of choice for most brides, nothing is stopping you going for something a little different. Brides are wearing more colour in their dresses and sometimes forgoing the dress for jumpsuits or shorter dresses.
Wedding tradition no. 4: The bride is given away
For many brides, it’s a very special moment and part of the wedding process to walk down the aisle with their fathers. It also makes for some very emotionally charged photos that I love. The moment a father passes his daughter’s hands to her soon to be husband is a guaranteed tissue grabbing moment in a wedding.
The history of this act may surprise you. Back in Medieval Times, women were considered their father’s property and sold to their new owners. Their husbands, usually in exchange for a dowry.
Alternative ideas to giving the bride away: Today, of course, giving away the bride is seen more of a rite of passage that a business transaction. It is still a special moment and maybe something you’ve been looking forward to and that is fine and of course your choice. Your wedding, your way, after all.
Meghan Markle famously walked down the aisle on her own on her wedding day in 2018, with Prince Charles walking her the last part to the altar. You could also walk down the aisle with your mum, both parents, a sibling or another important figure in your life. Another option could be that you walk down the aisle with your partner. Watch those eyebrows disappear under a few hairlines!
Wedding tradition no. 5a: Wedding party - Maid of honour & bridesmaids
In the good old Dark Ages, bridesmaids had one purpose. To confuse jealous suitors and evil spirits. Not sure how smart these spirits were if they can’t tell the difference, but I digress. Brides and their bridesmaids would wear the same dress and veil as the bride to help with the confusion as to who the bride was. The Maid of honour was the main distraction to protect the bride from coming to harm.
Bridesmaids had a more spiritual role initially but as this tradition has developed and bridesmaids are chosen by the bride to support her during the celebrations. I think even the strongest friendships could be tested if protector from evil spirits was still on the modern bridesmaids’ task list!
Wedding tradition no. 5b: Wedding party - Best man & groomsmen
Long before the best man was responsible for embarrassing the groom during his speech, he had to make sure the bride didn’t escape during the ceremony. If necessary, he would kidnap her! If the bride’s family weren’t happy about the arrangement and didn’t approve of the marriage, the best man had to make sure the groom could take her away regardless.
Our modern view of the best man is the groom’s best friend or relative. Well, he was actually the best swordsman or most capable with any weapon to fight off enemies and rival attackers during the ceremony. Makes keeping the rings safe seem like a trivial task.
Along the same lines, groomsmen were members of the groom’s family or friends selected for their sword skills. Hmm, makes a Game of Thrones wedding seem like child’s play. Similar to the best man, they were to defend the couple while they were at the altar.
Alternative wedding party ideas: Your bridesmaid doesn’t have to a woman. And your best man doesn’t need to be a man. Our social groups over the past couple of decades have become more diverse and it’s not unusual for a bride to have a male best friend in the wedding party or vice versa for the groom. So once again for those at the back. It’s your wedding. Mix it up if you want to.
Wedding tradition no. 6: Wedding rings
Some wedding traditions have nothing to do with evil spirits. Yay! Historically, the bride’s ring symbolised ownership. In early Roman and Greek cultures, rings were used as a guarantee to pay the father of the bride. Exchanging wedding rings dates back centuries and the symbolism and custom of wearing wedding rings has become fixed in many cultures around the world.
During World War 2, servicemen wore wedding rings as a way to remember their wives and a sign of their commitment. This later became popular with civilians and couples now give each other rings.
Alternative ideas to wedding rings: Wedding rings symbolise a commitment but there are still lots of non-traditional ways to show your commitment if rings are not for you. Or even if you’re just allergic to precious metals. Matching necklaces or other jewellery like watches. If you’re into tattoos, a tattoo ring may be an idea. You can make the design unique to you both too. You could create a bucket list of the things you want to do together. A ring is a symbol of the life you want to share, after all. Frame your wedding certificate rather than leaving it to gather dust in the drawer. The list is endless.
Wedding tradition no. 7: Throwing confetti over the happy couple
So with the wedding now official, over. As the couple headed out of the church, rice or wheat were thrown over their head by guests to encourage prosperity and fertility. Confetti throwing started back as far as Ancient Greece when leaves and petals were showered over people during weddings or other celebrations. Moving through the centuries and this evolved to other items also being thrown such as coins, flowers, grain, eggs and even mud but that’s another and longer story. Some of these items were painful for the couple or ruined their outfits.
Confetti comes from Italian and are sugar-coated almonds. They were given to celebrate life’s special moments. Interestingly enough, they are still given out at wedding today as favours. Plaster imitation sugared almonds were thrown at newlyweds until banned in France at the beginning of the 19th century. Paper confetti then became the norm across Europe. Finally getting married was less painful.
Alternative ideas to throwing confetti: Not going to lie, colourful confetti makes for amazing photo opportunities. These days, most venues, however, will only let you throw confetti if its biodegradable or dried petals with good reason. In recent years blowing bubbles has become a trend as an alternative to confetti. Something to consider if you don’t want to be finding confetti in your bra the day after.
Wedding tradition no. 8: Men give the speeches
Speeches are up there as one of my favourite parts of a wedding. They can sometimes give you a great insight into the couple. Though of course, usually from the perspective of the men in the couple’s lives. The father of the bride who would have paid for the day would kick off the speeches. This tradition is one that might be on the way out, but in generations gone past, the idea of a woman giving a speech at a wedding was unheard of. And most definitely not the bride.
The origins of speeches/wedding toasts can be found in Ancient Greece. The wine would be poured from a pitcher and the father of the bride, the host, would drink from his glass first to prove there was no poison in the wine before the celebrations continued.
Alternative speeches ideas: Brides giving speeches has become more commonplace. Along with other female wedding party guests. I’ve not seen one yet but think about doing a joint wedding speech. If you or your partner aren’t keen on public speaking, doing a speech together will give you both the strength you need to calm your nerves.
If you don’t want to risk free-flowing embarrassing speeches, cut out them all together!
Wedding tradition no. 9: Cutting the cake
I’m going to say it now. There is nothing wrong with wedding cake. The end!
OK fine. I’ll spill the beans. It used to be that only the bride cut the cake to symbolise the loss of her virginity. You noticing a theme with weddings and women yet? As wedding guest lists grew so cakes became multi-tiered and covered with royal icing, the bride need help from the groom to cut through the cake. Thanks to Bronya at Daisy Cake Company for her insider knowledge on this!
It’s one of the most anticipated moments of the reception as it’s the first act a couple will perform together. Most couples grip and grin through it as they wait for every single guest to get their phones and cameras to capture the moment.
Alternative ideas to cutting the cake: If you’re over being in the spotlight come this time of your wedding day, skip it. If you want to cut the cake symbolically, grab your photographer before the reception starts, cut the cake and then let the caterers take your cake to plate it up for dessert. Just don’t rule out cake altogether. They have come a long way from the simple three-tier numbers and make gorgeous statements. The imagination and skills of modern wedding cake designers is out of this world.
Wedding tradition no. 10: Tossing the bouquet
The modern wedding bouquet is usually a thing of beauty, wouldn’t you say? Whether they are simple and elegant, colourful and exotic, they tend to be gorgeous masterpieces. However, their beauty wasn’t the reason women initially carried them.
In Ancient Rome the carrying or wearing of flower crowns signified new beginnings, fidelity and fertility. In the Middle Ages, strong herbs and potent flowers were used to mask the smell of body odour and ward off those pesky evil spirits. People had a bath once a year back then, usually in May. June weddings were a popular month for weddings for this reason as people were still relatively fresh from their bath. But a month is a long time. To hide the smell and not frighten off her husband-to-be, women carried bouquets.
Being a bride was considered to be lucky. Guests - read single women - would try and tear off bits and pieces of a bride’s dress, flowers or hair as they believed it would pass some of her good luck to them. But even back then, guests can get rowdy after a jug or two of mead, so as the tradition evolved, the bride would throw her flowers at the crowd and run for her life.
Alternative ideas to tossing the bouquet: I’m not a fan of the gathering of hounding or almost shaming the single women at a wedding to stand front and centre to catch the bouquet, especially when they are dragged up from their seats by the bride or called out. I do like it when women make a joke of it and pretend to limber up to get the bouquet. The photos are legendary!
If you have friends you know aren’t going to want to be a part of this wedding ritual, don’t force them into a situation that will make them uncomfortable likely for the rest of your wedding. Maybe give your bouquet to a special friend or relative instead. Alternatively, you could split the bouquet up and share between a number of guests.
More brides are opting for faux flowers or jewelled bouquets they keep as a memento and don’t toss. Just as well as some of them are like little missiles and who wants a trip to A&E on their wedding day?!
Wedding tradition no. 11: Tossing the garter
Thankfully the garter toss is slowly losing its relevancy in modern times. Whereas the bouquet was tossed to ensure the bride remained clothed, the garter was tossed to symbolise that the groom had made things official. It likely originated from the medieval bedding ceremony. Couples didn’t wait until the honeymoon to consummate their marriage. They were expected to do the deed not long after exchanging vows. And sometimes witnesses were needed to…well, witness things.
Bridal garters were traditionally considered love tokens with magical properties, similar to a bride’s attire. So once the deed was done, the groom removed his wife’s garter and throw it at the waiting crowd as evidence of their successful consummation.
Alternative ideas to tossing the garter: Instead of the groom fishing around under the bride’s dress to get the garter, if you do want to still make this part of your reception, toss a garter no one’s been wearing and avoid a cringe-fest. Otherwise, remove it completely from the evening’s events. No one is really going to miss it, are they?
Wedding tradition no. 12: The first dance
When there were high society and royal balls regularly, the first dance started the party. The guest of honour would invite the lady of the house to join him on the dance floor. It has, of course, evolved into a wedding tradition. At first, the host, normally the bride’s father, would dance with her, followed by the groom. Now the first dance is the couple getting married.
Alternative first dance ideas: This can be a stressful part of the reception for couples who don’t dance, can’t dance or won’t dance. You could invite your parents and/or other couples to join you on the dance floor to make your first dance less nerve-wracking. Or open the dance floor with a song. Make it a song that can get the dance floor filled to officially kick off the party.
Are you still with me?! So there you have it, so 12 of the most popular wedding day traditions. There are of course loads of traditions surrounding weddings but I wanted to focus just on the day of ones. Who knows, I may explore the others at some point.
While looking at the traditions surrounding weddings may make you baulk, today we have the right, the power and intelligence to make the best decisions for ourselves. Choosing a tradition (or not) is a personal choice and you can embrace them wholeheartedly or bin them. It’s your wedding and only you can and should decide what you will do. If you want your father to give you away, do it. If you want to wear a traditional white wedding dress, you go for it.
At the end of the day, traditions are beliefs or behaviour passed down within society and from generation to generation. These traditions as you can see have changed and been tweaked over the centuries. What we do at weddings today will have an impact on what couples do on their wedding day a hundred years from now.
I’m a huge lover of history and found looking into these so interesting. I have to admit, some of them made me shake my head. As I got deeper into my research I worried this post would put people off marriage! But, then I reasoned it’s important to know why these traditions exist to begin with and for couples to then decide what they mean to their wedding day.
If you’re happy/not happy with the tradition and their significance, then, in the wise words of Yoda… do or do not, there is no try. It was a different time back then and weddings were very much of sealing a deal. A business transaction. But what wasn’t steeped in love initially makes for some memorable moments in a wedding today.
If this post hasn’t put you off marriage (I really hope not), let’s chat about how to make your photography experience as unique as you are.