|Wedding Traditions and Folklore
Try not to get too involved.
Many are folklore and simply good silly fun.
|For those of you who always wondered where some of the traditions and old tales for
weddings come from, Reverend Robert Joy has answered some of those questions for us.
Many thanks to the good Reverend for allowing me to use his information on my website!
|Many of today's popular wedding ceremony and reception traditions can be traced to
ancient Egyptian and European customs.
Many of these were based on symbolism, superstition, folklore, religion, and the early belief
that evil spirits could bring disease and death to newlyweds and crops (the focal point of
many farm-based early cultures).
Although the exact origin and usefulness of many of these early wedding traditions are
unclear, popular acceptance has allowed them to flourish. Besides, many of these wedding
traditions are just plain fun!
According to various sources, some of the early marriages were literally carried out by the
Groom (and his Brides men or Brides knights) who would kidnap a woman (the origin of
"carrying a Bride over the threshold") from another tribe! The Groom (and his fellow
conspirators) would then fight off the female's family of tribesmen with swords held in their
right hand while the Groom would hold the captured Bride in his left hand (the origin of why
a "Bride stands on the left side of the Groom" at a wedding).
After a successful capture, another politically correct practice was for the Groom to hide his
new Bride for one month for mating purposes. It is said that the word "honeymoon" was
created to describe this one month cycle of the moon when they would drink mead (a
honey sweetened alcoholic brew that effects both sobriety and the acidity of the womb thus
|The word, "Wedding" comes from the Anglo-Saxon word "wedd" that meant a man would marry a woman and pay the
Bride's father. If only there had been an early equivalent to television's Roseanne or Miss Piggy, this practice no
doubt would have ended quickly!
Wedding bouquets were originally made of strong herbs (thyme and garlic) to frighten away evil spirits, and to cover
the stench emitting from people who had not bathed recently!
In ancient times, it was believed that a Bride was especially lucky on her wedding day. Guests would sometimes tear
at her dress for a souvenir piece of good luck to take home. The Bride's tossing of her bouquet grew from her desire
to offer a good luck souvenir, and prevent guests from bothering her during her reception.
Early Brides and Bridesmaids wore similar dresses to confuse evil spirits.
Back in the days when weddings were arranged by family members, a poor Dutchman fell in love with a girl whose
father refused her a dowry. Their friends showered her with enough gifts to help them start a household. According to
another lore, the first "Bridal Shower" occurred at the end of the 19th century. At a party, the Bride's friends placed
small gifts inside a parasol and opened it over the Bride's head. When she opened the parasol, she was "showered"
When marriages were arranged by family members, the newlyweds very rarely were allowed to see one another.
Family members exchanging a dowry were afraid that if the Groom didn't like the appearance of the Bride's face, he
might refuse to marry her. This is why the Father of the Bride "gave the Bride away" to the Groom at the actual
wedding ceremony. Only after lifting her veil just prior to the ceremony did the Groom see the Bride's face for the first
time! Early Greek and Roman Brides wore red or yellow veils to represent fire, and ward off demons.
Carrying The Bride Over The Threshold
When a Groom used to steal his Bride from her tribe, he was forced to carry her kicking and screaming. This act of
thievery has evolved into a more romantic gesture welcoming the Bride into her new home.
Brides originally tossed a garter (rather than a bouquet) at a wedding reception. In the 14th century, this custom
changed after Brides tired of fighting off drunken men who tried to remove the garter themselves! According to
legend, the garter toss in England evolved from an earlier tradition of "flinging the stocking". On their wedding night,
guests would follow the Bride and Groom to their bedroom, wait until they undressed, steal their stockings, and then
"fling" them at the couple! The first person to hit the Bride or Groom on the head would be the next person to marry.
According to one custom, when arranged marriages were common the Groom collected a dowry only after his
marriage was consummated. The money dance insured that the couple would have some money before they left their
wedding reception. According to another wedding tradition, the people of the village gave gifts of pottery, livestock,
and garden plants to the newlyweds because the Bride and Groom had no money to acquire these items until they
had children, after which a dowry was exchanged.
Penny In Shoe
European tradition to bring the Bride good luck, fortune, and protection against want. After the Wedding Day, the
lucky penny can be turned into a piece of jewelry such as a pendant, charm for a bracelet, or ring setting.
Prior to the 5th century, the ring finger was the index finger. Later, it was believed that the third finger contained the
"vein of love" that led directly to the heart.
Shoes On Vehicle
Ancient Romans used to transfer to the Groom his authority over his Bride when her Father gave the Groom her
shoes. In later years, guests threw their own shoes at the newlyweds to signify this transfer of authority. Today, this
tradition is kept alive by simply tying old shoes to the back of the newlywed's vehicle before they leave their wedding
Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed,
This superstition of the Bride wearing something that fits each of these four categories originated in Europe to ward
off evil spirits. Something Old: This tradition symbolized the sense of continuity while making the transition from a
single person to that of a married couple. Something New: This tradition symbolized that marriage represented a
transition to adulthood. Something Borrowed: This tradition symbolized the popular belief that by borrowing something
from a happily married couple, good fortune would follow the newlyweds. Something Blue: In ancient Israel, blue was
the border color of the Bride's dress symbolizing purity, constancy and fidelity.
The male equivalent of the Bridal Shower. Roman empire soldiers would feast with the Groom the night before his
wedding to say goodbye to his irresponsible days of bachelorhood, and to renew their vows of allegiance to their
Believing newlyweds brought good luck, guests used to shower them with nuts and grains to insure a bountiful
harvest and many children to work the land. During years of a poor harvest, rice was tossed instead. This tradition
continues today with rice or birdseed (where permitted), or bubbles to wish the Bride and Groom much happiness.
Incidentally, it is only a superstition that birds eating rice thrown after a wedding ceremony are destined to have their
stomachs enlarge and eventually explode. This myth may have simply evolved from church/synagogue employees
weary from cleaning after every wedding ceremony!
Until the 20th century, the Groom simply wore his "Sunday best" on his wedding day. It is said that President Teddy
Roosevelt popularized the modern tuxedo.
Tying The Knot
This comes from the days of the Roman empire when the Bride wore a girdle that was tied in knots. The Groom
untied the knots prior to the consummation of their marriage.
Also during the days of the Roman empire, wedding cakes were baked of wheat or barley. At the reception, they were
traditionally broken over the head of the new Bride by the Groom as a symbol of her fertility. Guests would then
scramble for pieces of the cake, and take them home for good luck. It later became a tradition to place many small
cakes on top of each other as high as possible. The newlyweds would then try to exchange a kiss over the top of the
tower of cakes without knocking them down. During the reign of King Charles II of England, a daring baker added
icing, and the modern style of wedding cake was born. It is unclear when the tradition of the newlyweds smashing
wedding cake into each other's face first began, and uncertain if that marriage lasted more than one day!
According to some historians, the first recorded marriage rings date back to the days when early man tied plaited
circlets around the Bride's wrists and ankles to keep her spirit from running away. Approximately 3,000 BC, Egyptians
originated the phrase "without beginning, without end" in describing the significance of the wedding ring. These rings
were made of woven hemp which constantly wore out and needed replacement. Although Romans originally used
iron, gold is now used as a symbol of all that is pure. Diamonds were first used by Italians who believed that it was
created from the flames of love. In some European cultures, the wedding ring is worn on the right hand. In other
cultures, an engagement ring is worn on the left hand, and the wedding ring is worn on the right hand.
It is said that this tradition first began in France where bread would be placed in the bottom of two drinking glasses for
the newlyweds. They would then drink as fast as they could to be the first person to get to the toast. According to
legend, the winner would rule their household!
White Wedding Dress
This was made popular in the 1840's by Queen Victoria (instead of the traditional royal "silver" wedding dress). Prior
to this, Brides simply wore their best dress on their wedding day.
Popular Ethnic & Religious Wedding Traditions
Various wedding customs have their roots and popularity based on ethnic origin.
At some African-American wedding ceremonies, newlyweds "jump over a broom" to symbolize the beginning of a new
life. The ritual was created during slavery when African-Americans could not legally marry. Some people trace this
wedding tradition to an African tribal marriage ritual of placing sticks on the ground representing the couple's new
home. Today, the jumping of the broom is a symbol of sweeping away of the old, and welcoming the new. Broom
Jumping can be performed either at the wedding ceremony after the minister pronounces the newlyweds husband
and wife, or at the wedding reception just after the Bridal Party enters the reception area. A fully decorated broom
can be purchased at ethnic stores. Other couples may prefer to use a regular household broom decorated with
bows/flowers/other trinkets in the wedding colors. At some receptions, guests may participate in the ceremony by
tying ribbons around the broom before the Broom Jumping begins.
As the Bride walks up the aisle at her Wedding Ceremony, the Bride stops and hands her mother a flower from her
bouquet and they embrace. After the Wedding Ceremony is finished, the new couple walk to the Groom's side of the
church and the Bride gives her mother-in-law a second flower from her bouquet and they also embrace.
The Bride may wear a red wedding dress symbolizing love and joy. At the wedding reception, a nine-course meal
(lasting up to three hours) is very popular. A family member may act as the official "Master of Ceremonies"
orchestrating family introductions, toasts, comedy sketches, and a reenactment of the newlywed's courtship.
Eastern Orthodox Church
The rings are blessed by the Priest taking them in hand and making the sign of the cross over the Bride and Groom's
head. The "Koumbaros" (Best Man) then exchanges the rings three times taking the Bride's ring and placing it on the
Groom's finger and vice-versa. This exchange signifies that in married life, the weaknesses of the one partner will be
compensated for by the strength of the other, the imperfections of one by the perfection's of the other. Candles are
held throughout the Wedding Service which begins immediately after the Betrothal Service. The candles are like the
lamps of the five wise maidens of the Bible who, because they had enough oil in them, were able to receive Christ
when He came in the darkness of the night. The candles symbolize the spiritual willingness of the couple to receive
Christ who will bless them through this sacrament. The Office of the Crowning which follows is the climax of the
Wedding Service. The crowns are signs of the glory and honor that God crowns them during the sacrament. The
Bride and Groom are crowned as the King and Queen of their own little kingdom (their home) which they will rule with
wisdom, justice, and integrity.
One early French wedding custom signifies the new alliance created by uniting two families through marriage. During
the Wedding Reception, the new couple raise a glass of wine from two different vineyards. They then pour their wine
into a third glass and each drinks from it.
During the wedding ceremony, the Groom may kneel on the hem of the Bride's dress to symbolize his control over
her. Not to be outdone, the Bride may step on the Groom's foot when she rises to symbolize her power over him!
Some newlyweds wear a crown of flowers during the wedding ceremony. The couple may walk around the altar three
times representing the Holy Trinity. At the reception, Greek folk dances are popular with guests lining up in a single
During the wedding ceremony, thirteen gold coins (representing the Groom's dowry to his Bride) are often blessed by
the priest, and passed between the hands of the newlyweds several times before ending with the Bride. A large
rosary or white rope ("laso") is sometimes wound around the couple's shoulders in a figure-8 during the wedding
ceremony to symbolize their union as one.
In the early 1900's, an Irish couple would walk to church together on their Wedding Day. If the people of their parish
approved their union they would throw rice, pots, pans, brushes and other household items at the couple as they
approached their church. Today, hen parties (Bridal Showers) have replaced this practice. Some Irish people wear a
claddagh ring for a wedding ring. This ring was created by a master goldsmith, Richard Joyce, 400 years ago in a
fishing village called Claddagh overlooking Galway Bay. The claddagh symbolizes love, loyalty, and friendship. On
the right hand with the heart facing inward it means the wearer's heart is unoccupied... facing outwards reveals love is
being considered. When worn on the left hand facing outward it signifies that the wearer is seriously committed or
married. There seems to be confusing and conflicting ways of wearing the claddagh ring, here is an alternative
The way that a Claddagh ring is worn on the hand is usually intended to convey the wearer's romantic availability, or
lack thereof. Traditionally, if the ring is on the right hand with the heart facing outward and away from the body, this
indicates that the person wearing the ring is not in any serious relationship, and may in fact be single and looking for
a relationship: "their heart is open." When worn on the right hand but with the heart facing inward toward the body,
this indicates the person wearing the ring is in a relationship, or that "someone has captured their heart". A Claddagh
worn on the left hand with the heart facing outward is often a sign of being engaged, and the ring on the left hand
facing inward toward the body generally indicates that the wearer is married.
At some Irish wedding receptions, the Groom is lifted in a chair ("jaunting car") to celebrate that he is a married man.
For good luck, the newlyweds are given a horseshoe to display in their home in the upward position. A traditional Irish
wedding cake is a fruitcake. Traditional Irish toasts (in addition to remarks from the Best Man) are very popular. Irish
Marriage Blessing; May God be with you and bless you; May you see your children's children. May you be poor in
misfortune, Rich in blessings. May you know nothing but happiness, from this day forward.
Some Brides may choose to carry a white silk or satin purse ("busta") to store gifts of money that are welcomed.
Tarantella folk dances are popular at the wedding reception. Another Italian custom is to present five sugar-coated
almonds to the guests which represent health, wealth, long life, fertility, and happiness.
The Bride and her Parents might visit the Groom's house on wedding day. At the wedding ceremony, the Bride's
wedding gown is often a traditional wedding kimono. She usually changes into something else at the wedding
reception. The first of nine sips of sake drunk by the Bride and Groom at their wedding ceremony symbolizes the
official union of marriage.
It is a Jewish tradition for a Bride to present her Groom with a tallit to wear for his Aufruf (reading of the Torah prior to
their ceremony). The Groom's family often give candlesticks to the Bride that can be used during the actual wedding
ceremony. It is also a custom for Jewish men to cover their heads at all times (especially during prayers) with a kippot
(yarmulkes) as a form of reverence, respect, and acknowledgement that God is present everywhere. In some
congregations, women also cover their heads to pray. Some Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform wedding
ceremonies take place under a hupah (wedding canopy).
The hupah is a rectangular piece of cloth large enough for the Bride, Groom, Rabbi, and sometimes other members
of the wedding party. The hupah signifies the new home about to be shared by the newlyweds. Before the procession
to the hupah, the tanaim are signed, and the Groom is asked if he is ready to take on the responsibilities outlined in
the ketubah. He signifies his willingness by accepting a handkerchief or other object offered to him by the Rabbi. The
two witnesses to this sign the ketubah. While the actual text of the ketubah is never meant to vary, the border
decorations on this document have over the centuries been the subject of remarkable artistic creations. At the
beginning of the wedding ceremony, the Bride might observe the Biblical custom of Circling the Groom seven times.
This practice is seen as a powerful act of definition where the Bride will symbolically create the space that they will
share as husband and wife. In Judaism, the number seven is mystical and represents completion and fulfillment. Just
as the creation of the world was finished in seven days, the seven circles complete the couple's search for each other.
The bedeken, or veiling, is a small ceremony in which the Groom lowers the veil over the Bride's face, and by this act
acknowledges that he is marrying the correct woman. This custom originated in the story of Jacob who didn't see the
face of his Bride prior to his wedding and was tricked into marrying Leah instead of his intended, Rachel. The Jewish
marriage ceremony consists of two parts: Erusin (pre-engagement) and Nissuin (marriage). These ceremonies were
historically performed up to one-year apart, but more recently the two have been combined into one ceremony. The
Eursin ceremony begins with Kiddush, the blessing over the wine. Kiddush is part of virtually all Jewish observances
as a prayer of sanctification. The exchange of rings completes the Erusin ceremony.
In Jewish law, a verbal declaration of marriage is not legally binding unless an act of Kinyan, a formal physical
acquisition is completed. This is reached when two witnesses see the Bride accept a ring from the Groom and he
recites the words of marriage. After the ketubah has been read at the ceremony, wine is often poured into a new
glass and the Sheva Berakhot (Seven Benedictions) are recited over it. The Bride and Groom then drink from the
glass of wine. With the ceremony complete, tradition calls for the Groom to break the wrapped glass by stomping on
it. This final action symbolizes the destruction of the Holy Temple in Israel, and reminds guests that love is fragile. The
audience may shout Mazel Tov, and the Bride and Groom kiss. Immediately after the wedding ceremony, the couple
may spend a few private moments together, or Yichud as a symbolic consummation of their marriage. Later, the
Mitzvah, or obligation, of rejoicing at a wedding reception is incumbent on the Bride, Groom, and guests.
Red beads are sometimes tossed at Newlyweds to bring them good luck.
The Mother of the Bride may choose to place the veil on the Bride before the wedding ceremony to symbolize her last
task that a Mother does on behalf of her girl before she becomes a married woman. A traditional folk song ("Twelve
Angels") is sometimes played at the reception allowing the Bride to transfer her veil (and good luck to be married) to
her Maid of Honor, Bridesmaids, and Flower Girl. A morning wedding ceremony is sometimes followed with a brief
afternoon luncheon, several hours of downtime when guests return home, and then a long evening wedding
reception. Polka dances and other audience participation events are very popular.
The Groom and his Groomsmen often wear Scottish kilts (better not ask what they are wearing underneath!). The
Groom may present the Bride with an engraved silver teaspoon on their wedding day to symbolize that they will never
go hungry. A traditional sword dance is sometimes performed at their wedding reception.
A Spanish Groom sometimes gives his Bride thirteen coins in memory of Christ and the twelve apostles. The Bride
carries them in a small bag during the Wedding Ceremony as a symbol that the Groom promises to support and care
Reprinted here with the permission of Reverend Robert Joy, Many thanks!
Copyright Reverend Robert Joy of WeddingsWeddings.com.