Wedding traditions and history

There are many wedding traditions, and origins of some are known while others are shrouded in mystery or have several different interpretations.

Wedding vows were used in ancient Rome and were simply "Ubi tu Gaius, ego Gaia". which translates to "Where you are, there am I." We have made adjustments in the ceremony over the years, making it more elaborate.

The Romans threw nuts at the bride and groom to wish them fertility and happiness. Other cultures threw wheat or rice to "shower the bride with fertility." Now we throw birdseed, confetti, flower petals or we blow bubbles. Silly string is even used.

In years past, if a man saw a woman he wanted for his bride, he merely kidnapped her from her own village. He always asked his best friend (now Best Man) to accompany him to fight off her family if needed, and he always placed the woman on his left in order to keep his right "sword" hand free.

In ancient times, bridesmaids were important to the safety of the bride. Evil spirits would come to ruin the mood and pleasure of the wedding with tricks and black magic. The purpose of the bridesmaids was to dress extravagantly and thus confuse the spirits. They would not be able to distinguish the bride. If this did not work, the bridesmaids also carried strong smelling herbs to ward off evil. We have since replaced the herbs with floral bouquets.

The Romans were very fond of arranged marriages, and the bride wore a veil so the husband-to-be could not see her face and back out if he thought her too ugly. Originating in the East at least 4000 years ago, veils were worn by unmarried women as a sign of modesty and by married women as a sign of submissiveness to their husbands. Customs were less severe in Northern Europe and only abducted brides wore veils to conceal their identity. The veil predates the wedding dress by centuries. In ancient Rome the veil was of flame-hued yellow, and called the "flammeum". By the fourth century BC translucent veils were common. These were pinned to the hair or tied with ribbons.

Around the fourth century BC, yellow was the preferred color for wedding gowns and veils. During the Middle Ages, color ceased to be important, and the emphasis was on richness of fabric and decorations.

Blue was considered the color of purity in early biblical times and women would usually marry gowned in blue.

In England, Royals always married in silver and commoners in blue. Queen Victoria was the first to wed in white. White became the color of choice in the sixteenth century, and was generally considered to denote purity. The first mention of wearing white by brides was by writers of the sixteenth century in England. White, perceived by many a visual statement of a bride’s virginity offended Clergymen who felt that virginity, a marriage prerequisite, should not have to be advertised. By the late eighteenth century white had become the standard color for weddings due mainly to the fact that most gowns of the time were white; white was the color of formal fashion. 

The first fashion plate of a white wedding gown and veil appeared in 1813 in the French "Journal des Dames", and the style was then firmly set in France.

In Ancient Greece white was used to signal joy. Some Greeks even painted their bodies white for the wedding celebration.

In some cultures, a bride always wore her favorite dress to the ceremony regardless of color. In 1840, Queen Victoria wore all white to her wedding because people believed white represented affluence as well as purity.

The wedding cake was first started as a cake of wheat or barley. It evolved into a many tiered cake. Each guest brought small scones, biscuits and other baked goods and piled them one atop the other. The higher, the better, for the height suggested prosperity. The couple would kiss over the mound of cakes. At one time the cakes were crumbled over the bride’s head as a symbol of fertility. The couple was then required to eat a portion of the crumbs. During the 1600's a French chef witnessed the cakepiling and was appalled at the ceremony. He conceived the idea of transforming the bland biscuits into an iced, multi-tiered cake. The British did not readily accept this idea, but by the end of the century were also offering these magnificent creations.

The Romans were the first to start wearing wedding bands on the third finger because they believed the vein in that finger of the left hand connected directly to the heart. The left hand was also preferred because the right hand does most of the work and gets the dirtiest, thus protecting the band. There is evidence that young Roman men often went broke for their future brides to insure a ring of quality. A Christian priest in the second century AD wrote that "most women know nothing of gold except the single marriage ring placed on one finger." In public, the Roman wife proudly wore her gold band, but not at home. A Venetian wedding document dated 1503 lists "one marrying ring having diamond." This may have been the beginning of the diamond engagement tradition. For Roman Catholics, Pope Nicholas I in 860 AD decreed that an engagement ring become a required statement of nuptial intent. The engagement ring was to be of a valued metal, preferably gold, which for the husband-to-be represented a financial sacrifice. The early Hebrews placed the wedding ring on the index finger.

The entry wedding march from Wagner’s "Lohengrin" and exit march from Mendelssohn’s "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" date to 1858 when Victoria, princess of Great Britain and Prince Frederick William of Prussia were married. Given the British penchant for copying the monarchy, soon all brides were using these tunes establishing a Western tradition.

"Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a silver sixpence in the shoe"

"Something old" refers to the bride's previous way of living. It is supposed to symbolize the transition into her new way of life while not forgetting the past. Many brides wear antique jewelry of their ancestors or their mother’s gown.

Something new" signifies the future ahead and all the prosperity it shall bring. The wedding gown is often the symbol of something new.

"Something borrowed" so that you may have all the luck and happiness of the bride who wore it first. The borrowed item is many times a handkerchief carried by another or a piece of jewelry.

Something blue" as a testament to the original color of purity. The garter is usually blue or contains blue trim.

"A silver sixpence in the shoe" was started in Rome around the time of Caesar to bring wealth.

Throwing the bridal bouquet as a custom has its roots in England where it was believed that a bride could pass along her good fortune to others. In order to obtain this fortune, guests would try to tear away pieces of the bride's clothing and flowers. In attempting to get away, the bride would often toss her bouquet and a garter into the crowd. It is believed that the man who catches the garter and, likewise, the woman who catches the bouquet will be the next ones to get married (not necessarily to each other.)