Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue and a sixpence in your shoe are just some of the many objects that brides have been told they should have for luck on their wedding day. Something blue is supposed to protect against a curse that could render the bride infertile.
Veils have been around for quite some time and have gone through some drastic changes. The oldest record of a bride wearing one is in the Roman Empire, when they were called “flammeum.” They acted as protection from evil spirits. The ancients were a superstitious lot and believed that evil spirits would try to prey on the bride as she was walking down the aisle. The veil hid her face and kept any spirit from getting too close.
As weddings evolved into religious ceremonies, the veil became a sign of modesty and purity. It also represented a wife’s submission to her husband. When white wedding dresses became the norm in the 19th century, veils had to change with it. Tiaras and caps replaced the veil, but Queen Victoria reintroduced them in 1840 when she wore one on her big day. Since then, veils have grown in popularity. Today’s brides can choose from a wide variety of shapes and lengths, all of which are meant to show off the bride’s style and beauty.
The veil was originally worn for practical purposes as well. In arranged marriages, it was often the father of the bride who paid her groom-to-be a dowry to marry his daughter. So it’s no wonder that her family wanted to ensure that he wouldn’t back out of the deal. To keep the groom from eyeing his soon-to-be-wife, the veil was used to hide her face until the ceremony started.
During the ring exchange ceremony, the groom lifts the bride’s veil to reveal her face. This is a symbolic representation of his claim to her as his wife and his love for her. It is also a way to show that he is committed to her and will always respect her as his equal.
Another traditional practice during the ring exchange is when the groom places his ring on the fourth finger of his bride’s right hand. This is a nod to the ancient Romans who believed that the vein in that finger was directly connected to the heart. The ring is also a symbol of eternal love and fidelity.
For centuries, the joining of a couple in marriage has been such an important event that it’s attracted an abundance of superstitions. And because the bride, in particular, is seen as a vulnerable state that needs to be protected, many strange traditions have emerged.
For example, back in ancient Rome grooms didn’t gallantly sweep their brides off their feet to usher them into their new digs — they wrestled them, to keep the evil spirits that might jinx her fertility from entering through the threshold. Similarly, in early medieval Europe, a tradition of sawing through a log together represented the first obstacle the couple would face in their marriage — and it was a great way for the newlyweds to show off their teamwork!
It’s no wonder that brides have always been adorned with flowers. Originally, the fragrant blossoms were used to mask body odors and help ensure the health of the bride in an age when people didn’t wash as frequently as we do today. Later, they were carried for their symbolic meaning of new life and hope. Nowadays, a bride may carry a bouquet of her favorite flowers or choose specific blooms to represent sentimental values such as love and happiness.
Often, a flower’s meaning can be found in its color. For example, roses symbolize romance and passion, while lily of the valley represents rebirth and purity. Lilies are also a symbol of marital fidelity, and they’re frequently featured in Indian weddings along with jaimala (the garlands that the bride and groom exchange) as a sign of eternal love.
The bridal bouquet has long been a fixture in wedding ceremonies, and it’s a chance for the bride to feel beautiful and be surrounded by loved ones on her big day. During Victorian times, a language of flowers developed, and it was common for lovers to send each other different flowers that carried specific sentiments. This became so popular that it eventually made its way into the wedding ceremony and was adopted by Queen Victoria herself.
One tradition that has been largely eliminated is the practice of guests rushing the bride at the end of the ceremony to try and snag a piece of her dress. Apparently, this was so terrifying for brides that they came up with a much more peaceful solution: she would scatter flower petals on the ground for them to walk through.
The Best Man
Many people may wonder why the best man is a central figure in the wedding ceremony, and his role dates back centuries. In the past, it was customary for a groom to kidnap his future wife from her family, and it was the best man’s duty to guard her in case her family tried to stop the marriage. This is why he stood to her right at the altar so that he could draw his sword quickly to defend his bride, and is also why bridesmaids wear flowers in their hair to symbolize his defense of her honor.
In bygone days, June was the most popular month for weddings because it was believed that the fragrance of flowers would mask the couple’s own body odor. Today, June is still a favorite for weddings because of its beautiful weather and the fragrant herbs used in bouquets (think dill and garlic).
The word “best” in best man originally meant a good swordsman. Back then, when weddings were a way to pawn off children, a groom would often enlist his best swordsman friends to help him either retrieve his bride from her family or fend off angry relatives who wouldn’t approve of the marriage. This is why the best man was so named, and it’s also a reason why we still call him to give a toast at the reception.
Back then, it was common for men to marry women from their own small village, and when there weren’t enough women to go around, it was necessary to invade neighboring villages to steal a bride. This was a dangerous and time-consuming task, so the groom needed his best swordsman to protect him. This is why the best man carries a sword and stands beside the groom at the altar.
In ancient Roman ceremonies, the matron of honor was a woman known for her fidelity and obedience who joined the right hands of the bride and groom at the ceremony to signify the bond of marriage. During the Victorian Era, this tradition was modified so that bridesmaids wore white dresses and short veils to contrast with the more elaborate veil of the bride. The tossing of rice at the end of the ceremony is thought to symbolize rain that brings prosperity, fertility and good luck.
The First Touch
In more traditional weddings, the groom doesn’t merely sweep his bride off her feet as she walks down the aisle, he carries her. This is said to keep evil spirits from infiltrating the house through the bottom of her shoes. In other words, it’s just superstition.
A white cake is typically served at a wedding, symbolizing purity. The tradition of cutting the cake together at the reception is a way for the bride and groom to share their first task as husband and wife. The bride and groom then feed each other a piece of cake, representing their love and commitment.
Having friends and family give the couple away is another important wedding ritual that symbolizes support. This has been a tradition since Roman times. The bride and groom then exchange rings, which represent a bond between two families. In some cases, the bride’s father will walk her down the aisle. Others choose to have her mother or a close friend do so as a sign of their love and support.
The bride traditionally wears or carries “something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue” down the aisle. This is a nod to an old English poem that represents good luck for the couple. The “something old” signifies a connection to the past, the “something new” is a hopeful vision for the future, the “something borrowed” brings luck and prosperity, and the final item, the something blue, is meant to bring a touch of romance.
It wasn’t always roses and peonies that the bride carried down the aisle, though. In the Victorian era, the bride was often adorned with bouquets of garlic, dill, wheat and ivy, all of which are meant to ward off evil spirits with their pungent scents.
Back in the day, it was also considered lucky for single girls to touch a bride on her wedding day. This led to the emergence of the bouquet toss as we know it today. Young single women would rush the bride in hopes of catching her bouquet and a bit of her good fortune.