Traditions, Customs & Rituals

Traditions and customs… weddings are filled with them. “Something old, something blue…” and all that stuff! It’s more than just trivia; Have you ever stopped to wonder what on earth all of these wedding traditions and rituals actually mean and where or how they originated?

Most of these rituals and traditions have endured the test of time, having emerged centuries ago. How fascinating is that? How is it that they survive?

These wedding traditons and customs have historically been maintained over the years and handed down through the centuries because such traditions carry with them the promise that they will bring happiness and good fortune to the couple at this transitional time in their life – and who could be brave enough to tamper with that?

But more than this, by including wedding traditions, customs, or rituals in your wedding, you can make it more meaningful by choosing traditions that speak to you in some personal way. It’s almost magical to include traditions and customs in your wedding that date back hundreds of years, knowing that couples for generation upon generation before you have included the same rituals in their weddings. These traditions are the thread that ties us to history. They are like a gift from the past. Incuding some of these wedding traditions in your wedding will enhance your wedding experience, and at the very least, reading about them will fascinate, amaze, and maybe even amuse you…

Did you know that:

For centuries the month of June has been the most popular choice for weddings – but the original reason might surprise you. You see, during the 1400 -1500s, May was the month in which the “annual bath” occurred. Yes, just as it sounds, back then people were only able to bathe thoroughly once each year. As such, since the over-all population was smelling relatively fresh in June, it was a good time to hold a special event like a wedding! Further, the month of June is named after the goddess Juno, who was the Roman counterpart to Hera, the goddess of the hearth and home, and patron of wives.

Ancient tradition thought it was unlucky to marry in the month of May because in Romans times the Feast of the Dead and the Festival of the Goddess of Chastity both occurred in May.

To practice writing your new name prior to the wedding (and what bride doesn’t do this?) is believed to tempt fate and thus, is also believed to result in bad luck during the marriage!

Bad weather on the way to the wedding is believed to signify unhappiness in the marriage. Traditionally it is believed that cloudy skies and wind en route to the wedding will result in a stormy marriage. However, snow on the way to the wedding is a sign of fertility and prosperity!

According to an old legend, the month in which you marry may have some bearing on the fate of the marriage:

“Married when the year is new, he’ll be loving, kind and true;
When February birds do mate, you wed nor dread your fate;
If you wed when March winds blow, joy and sorrow both you’ll know;
Marry in April when you can, joy for Maiden and for Man;
Marry in the month of May, and you’ll surely rue the day;
Marry when June roses grow, over land and sea you will go;
Those who in July do wed, must labor for their daily bred;
Whoever wed in August be, many a change is sure to see;
Marry in September’s shrine, your living will be rich and fine;
If in October you do marry, love will come but riches tarry;
If you wed in bleak November, only joys will come, remember;
When December snows fall fast, marry and true love will last”.

It was thought that misfortune would come to those who married during lent – “Marry in Lent, live to repent” – because lent was a time for abstinence.

The tradition for the bride to wear white began in the 16th century and is still commonly followed today. This is a symbol of the bride’s purity and her worthiness of her groom. The tradition became solidified during the time of Queen Victoria who rebelled against the royal tradition for Royal brides to wear silver. Instead, the queen preferred the symbolism which is expressed by wearing white. The brides of the time quickly emulated the queen, and the tradition has continued in full force to this day.

There is an old saying that “the bride wore a green gown”. This implies the belief that she was promiscuous before marriage and refers to the image of her rolling around in grassy fields with a young man.

Traditionally brides have been thought to be particularly vulnerable to evil spirits. Many wedding customs and traditions were originated as an attempt to fight away such evil. The veil was worn with the belief that it would disguise the bride and fool the evil spirits. It was not until 1800 in Britain that the veil came to symbolize modesty and chastity. Today, the veil remains the ultimate symbol of virginity.

It is held that a final look in the mirror right before the bride leaves her home for the ceremony will bring good luck. However, if she looks in a mirror once again before the ceremony, her luck will tarnish to bad!

It is believed to be bad luck for the bride to make her own wedding dress.

Seeing a lamb, frog, spider, black cat, or rainbows on the way to the ceremony is believed to be a sign of good luck!

It is believed to be bad luck for the bride to wear her complete outfit before the wedding day. As an extension to this, some brides leave a final stitch on the dress undone until the day of the wedding for good luck.

“To change the name and not the letter, is to expect the worst and not the better!” This little riddle conveys the notion that it is thought to be unlucky to marry a man whose last name begins with the same first letter as your own.

Seeing an open grave, pig, or lizard on the way to the ceremony, or hearing a crow after dawn on the morning of the wedding are all thought to be omens of bad luck.

In times past, if a young man encountered a blind person, a pregnant woman, or a monk while on his way to propose to his intended bride, it was believed that the marriage would be doomed if he continued along because these images were thought to be bad omens.

On the other hand, if he were to happen upon a pigeon, wolf, or goat, he could expect extremely good fortune in the marriage.

Catching a glimpse of a monk or a nun is also thought to be a omen of misfortune because of their association with poverty and chastity.

The tradition of tying tin cans to the back of the newlywed’s vehicle originated long ago when items which would produce noise were tied to the back of the couple’s carriage to scare away evil spirits.

Playing pranks on the newlywed couple was also a tradition which began with the intentions of warding off evil spirits. Loyal friends of the couple would do this in hopes that the spirits would take pity on the couple for already being picked upon enough, and would then leave the couple alone.

The tradition of having members of the wedding party dress alike was started with the hopes that this would cause confusion for the spirits and send them on their way.

Tradition says that the first member of the newlywed couple to purchase a new item following the wedding will be the dominant force in the relationship. As such, to this day some superstitious brides will pre-arrange to buy a small item from one of the bridesmaids immediately following the ceremony!

Cakes have played a part of weddings all through history. The Romans shared a plain cake of flour, salt and water during the wedding ceremony itself, as Native Americans still do today. The traditional fruit cake originated in Britain, with the fruit and nuts being a symbol of fertility.

Cutting the wedding cake together, still a predominant ritual at weddings, symbolizes the couple’s unity, their shared future, and their life together as one.

In old England it was traditional to bake a ring into the wedding cake as a symbol of bliss and happiness. The guest whose piece of cake contained the ring, it was said, could look forward to a full year of uninterrupted happiness.

Another old English custom was to throw a plate with a piece of wedding cake out of a window on the occasion of the bride’s first return to her family home after the wedding. If the plate broke she could expect a happy future with her husband – but if the plate remained intact, prospects for the future became grim.

The custom of throwing rice at the newlywed couple was to symbolize fertility. In some cultures, it was not rice which was thrown, but rather small cakes or pieces of a crumbled cake. Today some still throw rice, but more commonly confetti or rose petals are thrown in place of rice due to a number of practical and environmental reasons – the symbolism remains the same! [Rice can be hazardous and often fatal to birds who frequently attempt to eat it off the ground. It is also very easy to slip upon, presenting potential for injury.]

The three tiered cake is believed to have been inspired by the spire of Saint Bride’s Church in London, England.

It is believed that an unmarried male guest who keeps a piece of wedding cake under his pillow as he sleeps will increase his chances of finding a mate. An unmarried bridesmaid who does the same will dream of her future husband.

It is customary, near the end of the reception, for the single female guests to gather around the bride who will throw her bouquet over her shoulder for one of them to catch. Originally, the bride would actually throw one of her shoes over her shoulder during this ritual. Tradition says that whoever catches the bouquet shall be the next to marry. She keeps the bouquet to ensure this destiny.

A parallel custom is for the groom to remove the garter worn by the bride and throw it back over his shoulder toward the unmarried male guests. Whoever catches it will reportedly be the next gentleman to marry.

“Something old, something new, Something borrowed, Something blue, And a silver sixpence in your shoe”. This well known little rhyme originated during Victorian times and is still commonly practiced for good luck. Traditionally, the “old” would have been the garter of a happily married woman, with the thought being that her good fortune would be passed down along with it. The “new” stood for the couple’s new bright and happy future together. “Something borrowed” was usually a much valued item from the bride’s family. It symbolized prosperity within the new union, but would bring that good fortune only if it was returned to the family. “Something blue” came from an ancient tradition in which the bride would wear a blue ribbon in her hair as a symbol for fidelity. Placing a silver sixpence in the bride’s shoe was to ensure wealth in the couple’s life. Today brides often slip a penny inside their shoe before the ceremony in place of the difficult to acquire silver sixpence. As such, the rhyme is often adapted to “…And a lucky penny in your shoe”.