Many of today's wedding traditions and superstitions date back thousands of years1. It is surprising how many of these were originally to ward off evil spirits, as well as to enhance good luck, fertility and prosperity.
There was no such thing as an engagement or a marriage ceremony to the Anglo-Saxon man. He would just choose a wife and, if necessary, forcibly remove her from her family home to his own home, where she would cook, clean and bear his children.
Later, it was the fathers who recognised the value of their daughters as an asset; they became more protective, and introduced a 'bride price.' Daughters were then considered as the property of their fathers. The fathers now expected prospective husbands to show they could be good providers by offering the family valuable gifts, or by working off the price of the daughter's hand in marriage.
Centuries later, this was reversed, when the fathers began to offer a dowry (payment) to their daughter's prospective husband. The idea was to insure against divorce, as the woman now brought something into the marriage. If the marriage dissolved, the husband would no longer have control of the dowry.
By the 6th Century, it was deemed illegal for a man to 'steal' the woman of his choice from her family. These early engagements were known as the 'wed', which was a sealed agreement between the groom and the bride's father that a marriage would take place.
Today, an engagement has no legal standing, although it was somewhat different in Victorian times. The future groom would first request permission of his prospective bride's father for his daughter's 'hand in marriage'. With permission granted, the groom would make the proposal, traditionally by appearing humbly on bended knee in a romantic setting. After the proposal was accepted, the groom would then have had a legal obligation to marry his betrothed and, if he jilted her, she could sue for 'breach of promise'.
Although a proposal of marriage was generally the responsibility of men, tradition permitted women to propose on 29 February. Today, it's not uncommon for women to propose on any day of the year.
The engagement ring was introduced by the Romans, following their conversion to Christianity. It is worn on the third finger of the left hand, due to the Greek belief that this particular finger was connected to the heart.
What's In A Day?
Quite a lot, if you have to take all these superstitions, as well as the convenience of the bride, the groom and their immediate families into consideration.
The day on which a wedding is to be held is steeped with superstitions.
Marry on a:
Monday - brides will be healthy
Tuesday - brides will be wealthy
Wednesday - brides do best of all
Thursday - brides will suffer losses
Friday - brides will suffer crosses
Saturday - brides will have no luck at all
Friday, especially Friday 13th, is considered as an unlucky day to marry on.
Months have their good and bad omens too.
Marry when the year is new, he'll be loving, kind and true
When February birds do mate, you may wed or 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, you will surely rue the day
Marry when June roses blow, over land and sea you'll go
They who in July do wed, must labour always for their bread
Whoever wed in August be, many a change are sure to see
Marry in September's shine, 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 joy will come, remember
When December snows fall fast, marry and true love will last
May is considered as unlucky as it is the month in which the Romans celebrated the feast of the dead, and the festival of the goddess of chastity. June, however, is considered a lucky month to marry in, as it was when the ancient Greeks and Romans honoured Juno, the goddess of love and marriage.
The Bride, Her Dress And Bridesmaids
White - You've chosen all right
Blue - Your love is true
Pearl - You'll live in a whirl
Brown - You'll live out of town
Red - You will wish yourself dead
Yellow - You're ashamed of your fellow
Green - Ashamed to be seen
Pink - Your fortunes/spirits will sink
Grey - You'll live far away
Black - You'll wish yourself back
The bridesmaids dressed similarly to the bride to ward off and confuse the evil spirits about the identity of the real bride.
A glance in the mirror just before the fully-dressed bride leaves for her wedding is considered good luck, but should she return and look again, this is considered bad luck.
The Groom And His Best Man
The groom, his best man, male family and best friends wear similar suits to ward off and confuse the evil spirits as to the real identity of the groom.
The best man was responsible for ensuring the groom's good luck in the following three ways:
- The groom must carry a lucky mascot in his pocket
- The groom must not return home for any reason after leaving for the ceremony
- The minister should be given an odd sum of money for his fee
The Wedding Day
Today, couples often live together before getting married, but it is still considered unlucky for the bride and groom to see each other on the day of the wedding, until they meet at the altar.
Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a silver sixpence in your shoe.
This well known superstition originated in Victorian times. It appears to have lost its last sentence at some stage.
'Something old' - an old garter, or a piece of family jewellery or accessory is often used.
'Something new' represents future health, happiness and success.
'Something borrowed' could be a small trinket borrowed from family or a friend. It must be returned to ensure good luck.
'Something blue' - it was in ancient Israel, where the bride wore a blue ribbon as a symbol of her fidelity, that the custom of wearing 'something blue' originated.
Good wealth was wished for by placing 'a silver sixpence in your shoe'2.
The throwing of symbolic 'confetti' over the couple as they leave the marriage ceremony dates back to ancient times, with the type of 'confetti' changing over the years. The word confetti is Italian for sweets, or confectionery. Rice, grain, nuts and sweets, as well as flower petals, were commonly used to enhance fertility, richness, good luck and sweet experiences.
Flowers are a significant aspect of any wedding. Ideally, the groom should wear a flower that appears in the bridal bouquet in his button-hole. This stems from medieval times, when a knight wore his Lady's colours as a declaration of his love. Some flowers are symbolic. For example, orange blossom signifies loveliness, purity and chastity, while a a red chrysanthemum means 'I love you'.
A uniquely British, and somewhat unusual, superstition is having a chimney sweep present at the wedding for good luck; it is not unknown for some couples employ a sweep to attend their wedding. This apparently dates back to the time of King George III3. The king was riding his horse in a royal procession when a dog suddenly appeared and started biting his horse's legs, causing him to lose control of his rearing mount. A man rushed out from the crowd, regained control of the horse, and disappeared back into the crowd. Later, when the procession had ended, the King wanted to thank personally the man he believed had saved his life. All that he could discover about the mystery man was his occupation, that of a chimney sweep. The king decreed that from that day all chimney sweeps should be considered as lucky.
Sharing a meal after the wedding ceremony may have been seen as confirmation of the new status of the bride and groom, but in Roman times, until the wedded couple had shared bread together, the marriage was not legally binding.
The wedding cake symbolises union and allows the guests to share in the couple's happiness. Today, it forms the focal point at the reception, although it was not always intended to be eaten; small rice cakes were crumbled over the bride's head.
The Romans made small individual cakes from wheat flour, water and salt, which were eaten while the service was in progress. Early versions of today's iced and tiered cakes were introduced to Britain from France in 1660, with the fruits and grains symbolising fertility.
A well-known tradition is for the bride and groom to make the first cut in the cake together. The groom places his right hand over the right hand of his bride. Her left hand is then placed on top, and she places the knife at the centre of the bottom cake tier and slowly cuts the cake, with the help of the groom. The cake being cut is then shared with the guests. The top tier is set aside for the christening of the couple's first baby.
Bridesmaids kept their slice and placed it under their pillow, in the belief that they would dream of their future husband.
Leaving The Reception And The Honeymoon
A well-known tradition is for the bride to throw her bouquet over her shoulder, into a group of unmarried female guests, as she leaves the reception, the belief being that whoever catches the bouquet will be the next to marry. Before a bouquet was used, the bride would throw her wedding shoe.
A similar tradition for men is tossing the garter - the groom removes the bride's garter and throws it into a group of unmarried men.
With the wedding over, as the couple change into their going-away clothes, the bride should be sure she has removed and thrown away every pin from her dress and veil. Not to do so will bring her bad luck.
Wedding guests often tie objects - usually empty cans - to the just-married couple's going-away car. Traditionally, old boots were used - this stems from when the bride's father presented the groom with one of her slippers, giving him the 'upper hand' and the entitlement to beat his wife if she displeased him. The slipper was placed on the husband's side of the bed-head, a reminder of who was the boss. If the wife was the more dominant, however, neighbours transferred the power of the slipper to her, and named her 'the old boot'. According to superstition, the first one of the couple to make a purchase after the wedding is the dominant person in the partnership.
Carrying of the new wife over the threshold of the couple's new home is believed to bring good fortune in their future life. It also prevents the wife from stepping into their new home left-foot first, which is considered to be unlucky.
When a groom used to capture his bride, they would hide from her family until the search was called off. Then after they were married, they would hide for one full cycle of the moon, drinking honey wine, hence 'honeymoon'.