If you’ve been to a wedding recently, you may have wondered about the origins of the traditions. How did throwing rice at the bride and groom become common practice? What’s the history behind brides wearing white? Why do Jews sign contracts, Hindus get tattoos, and South Koreans beat the groom’s feet?
To shed light on some of the most common (and a few very uncommon) wedding traditions, we have compiled information from various religious and secular experts on the subject. And trust us, you will never look at throwing the bouquet the same way again:
Throwing the bouquet
There are a few theories about how this tradition got started. One is that the ritual started in the Middle Ages, when bouquets were made from a mix of garlic and dillweed. The mixture was believed to ward off disease, and so the tradition of throwing the bouquet was meant to bestow good luck — and presumably health — on potential brides-to-be. A competing theory is that the bride’s dress was believed to be lucky and the lady-of-honor would throw the bouquet to distract guests from tearing the dress. Better to be safe than sorry.
The origin of this ritual is not entirely clear, but it is believed that it dates back to ancient Europe when guests would throw wheat berries or flowers as a symbol of fertility and growth. In the Middle Ages, peasants replaced the wheat with rice, possibly because it was cheaper.
Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue
The ritual was adapted from an old English adage, according to CNN, which goes: “Something olde, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and sixpence in your shoe.”
The idea behind the tradition is that the bride should carry good luck charms meant to represent continuity with the past, optimism for the future, happiness with the present, and purity (the blue) in marriage. The sixpence, meant to represent good fortune, has been mostly dropped in America — probably because it is hard to keep a coin secured inside of a strappy Jimmy Choo.
Matching bridesmaids dresses
Matching bridesmaids dresses are a relatively new development in wedding history. According to Carrie Hertz, a wedding dress expert at the Castellani Art Museum in Niagra, NY, bridesmaids’ dresses started to appear in the 1920s and 1930s when large-scale dress manufacturing became available.
“Before that time, clothes were expensive,” says Hertz. “So most bridesmaids would often wear whatever was available to them.”
The white wedding dress
It is typically believed that brides wear white as a symbol of purity. Yet, white wedding dresses became increasingly popular after Queen Victoria eschewed the traditional royal purple robes for a simple white dress for her wedding in 1840, according to Hertz. And the snow-colored frock was actually an act of rebellion.
“Victoria married for love,” says Hertz of the queen who opted to defy tradition of arranged marriage.
The diamond engagement ring
The diamond engagement ring, like the white wedding dress, owes its popularity to Queen Victoria. Diamond rings date back to the Middle Ages, according to Vivienne Becker of De Beers. But it wasn’t until Prince Albert presented Victoria a gold band with an inlaid diamond that the practice took off.
In traditional Jewish ceremonies, after the exchange of rings, couples sit down to sign the ketubah, an ancient contract written in Aramaic, which spells out the groom’s financial obligations. The text is often summarized when read aloud these days, according to Matt Axelrod, the cantor at Temple Beth Israel in Scotch Plains, NJ.
“Some couples modify the ketubah to include mentions of love and commitment,” adds Axelrod.
The breaking of the glass
The Jewish ritual breaking of a glass has several potential origins, according to Axelrod. In ancient times, the broken glass was meant to remind couples that they should temper their joy in light of the Jews’ suffering or after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. In modern times, the interpretation is looser.
“It basically means that there may be an element of strife in the marriage,” says Axelrod. “But that the couple should support each other.”
If you’ve ever seen women whose hands look like they have fading tattoos, it is almost guaranteed that they’ve been involved a South Asian wedding. The tradition of henna, or ceremonial temporary skin-ink decoration, is a large part of traditional Hindu weddings.
Henna was originally developed as a substitute for brides whose families couldn’t afford jewelry, according to Sonal J. Shah, a South Asian wedding specialist and event planner. But the tradition transcends class today. Grooms have even gotten into henna.
“It used to be very uncommon,” Shah notes. “But now I see more and more men getting it done.”
In most of the world, women wear the veils to keep their faces covered. However, in Punjabi and Sikh traditions, the sister of the groom will tie a sehera, or ceremonial floral veil, to the groom’s forehead. The veil is designed to ward off evil spirits and prevent someone from giving the groom the evil eye, according to Shah.
Beating the groom’s feet
In traditional South Korean weddings, men have to tread lightly. In the ritual dongsangnye, the bride’s male relatives test the groom by hanging him upside down and hitting his feet with dried cod or wooden spoons while asking him questions. According to the Korean Tourism Organization, the game ends when the mother of the bride offers everyone food and wine.
The crying game
In the western part of Sichuan Province in China, brides are expected to cry for an hour each night for the month leading up to her wedding day. The practice known as “zuo tang” (Sitting in the hall) picks up participants as the month progresses, according to China Daily. The mother joins the bride after 10 days of the bride crying alone, and, 10 days later, they are joined by the bride’s grandmother.
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