The Truth Behind Some Wedding Traditions…I Could Seriously Go On Forever!

On January 16, 2014

Have you ever wondered where all the wedding traditions come from? The symbols, the colours, the flowers? Why do we wear our rings on the left hand, and why a ring in the first place? Why a white dress? Well you might be surprised to learn some of the history behind these traditions, and you might be even more stunned to learn that they are not universal! Here’s a look at just a few of the most compelling parts of wedding lore:

The Ring

Since Egyptian times, the wedding ring has been worn as symbol of unity and eternal love (and in the case of the Romans, possession) in many cultures. The Egyptians seem to have begun the tradition of wearing it on the third finger of the left hand, because it was believed that a vein in this finger ran straight to the heart. But while we North Americans traditionally picture the left hand whenever a wedding band is mentioned, there are dozens of other countries where they wear it on the right.

Countries wearing it on the left: Australia, Canada, Egypt, Ireland, Italy, Jordan, Mexico, New Zealand, Slovenia, Sweden, Turkey, the USA and the UK

Countries wearing it on the right: Austria, Denmark, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, India, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Russia, Spain, Ukraine, and Venezuela

Other ring traditions: In Jewish society, multiple traditions exist, including wearing the ring on the middle or index fingers or even the thumb! In Iran, while wedding rings are not common in Islamic culture, they wear it on either left or right as they choose. In Sri Lanka and other countries rich in Sinhala and Tamil culture, the bride wears her ring on the left hand and the groom wears his on the right.

Young Wedding CoupleThe Bridal Gown

We tend to picture the bride “all dressed in white”, but this is a more recent Western concept (although in Japan a white kimono is usually worn). In China and India for example, brides wear rich red gowns. In earlier times, even in the West, a bride would not necessarily wear white – she would wear her Sunday best and/or a dress which could be worn over and over again. It was not until Queen Victoria’s marriage in 1840 to Prince Albert that wearing a white, fancy and silk or lacy dress became the preferred custom. But today brides all over the world are beginning to break with habit and wearing all sorts of wonderful colours.

As for the veil, in some places, like Greece, a red or yellow veil representing fire was worn to ward off evil spirits. In others, it is merely a symbol of modesty.

Beautiful Bengali Bride

Beautiful Bride in traditional dress

The Cake

Dating back to ancient Rome, where a meal cake was crumbled over the bride’s head for good luck, wedding cakes are old symbols of fertility and good fortune. Whoever partakes of the cake receives good luck. When the bride cuts the first slice, and the groom helps, this means they will share all their possessions. A tier of the cake may also be set aside for christening, to ensure that the happy couple will have children. And if the bride’s unmarried girlfriends take some cake home and put it under their pillows, they will dream of their future husbands.

The Flowers

Another symbol of fertility, flowers are very important to the ceremony. While there are multiple flowers which are considered the most appropriate because of their silent messages (in Victorian times the “language of flowers” was a way to communicate one’s feelings), such as gardenias (joy), irises (wisdom), orchids (love), and of course roses (love, passion, etc), what is even more intriguing is where the custom of tossing the bouquet comes from. In old England, women would tear flowers off the bride’s gown for good fortune in love, and the bride would toss her bouquet and run away! Thankfully today it is merely done with the idea that whoever catches the flowers will be the next to marry, and there is no more destruction of the ever-expensive dress!

Aspects of the Ceremony

There are so many actions taken before, during and after the ceremony, and many are based on superstition or the concept of women as “property”, but these have become so deeply ingrained in our modern consciousness we still perform them anyway…

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue, and a Sixpence in Your Shoe – An old poem that turned into a timeless tradition. The “old” is a gift (such as heirloom jewelry) from the family, usually the mother or grandmother; the “new” is usually the gown, symbolizing good fortune. The “borrowed” may be anything lent by another happily married woman, passing on some of her joy, while the “blue” is a gift of symbolic love and fidelity, and the “sixpence” is a wish for the bride’s future wealth.

Giving Away the Bride – While today this represents a father’s blessing on his daughter’s marriage, in ancient times daughters were their father’s property until they were sold to their new husbands in arranged marriages.

Tossing Rice – Begun in the Orient, this custom represents fertility.

Carrying the Bride Across the Threshold – Although the origins of this practice have been lost to the ravages of time, it is thought this was done to prevent the bride from stumbling on her wedding day, which would be an evil omen.

Honeymoon – The word itself is based on the ancient Teutonic tradition of drinking honey wine (mead) after the wedding for one month (or one moon’s cycle). In the old days, the groom usually kidnapped and claimed his bride, and would thus take her far away for a while until her relatives stopped searching for her and accepted the marriage. Thankfully today a honeymoon is a happy time for the bride and groom to get away from it all and enjoy a romantic holiday before returning to the business of life!

There are so many more traditions – both cultural and religious – which I would love to share with you, but we’ll have to visit those at a later date.


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