Joy Magazine

The Strange History of Weddings

"I have couples who come in and say 'We want to be very, very traditional,'" says Shelley Dunlap, owner of Exclusively Yours wedding planners in Central Point, "and I smile and ask how far back do they want to go? Is the bride's family going to present a dowry?"

Wedding traditions often have a strange history.

Before the Middle Ages in Europe, for instance, there was no officiating priest or minister. Two people got together and declared they were married. Wealthier families had a party. Witnesses weren't even necessary, they just told people they had exchanged vows and were married.

It wasn't until 1545 that the Catholic Church declared a priest had to officiate at a wedding, and ceremonies started to be held at church.

Usually the bride had to be accompanied by a dowry — money or goods to start the marriage, the amount depending on the wealth of the family. When laws against selling brides were created, this evolved into wedding "gifts."

The bridal shower comes to us from Holland. If the family didn't approve of the husband, they wouldn't give the bride a dowry. Instead, her friends got together and showered her with gifts to start her new life.

What about the best man? That tradition comes from a time when the groom had to kidnap the bride if the family didn't accept him. He usually needed help to fight off relatives or spirit her away, and the best man — and sometimes groomsmen — were there to fight at his side. The bride stands on the groom's left so he has his right hand free to fight.

And maids of honor? Back in the days when families could try to stop weddings, the bride was surrounded by women dressed in clothing similar to hers to confuse those trying to capture the bride back.

That's one reason. Another is that bridesmaids and groomsmen dress like the wedding couple to confuse evil spirits.

Before the advent of bridal bouquets, the bride and groom wore wreaths or crowns of flowers or herbs. Bouquets were first made of herbs. The Celts carried ivy, thistle and heather. Others carried bouquets of garlic, wheat, sage, dill or rosemary.

The custom of tying shoes to the bumper of a car harkens back to the bride as a possession. The father would take her shoes away before a ceremony and give them to the groom, as a symbol of transferring possession of the bride from father to groom. She wasn't going anywhere without her shoes.

Carrying the bride over the threshold also is thought to have evolved from bridal capture, when the bride often had to be carried or dragged into the groom's home.

Early wedding dresses could be any color, but often had a blue band around the bottom, which was the color that symbolized purity. White didn't really become a fashionable color until Britain's Queen Victoria chose it for her wedding dress in 1840. White symbolized wealth then, not purity.

In early times grooms would wrap the bride's wrists and ankles with grass or raffia to symbolically tie her to him. It is thought this evolved into the practice of giving her a ring, though in colonial America, Puritans didn't believe in jewelry, so brides got a thimble.

Men didn't start wearing rings until World War II, when it became fashionable to give the man a ring to wear into war to remind him of his bride. Before that men's rings were rare.

One tradition that is older than many would think is shoving the wedding cake in each other's face. The first wedding cakes weren't for eating. Small cakes were thrown at the bride to ensure her fertility. Prior to the use of cakes, they just threw wheat at the bride. Later they started throwing rice and eating the cake.

Oh, and the honeymoon? After kidnapping the bride, the groom would keep her hidden or out of sight of her family for (hopefully) long enough to get her pregnant. He would frequently ply her with mead, an alcoholic drink made from honey.

Something to think about when the wedding march is playing.

Reader Reaction
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Rules. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or fill out this form. New comments are only accepted for two weeks from the date of publication.