Roots of Common Wedding Superstitions and Traditions
Origins of the Word ‘Wedding’
The word ‘wedding’ actually comes from the Gothic word wadi, meaning ‘to pledge’. In Old English, the ceremony was either called a weddung (state of being wed), or a bridelope (bridal run), in reference to the practice of escorting the bride to her new home.
The Roots of ‘Tying the Knot’
Nobody knows exactly where the phrase ‘to tie the knot’ comes from. The are several major theories: that a) it dates back to Ancient Roman culture, where the bride’s mother would tie up her daughters undergarments in a very difficult knot, which was to provide a challenge to the groom on the wedding night; b) it dates back to Ancient Greece, where either the priest or bride’s patriarch would tie the garments of the couple together to symbolise marriage; c) nets of knotted string were used to support mattresses prior to the invention of bedsprings- so in order to make the marriage bed, one needed to tie the knot(s); d)an old English custom where the bride and groom’s hands would be tied together, and not allowed to be untied until they had consumated the marriage; or e) illiterate sailors and soldiers would send a piece of rope to their sweethearts as a marriage proposal- if they sent the rope back with a knot, it meant that they’d agreed.
Contrary to popular belief, wearing white does not symbolise virginity or purity in general. It was a trend begun by Queen Victoria when she married Prince Albert in 1840. Up until that date, brides eiither wore a particularly beautiful or lavish dress of any colour, or any more functional colour like black or brown, to be reused again. This trend was slowly picked up by the public, and used as a form of conspicuous consumption- wearing a white dress indicated wealth as it would be irreperably spoilt by any work or spillage (implying that your family had money to spend on non-functional, beautiful pieces).
The Engagement Ring
The engagement ring was first used in Ancient Egypt, where the circle was used to symbolise the cyclical and never ending nature of all things in existence, and the space in it as a spiritual gateway. Betrothal rings were similarly used in Ancient Greece and Rome, but did not reach widespread popularity throught Europe until the thirteenth century. They are worn on the fourth finger as the Ancient Greeks believed that was where a vein leading directly to the heart existed.
This stems from an Ancient Roman tradition, where veils were believed to protect brides from evil spirits who would attempt to attack her purity. During the 1800’s in Britain however, the veil came to symbolize modesty and chastity. Many religions additionally use head coverings to symbolise modesty and humity before God during a religious service.
Something Old, New, Borrowed and Blue
Traditionally, the ‘old’ is supposed to represent the bride’s past, the ‘new’, her future with her husband, the ‘borrowed’ object should be from a person with a successful marriage, in the hopes that some of this good fortune rubs off on her, and blue is representative of love and fidelity.
Seeing Each Other Before the Wedding
This was considered to be bad luck as it would allow for either party to reconsider the marriage- presumedly on account of wedding jitters. Avoiding each other meant that there was no opportunity for this. Today, however, this superstition is often disregarded, and it is now common practice for the bride and groom to meet for photo shoots immediately before the wedding.
Using Your Married Name Before the Wedding
This well known superstition maintains that using your married name or initials before the wedding day will tempt the fates, and that your wedding day will never take place! So for those who consider themselves superstitious: you have been warned.
This dates back to Celtic Ireland and Scotland, where it was believed that ringing bells had the power to ward off evil spirits and grant wishes. Although such pagan beliefs have been widely abandoned, the tradition has remained and come to symbolise the announcement of a new life spent together and happiness.
Rain on Your Wedding Day
This is one of the earliest and most ubiquitous wedding superstitions. And the explanation is simple- rain symbolises renewal and fertility.
Carrying the Bride Over the Threshold
This superstition originated in Europe during the Dark Ages, where it was believed that newly- wed women were unusually susceptible to evil spirits, who would attack her through the soles of her feet. So in order to avoid this potential chaos, new bridegrooms tok to carrying their wives over the threshold of their new home.
This dates back to pagan wedding rituals throughout Europe, where throwing rice at a couple represented fertility and prosperity. Some cultures will throw small pieces of crumbled cake with the same meaning. Nowadays, confetti or rose petals are thrown in place of rice due to a number of both practical and environmental reasons.
Cutting the Cake
‘A newlywed couple symbolise their unity, shared future and lives together by cutting the wedding cake together. The traditional fruit cake originated in Britain, with the fruit and nuts being a symbol of fertility. If the bride and groom were able to kiss over the cake without toppling it, this was considered to be indicative of a lifetime of good fortune and fertility.
This tradition actually began with the Norse custom of ‘kidnapping’ the bride. What began as a relatively quick ritual developed into more lengthy and elborate enactments of this custom. Eventually, it became customary for a bride and groom to go into hiding for 30 days (or one lunar cycle). Each day, a close friend or family member would bring a cup of honeywine to the couple- hence the name this ritual still retains: the honeymoon.