Garter toss. First dance. Bouquet toss. Big entrance. Big exit. Bridal parties. These and so many more events are traditions that have been seen and practiced at many of the weddings we attend, shoot, or plan. When planning mine and Patrick’s wedding, I began asking the “why” question for some of these. Namely because my hubby is not a huge fan of dancing, and we both thought the garter toss could be awkward (thinking of our poor little nephews watching my new husband go up my dress was enough to make my decision). Where did these traditions even come from? Why do you see them at weddings and nowhere else? Does it matter whether you do them or not? I thought I’d break it down by event and let you decide what you want to include in your day. Also note, researching these made me realize just how violent and superstitious wedding traditions really are.
Veils began in Roman times to 1) prevent brides from running away and 2) reveal their face to their groom who usually hadn’t seen her face up until that point. The Romans used the veil as a way to trip up the bride if she didn’t like the arrangement with her hubby-to-be, often due to an arrangement made by the bride’s father. Take comfort that in the 19th century, veils began to symbolize purity and modesty.
The white dress trend started in 1840 when Queen Victoria wore white to her wedding. Some thought it originally symbolized virginity, but it actually symbolized wealth as it was a difficult color to obtain and keep clean. A decade later, it began gaining popularity as a symbol of purity.
Bouquets used to contain garlic to mask the smell of the bride (deodorant, anyone?) as well as symbolize fertility and ward off bad spirits.
“Something old, something new”
This is primarily a British tradition, derived from an Old English Rhyme that goes: “something olde, something new, something borrowed, something blue, a sixpence in your shoe” to symbolize four items the bride adds to her wedding wardrobe/carries with her.
Something old: continuity
Something new: optimism for the future
Something borrowed: borrowed happiness
Something blue: purity, love, and fidelity
Sixpence: good fortune and prosperity
Father giving away the bride
A tradition in which the father would give away his daughter as payment, as a peace offering, or as a way to increase status by the bride marrying into a family with money. Now, it’s a lot sweeter, with the father passing the care from his family to the groom.
Roman law used to require 10 witnesses at a wedding, and these witnesses would dress like the couple to confuse evil spirits or home wreckers who wanted to hurt them.
An older tradition in which wedding guests toss rice at the couple as they leave the ceremony location. The rice symbolized prosperity and fertility, and was rumored to be harmful to birds (not true), and therefore banned from many venues. The real concern is that rice, and the later substituted birdseed, are a falling hazard, causing guests to slip and wipe out post-ceremony.
An event following the ceremony to symbolize the first party hosted by the bride and groom as a couple as well as the introduction of the couple into society.
Bouquet and garter toss
Think black Friday mayhem. This tradition derived from England under the superstition that the bride emitted luck on her wedding day. People would go ape, trying to rip pieces of the bride’s dress and parts of her flowers to get some of her luck. Throwing the bouquet was really a way for the bride to get everyone attempting to attack her to focus on something else so she could run. The same is true of the garter. It was basically a distraction so that the bride could throw it at the men attempting to rip pieces of her dress.
A European and American tradition in which the couple opens the dancing for the evening. The style of the dance varied by couple, but some traditions have suggested that couples dance simultaneously with their guests to prevent a spectacle.
Today, couples cut the bottom layer of the cake together to symbolize continuity. The groom puts his hand over his brides as a sign of support and provision while the bride’s hand symbolizes care for her hubby and family. The couple then feeds one another a small piece of cake to symbolize good luck and fortune. In Roman times, the groom used to break bread over the bride’s head to symbolize the husband being over the wife. Similarly, the bride used to distribute cake crumbs to guest for them to put under their pillow for luck (another eww).
There are countless other traditions, not included here, but I thought this would be a way for you to make an informed decision before you throw the bouquet and send crumbs home for your guest’s pillows. I’ve seen everything under the sun. From catching dates in the bride’s dress to symbolize the number of kids you will have to fireworks exploding during the first dance. Every culture has its own tradition and every couple has their own preferences. The most important aspect of tradition is to determine everything as a couple. It’s your day and you can have as many or as few traditions as you want; remember that it’s YOUR day. Have fun and happy planning.