Wedding Traditions

When most people think of weddings, they think of the many traditions that are usually involved. There are so many traditions that have endured through the ages that a person can choose to include in his or her wedding. Although new traditions and customs spring up everyday because people are choosing to have their weddings anyway they want them in today's society, many of the old ones still persist. Below, I include some of the most common and how they came about:

Traditions Concerning People/ Actions

Traditions Concerning Attire

Traditions Concerning Objects

Traditions Concerning Party Responsibilities

Traditions Concerning People/Actions:

    Attendants- In almost every wedding, the bride and groom ask close family and friends to stand with them at their wedding. This tradition has gone on for many years and will probably continue on into the future. This practice was thought to have originated around the time of the middle ages, when the groom sometimes had to capture his bride. His attendants helped him do this and also protected him and his bride from people who wished to steal her. The bride also brought her attendants to escort her. Obviously this is not how it is today, but the attendants are important in helping the bride and groom and are usually people who are close to you. I chose my sister as my maid of honor, and my two best friends as my bridesmaids.

    Father of the bride escorting bride- If you have a good relationship with your father, this can be a very moving experience. For me, this is where the reality of the wedding set in. By having your father walk you down the aisle, you are saying that you are ready to leave your family to join with your husband and form a new family. For the father, he is showing that he believes in the marriage and trusts his daughter to be married to the groom. It is a very supportive gesture to the couple, which can make the wedding a more meaningful. I was so happy to have my dad walk with me, and I was so moved that I could not stop crying as I walked the aisle to meet my husband. The father is the most common person to walk down the aisle with the bride, but some people choose to have both their parents escort them or someone else who is very special to the bride.

    Groom entering first, making first vow- These actions stem from the traditional view of the husband as the head of the family. This is especially true of Christian beliefs. Although the responsibilities of marriage are generally shared in today's society, the traditional marriage ceremony reflects these values. The groom entering first shows that he is accepting and initiating his leadership role and the commitment that is about to be made. He is showing that he will take responsibility for ensuring that the vows are fulfilled in the marriage. I believe this way, and I agree with the Bible that my husband is the leader of the family and he, in turn, is held more accountable for his actions. Of course, if you do not believe this way and do not want it reflected in the vows, then you can make the appropriate changes as you see fit.

    Kissing the bride- This is one of the most romantic parts of the ceremony. You have gone through all of the ritual and vow exchanging, and you finally get to kiss the one you love because you are so overwhelmed with emotion and joy. Some people believe that a part of the two lovers' souls are exchanged in this act, but there was a very different purpose behind this tradition. In ancient Rome, a kiss was a legally binding contract, which is why it became customary to kiss after vows. It made the marriage official. It really does feel that way when you come to that part in the marriage ceremony. You have kissed before, but this is the first intimate act you share as a married couple.

    The bride and groom feeding each other cake- There are many wedding traditions that signify the union of the bride and groom. One such tradition is feeding each other cake. This shows that their two bodies will be joined as one unit. If you are a Christian, you are probably familiar with the Lord's Supper. These two acts are similar in that in the Lord's Supper joins believers to Christ, while the cake joins the bride to the groom. It might not feel as serious as that when you do it, but that is why the tradition started. I found it to be a very fun and goofy part of the reception, although I insisted that no cake be smashed in my face. Luckily, my husband kept up his promise and was a complete gentleman about it.

    Taking each other's right hand- This is another tradition that represents the joining of two people. Each hand represents what the other brings to the marriage, whether it be his or her individual personalities, resources, families, experiences, etc. These combine in the marriage experience whether they are good and bad. Each person in the marriage must accept all that the other offers, which is why they promise to love each other for better or worse. The joining of hands also makes you feel closer and more connected to the other person while you are making the commitment. I felt that my husband and I were the only ones in the world when standing there holding hands in the presence of God pledging ourselves to each other. It is very sacred.

    The receiving line- If you are having a big wedding, you most likely will not include this tradition in you wedding in the interest of time. For those who are able, having a receiving line is a good way to make sure you are able to see everyone who comes to your wedding. This is where the wedding party lines up after the ceremony as the guests leave. It gives them a chance to congratulate you and wish you well. This can take awhile depending on how long-winded your guests are, which is why it is not often done anymore. Most couples today make sure to make an appearance at every table at the reception in order to thank the guests for coming. This is what we did because we had many guests and a limited amount of time at the reception, so we wanted to get there as fast as possible.

    Not seeing each other before the ceremony- In the past, many cultures had arranged marriages and, therefore, the bride and groom never saw or met each other before the ceremony. Even when the bride and groom knew each other, the superstition of not seeing each other endured because they believed their meeting would not be fresh and new and would lead to bad luck. Most brides today still practice this tradition, but many decide to defy this and see each other either for the purpose of taking pre-wedding pictures or to spend time together before going through the excitement and stress of the day. My husband and I did go with the tradition and decided not to see each other. I feel like it made our meeting more special and magical than if we had.

    The honeymoon- Most couples usually take a week or two to spend time together and relax after the excitement of their big day. In Medieval times, however, the couple were able to spend a month together until the moon waned. During this time they would drink mead, which is a drink made of fermented honey. This is where it gets its name. I wish I could have had a month alone with my husband, but our week at Walt Disney World was magical even though it seemed so short.

    Over the threshold- Sometimes the groom will carry his bride over the doorstep of their new residence or the hotel on their honeymoon. This originated from the belief that the groom was protecting the bride from evil spirits. This now signifies a new beginning for the couple. My husband carried me over the threshold of our new town home and it was very sweet.

Traditions Concerning Attire:

    Wedding veil- This tradition has many origins, one of which is mentioned in the Bible. There is a story of a man who worked seven years for his future father-in-law in order to marry his daughter. In that culture it was customary for the bride to be completely veiled until after the wedding. When the man lifted up his bride's veil, however, she was not the woman he was supposed to marry, but her sister. Now, the husband lifts the veil in order to check and see if the bride is the one he is supposed to marry. Another tradition is that brides used to wear veils to defend them from evil spirits. You do not have to wear a veil, but I did just because I like the symbolism.

    Something old, etc.- This is an English tradition that has been adopted. It originated from an old rhyme. The different items represent different things to bring good luck and fortune to the couple. The old is to remember the past in order to continue on with the future. The new is hope for the future. The borrowed is tapping into other's happiness, while the blue is for love and luck. The fun part of this tradition is that you can get creative with the items you choose.

    Wedding rings- The reason for exchanging rings is first of all to give each other a symbol of your union and to let other people know you are married. The other reason is that rings are round and, therefore, have no beginning and no end. This represents the endlessness of the commitment and love. We wear them on the third finger of the left hand because ancient Egyptians believed that the vein in that finger went directly to the heart. After you are officially married, it feels so good to look down at your wedding ring and know that your love is forever.

    The wedding dress- Originally, brides did not wear a special wedding dress. Instead, they just wore the best dress they had. Later on, brides bought special dresses of all colors. The wearing of white, therefore, did not become popular until the Victorian era when Queen Victoria married Prince Albert. At that time, the color white represented purity and only could be worn if the bride was a virgin. Even though some people still wear white for this reason, now most brides wear this color even if they have been married before. It is a color of joy and happiness. My wedding dress was this color, and I felt special, beautiful, and pure wearing it.

    Wearing mother's pearls- This may not be a widespread tradition, but it is one that my family observes. We wear our mother's pearls as the something old and/or borrowed. It is special not only because they are beautiful, but because they remind you of that bond between mother and daughter. I wore my mother's, and I felt so privileged and special. Of course, if your mother does not own pearls you cannot do this, but you could wear another piece of jewelry.

Traditions Concerning Objects:

    Bouquet- Although modern bouquets are made of flowers that go with the colors of the wedding and/or just the bride's favorite flowers, this was not always the case. Bouquets of the past had special meanings. At first, they were made of herbs, which symbolized fertility. Later, bouquets were made of flowers that represented different qualities. Most brides now choose roses, which were favored by people of the Victorian era because they represented love. I also chose roses for my bouquet, although they were purple and white rather than red. After the wedding, she would then throw it to her friends for good luck and to protect them from evil spirits. In later years the person who caught the bouquet was thought to be the next one to marry.

    Garter- Along with the tradition of throwing the bouquet, it is customary for the groom to throw the bride's garter. This is a more civilized version of what used to happen in the past. In earlier times, guests would tear off pieces of the bride's gown with the hope of gaining luck. This did not sit well with the brides, so they began to toss their garters with the purpose of appeasing the crowd. Now, the groom throws it because it is the equivalent of the bouquet toss for women, but it can also be a fun and crazy part of the reception if the groom plays it up. Luckily for me, my husband was actually embarrassed by the whole process and spared me the vulgarity that can sometimes occur.

    Throwing rice- This is a tradition that was started in the Middle Ages. In those times, wheat symbolized fertility because it was a main staple for the people to eat. In those early weddings, the wedding guests threw wheat over the bride and groom to wish them a very fertile marriage, because raising a family to work the land was very important. In later years, the wheat was changed to rice although the message remained the same. Now, most people do not throw rice because it can be harmful to birds if eaten and it is also very messy. Instead, people throw petals or blow bubbles as the couple leave to wish then happiness, love, and good fortune.

    Aisle runner- Many brides choose to walk down the aisle on a white aisle runner, especially if getting married in a church. It is usually rolled out after the bridesmaids walk down before the bride walks out. Besides being beautiful, it symbolizes holy ground. The bride and groom are not alone in their commitment, but do so in the presence of God. I chose to have an aisle runner even though it proved to be difficult to get it straight because the aisles in my church are slanted. It was amusing to watch it being rolled out, but it turned out all right in the end.

    Marriage license/guest book- Both of these are items that are traditionally signed at the wedding. The license is signed by the couple and is usually witnessed by the best man and maid of honor in order to make the wedding official. In this way, it serves as a public document and record of the commitment. The guest book is signed by the guests. They are witnesses to the union and in signing the book, they are testifying to the fact that the marriage is, in fact, real. The guest book can be signed before and after the ceremony, but if you want to be strict with the meaning of the guest book, you should have it signed afterwards because the guests would have seen the wedding.

    Serving food at reception- A reception is a grand party to celebrate the happiness of the bride and groom on their wedding day. Whenever there have been celebrations all over the world, food and feasting have accompanied. This usually includes a wedding cake, which used to symbolize fertility. In older times, it was an honor to entertain guests, and they were given the very best the hosts could give. A wedding was all the more reason to treat the guests, bride, and groom to feasting and celebration. In some cultures, such as the Jewish, they would celebrate for weeks on end. Now, the time of day usually determines how much food is served and what kind. Our reception was in the late afternoon, early evening, so we served dinner to our guests.

    Unity candle- This is one of my favorite traditions. The unity candle is a large, usually ornate candle that is joined by two smaller candles on each side. The parents of the bride and groom usually light these smaller candles at the beginning of the ceremony. The couple will then take the two candles and light the one unity candle. This symbolizes the unity of the couple as one unit apart from each person's own family. We lit ours at the very end of the ceremony to symbolize that our marriage was indeed an official union.

    Kneeling alter- If you are having your wedding at a church and are of certain religious beliefs, you might want to have communion. For this, couples usually kneel on a special bench. This is special because it is an intimate time with each other, with the pastor, and with God. In taking communion, you are taking time to remember what Christ did for you and are affirming your commitment to have a godly marriage. As Christians, we decided to have communion, and it was very meaningful for my husband and I.

Traditions Concerning Wedding Party Responsibilities:

    Maid of honor- The maid of honor has many responsibilities, so you should choose a friend or family member who is not only close to you but also someone who you can count on. I chose my sister because we were really close. The maid of honor's main function is to help the bride with anything she needs. This might include helping choose attire, keeping the bride and bridesmaids on schedule, wrapping bubbles and preparing decorations and parting gifts, holding the bride's bouquet during the ceremony, etc. She is also responsible for planning the bridal shower, and/or lingerie party and paying for her attire and the bridal shower.

    Best man- Like the maid of honor, the best man is very important in being there, helping, and supporting the groom. He also keeps the groom and groomsmen on schedule, offers the toast at the reception, may drive the groom to the ceremony, and the bride and groom to the reception if no driver, makes sure to bring the wedding license, etc. He also plans the bachelor party and pays for his attire and bachelor party. The groom usually chooses a close friend or a brother to fulfill this title, however, my husband chose his father. This is a tradition in some families.

    Attendants- The bridesmaids and groomsmen help the maid of honor and best man with their duties to assist the bride and groom. They both pay for their attire and help pay for the bridal shower and bachelor party. If there are no ushers, the groomsmen serve as the ushers and are responsible for seating people at the ceremony. They may also roll out the aisle runner.

    Bride's parents- The bride's parents along with the bride are responsible for planning and paying for most of the wedding. They can also participate in the various aspects of the ceremony and reception such as lighting the unity candle, acting as host and hostess at the reception, walking the bride down the aisle, and dancing with the bride and groom at the ceremony. My mother was a tremendous help to me as I planned my wedding. She took care of most of the details because I was so busy with school. I was also lucky that my parents were able to pay for the kind of wedding I wanted, but I know that this is not always the case for everyone. If your parents cannot help you in this way, all of this will be up to you. You can do it if you plan and budget in an educated way.

    Grooms parents- The groom's parents play a smaller part in the planning, and they are only required to pay for a few aspects of the wedding. However, they may help out and pay for more if they wish. They are traditionally  in charge of planning and paying for the rehearsal dinner, flowers, officiant's fee, license, and honeymoon. This can be subject to change depending on individual people.

    Flower girl/ring bearer- If you choose to have a flower girl and ring bearer, they should be between the ages of four and eight. They both usually stand up front with the attendants during the ceremony, but if they are very young, can sit with their parents. I had a flower girl but not a ring bearer because we did not know someone that young. It just depends on how many young children you know that are close to you at the time of the wedding whether or not you will have a flower girl and ring bearer.


Back to Wedding Planning
Jennifer Hitchcock, Webmaster
Last revised September 11, 2002
Copyright Jennifer Hitchcock 2002 all rights reserved.
Void where prohibited.