Many of the wedding traditions we still include in the modern nuptial festivities have their roots deep in history. Though many of these wedding traditions are based on superstitions or historical necessity, to this day couples still – to some degree – acknowledge them. Though the dynamics of weddings change continuously, with new wedding customs being added to the ‘canon’ all the time, wearing white, tying cans to the bumper, and carrying a bouquet all remain firmly entrenched in the collective psyche.
Unearthing the origins of our most beloved wedding traditions – from the practice of placing wedding bands on the third finger of the left hand to putting coins in the bride’s shoes – help modern brides understand why we continue to do things the way we do.
A Vision in White
“Married when the year is new, he’ll be loving, kind, and true.
When February birds do mate, you wed nor dread your fate.”
One of our most beloved wedding traditions is the white wedding dress. Many historians claim that the vivacious French queen, Anne de Bretagne, was the first to start this most cherished of wedding traditions by wearing a white wedding dress in 1499; however, there remains some speculation as to the veracity of this claim. Another 160 years would pass until accounts of Mary, Queen of Scots’ marriage to the French Dauphin in 1558 also claimed she wore white. In most cases, the white wedding dress is commonly attributed to Queen Victoria of England, however, who in 1840 married Albert of Saxe-Coburg, clad entirely in a white gown that was adorned with some of her own prized white lace. But, as far as wedding traditions are established, it still took awhile for brides to catch on to this new idea; it was, after all, very hard to clean a white dress and keep it that way in those times. Another sixty or so years would pass before brides had the resources to wear white wedding gowns routinely and keep them spotless.
Prior to this time, there were no wedding customs that dictated what color had to be worn, and everyone – from peasants to royalty – would simply wear their finest gown, whether it was blue, purple, or yellow hued. The only colors strictly off limits were black (a symbol of death) and flaming red (often associated with ‘ladies of the night.’), although brides in certain parts of the world wore (and still do) black or red gowns based on local cultural and social wedding customs and requirements. welkomstbord Nowadays, people think that a white dress stands for chastity, but traditionally, if a bride wanted to convey this fact, she would have worn blue in keeping with long-held wedding traditions.
All You Need Is Something Old, New, Borrowed, and Blue
“If you wed when March winds blow, joy and sorrow both you’ll know.
Marry in April when you can, joy for maiden and for man.”
Another favorite of our modern day wedding traditions – the practice of integrating ‘something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue’ – has been a part of the marriage ceremony since the nineteenth century, each standing for a special trinket or symbol the bride carries with her on the wedding day. Most people are unaware of the last line of this phrase, however, which ends with ‘and a silver sixpence in her shoe.’ Many cultures practice putting coins in the bride’s shoes, symbolic wedding customs that stand, of course, for wealth and prosperity. In Sweden, for instance, these wedding customs are evident with the mother of the bride placing a gold coin in one shoe and her father placing a silver coin in the other to ensure that she will always have financial security.
‘Something old’ stands for the bride’s old life; wedding customs generally state that she should pick something that reminds her of a loved one (perhaps a grandparent) or past special event. ‘Something new’ signifies the couple’s hope for their future together; a symbol of a shared interest is an excellent choice. ‘Something borrowed’ represents something the bride wishes to aspire to or someone she wishes to honor, whether it be a loved one’s old bracelet or a memento from a friend who has a happy marriage. And finally, the ‘something blue’ part of these wedding traditions, though it no longer holds the same symbolism, denotes the bride’s purity. Many brides today incorporate the color discreetly underneath their dresses in the form of garters or as jewelry.
The Vein of Love Links Both Hearts
“Marry in the month of May, and you’ll surely rue the day.
Marry when June roses grow, over land and sea you’ll go.”
With its circular shape, the wedding ring, which for years has been a part of our most respected wedding customs, represents a love without end and the moment when the bride and groom are joined together. Placing the wedding ring on the third finger of the left hand is usually believed to have come from the ancient Egyptian belief that this part of the body contained the ‘vein of love,’ or a mythical vein that runs from the finger to the heart. With the wedding ring on this finger, another of our most beloved wedding traditions concluded that happiness, love, and commitment were assured.