Tradition, superstition

Odd wedding traditions and superstitions explained

Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock
PROVE IT: The tradition of a groom removing a bride’s garter and tossing it to other men traces to the Dark Ages, when family and friends would gather around the nuptials chamber awaiting proof the marriage was consummated.

Most of us know a white bridal gown signals purity and innocence, but why do brides carry a bouquet? 

Why are wedding cakes tiered? 

Why isn’t the groom supposed to see the bride before the ceremony? 

Why does the bride’s father walk her down the aisle? 

Why, why, why do weddings have so many specific traditions and superstitions?

If you’ve ever wondered, you’re in the right place because the odd origins of these and other wedding traditions are about to be revealed, and you may be surprised to learn that many traditions stem from a fear of evil spirits that the ancient world was certain wanted to ruin a new couple’s happiness.

Let’s start with the veil, which hails from ancient Rome. The Romans believed jealous evil spirits would haunt the bride, so the veil was meant to disguise her happiness. Likewise, bridesmaids in matching dresses were meant for both good luck and to confuse the pesky evil spirits by acting as bride decoys. Nowadays, the scariest thing about the matching dresses is how expensive they are for a dress you’ll probably wear only once.

What about that garter around a bride’s thigh, hidden under her dress until the reception when the husband removes it and throws it to a crowd of bachelors? Like the tossed bouquet to single women, whoever catches the garter will be next to marry. But the tradition actually comes from the Dark Ages, when after the wedding, family and friends would gather outside the nuptial chamber to await evidence—dirty sheets or undergarments—proving that the marriage had been consummated. Ew.

Speaking of the bouquet, is it just about holding pretty flowers? Let’s go back to ancient Greece and Rome and all those evil spirits again. Back then, brides carried bundles of herbs such as garlic, dill, and others to ward off jealous specters out to steal the bride’s happiness. The current tradition of flowers traces to 1840 and the royal wedding of Queen Victoria, who carried a bouquet of Prince Albert’s favorite flower, snowdrops. 

click to enlarge Tradition, superstition
Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock
PROVE IT: The tradition of a groom removing a bride’s garter and tossing it to other men traces to the Dark Ages, when family and friends would gather around the nuptials chamber awaiting proof the marriage was consummated.

We can also thank Q-Vicki and P-Bert for the little bride and groom wedding cake toppers. The tradition came to America in the 1920s, and by the ’50s, the couple figurines symbolized marital stability.

You know the one about the groom not seeing the bride before the wedding ceremony? That comes from the time of arranged marriages. The fear was if the couple saw each other beforehand, they might change their mind and back out.

We’ve no doubt all heard the one about the bride carrying “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue,” right? The old symbolizes the bride’s past, the new the couple’s future, the borrowed something from a happily married woman so good fortune rubs off, and the blue to denote fidelity and love. The father placing sixpence in the bride’s shoe was a token of luck and prosperity. The Greek culture believes placing a sugar cube on the bride will sweeten the marriage.

Smash a glass or vase? An Italian tradition believes the number of broken shards symbolizes how many years of happy marriage the couple will enjoy, so really put some muscle into it.

Placing the ring on the fourth finger of the left hand is Roman and comes from the idea that the left hand is directly connected to the heart by the so-called “vein of love.”

Tossing rice symbolized fertility and prosperity, but the tradition has been sort of killed by an urban myth that birds eat it, and it expands inside them and kills them. Not true. It’s just hard to clean up. These days, dried lavender buds or biodegradable confetti is used.

What about that tiered wedding cake? In ancient Rome, guests broke a loaf of bread over the bride’s head to symbolize fertility, and the newlyweds would share a few bites while the guests gathered up leftover crumbs for good luck. Fast forward to Medieval England, where the couple had to kiss over a pile of pasties, buns, scones, cookies, and the like to ensure a prosperous future, which is the precursor to the tiered cake, the top of which is to be kept frozen and enjoyed by the couple at their first child’s christening.

Stressed about rain on your wedding day? Southern folklore says to bury a bottle of bourbon upside down at the wedding site one month prior to ward off rain. Dig it up after the ceremony to enjoy.

What about the father of the bride walking her down the aisle and giving her away? That also hails from the time of arranged marriages and symbolizes a transfer of ownership. Gulp. Have daddy walk you down anyway. It’s sweet, right?

Why is getting married called tying the knot? Because you’re now bound together. In Celtic and Hindu weddings, the bride’s and groom’s hands are literally tied together during the ceremony. It’s called handfasting in Celtic and hastmelap in Hindu.

So, you did it. You’re hitched. Mazel tov! Now it’s time to head home, and the groom will pick you up and carry you over the threshold. But why? In Medieval Europe, the bride was considered vulnerable to evil spirits through her soles, so let’s keep evil out of the house, shall we?

Contact New Times Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey from the Sun’s sister paper at [email protected].

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