Wedding Tradition Origins You Won’t Believe

Throwing rice in the wedding day

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We take a lot of things for granted and rarely think of why we do certain things in certain ways. In terms of weddings, there’s a lot of tradition that goes on. Weddings were believed to be extremely important communal occasions and a lot of superstition grew to surround these events.

From the bride’s veil, bouquet and dress to the custom of having a best man … all these traditions originated at some point in the distant past, for reasons that no longer have much relevance today. And yet we continue to do them.

Here are 10 wedding tradition origins that you won’t believe.

1- The Bride’s Bouquet – masking body odor and warding evil spirits away

Bride holding flowers in her wedding day

Bride’s spend a lot of time choosing the type of flowers, style and colors of their bouquet as an accessory to complement her dress and to look beautiful. But in the past, bridal bouquets were carried for two main reasons – to ward off evil spirits and to hide the bride’s body odor.

The brides typically carried herbs like garlic and dill which were believed to have strong protective powers which were believed to banish evil spirts that might be lurking around to destroy the couple’s happiness.

In terms of body odor, the evidence suggests that during the Middle Ages, people took baths around once a year. What’s particularly gross is that everyone in the family, including the servants and infants, shared the same bathwater. Naturally, the men (in order of rank) would use the water first, followed by the women and then the children. You can only imagine how dark and dirty the water would be by the end, so much so that you could even ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’ and not notice.

2- Throwing the Bouquet – sharing a little of the bridal luck

Bride tossing the bouquet

When it comes time to toss the bouquet, just before the bride and groom leave the reception, all the single and unmarried ladies line up to catch it.

This tradition originates from the belief that the bride was lucky on her wedding day and everyone wanted in on this good fortune. As such, everybody wanted a little piece of something from the bride to share her luck and would try to tear of a bit of her dress or snatch some flowers from her. As a result, the bride would trow her bouquet at her guests to distract them and get away with her husband. Whoever that caught the bouquet would be the next in line to get married.

3- The Best Man – because you need a friend in case of resistance

groomsmen and groom jumping for a photos hoot

What would you do if you knew that there might be resistance from your future bride’s family? Why, you take your closest, strongest friend to help fight them away of course. At least, that’s what happened in Anglo-Saxon England.

Sometimes men took women by force and would need to defend their bride. The groom’s most trusted friend would be there throughout the process to ensure that everything went well. He was called the best man. Today, the best man still offers support and stands by the groom, but doesn’t need to have his sword at the ready.

4- The Bridesmaids – what other way to fool evil spirits?

Bridesmaids at wedding

As I mentioned above, the belief during Medieval times was that evil spirts lurked about to harm the bride and destroy her happiness. To fool and confuse the spirits, the bride would have several friends dress similarly and stand by her side. The spirits wouldn’t be able to pick out the bride. Today, it’s more about having your closest friends near you to help you when the wedding process gets stressful. 

5- Giving Away the Bride – essentially a business deal

Giving away the bride

The tradition of the father giving his bride away has very patriarchal origins. It goes back to the Middle Ages when the words giving away meant to transfer property from one person to another. Women were considered the property of men, belonging first to their fathers and then transferred to their husbands. As such, they had no say in the entire transaction, and were passive participants.

6- Saving Your Wedding Cake – kill two birds with one stone

Floral wedding cake

Wedding cakes are typically 3 tiers or more and one tradition is to save the top tier to eat on the first anniversary of the marriage. One reason for this was that most people expected the bride to have a child within the first year of marriage. The top tier of the cake was saved so that it could be used as the desert when announcing the birth of the child.

7- Throwing Rice – good luck and fertility

Couples exiting with bubbles in their wedding day

While today throwing rice is rarely done (instead bubbles or flower petals are used), in the past, this tradition signified good fortune, luck and fertility. It wasn’t just rice – oats, corn and other similar grains were used. However, using grains was deemed hazardous and eventually fell out of favour as guests could trip on these.

8- Wedding Rings on the Ring Finger – a sweet tradition

Bride wearing white dress holding wedding rings on the palm of her hand

This is probably the only wedding tradition so far listed that isn’t patronising, patriarchal or downright outdated in meaning. Wedding rings have been worn for thousands of years, originally by the Egyptians who made round rings of reed. The circle represented eternity and completeness while the hole represented the doorway to a new life together.

Over time, wedding ring was made using different metals and materials. The Romans wore them on the fourth finger of the left hand because they believed that a vein ran from this finger straight to the heart – the vena amoris or vein of love. No such vein exists but the tradition persists.

9- Bridal Veil and First Look – the show must go on

Bride holding the veil

As with a lot of other traditions for weddings, the bridal veil originated partly to keep the evil spirits at bay and to protect the bride and partly to hide the bride from the groom.

This second point originates from the practice of arranged marriages, where neither the groom nor the bride sees each other prior to the wedding. Once the veil was lifted, the groom got to see his bride for the first time. If he didn’t like what he saw, it would be too late to have second thoughts.

10- The Garter Toss – an unsettling practice

garter toss

While the popularity of this tradition is waning, it’s still practised at many weddings around the US. But what exactly does it mean?

The garter is a band that’s worn around your thigh to hold up your stocking. The tradition is that the groom would take off the garter from his bride (essentially her undergarments, gasp!) and throw it to the guests as a symbol of the consummation of the marriage. Today it’s a pretty awkward ceremony, seeing the groom up his seated bride’s dress, struggling to find and take off her garter before tossing it to all the single men among the guests.  

It’s quite telling that while the single ladies catch flowers, the single men get to catch an undergarment of the bride. It tells a lot about how women were viewed at the time. While this practice has pretty unsettling origins, at least we got rid of the bedding ceremony. Maybe it’s time to get rid of the garter toss too?