There are certain aspects of every wedding that seem to be planned without thought because they’re traditional, but there are few among us who know how or why they started. Before you plan your wedding, you might want to learn about where some of the most common traditions actually came from.
For as long as any of us can probably remember, there are just certain things that always happen at weddings—the dress is white, the wedding guests throw rice or blow bubbles and the ceremony ends, and the bride and groom cut the cake together. As often as some of us end up doing these things, however, have you actually wondered how they came to be? Here are the strange origins of some of our most commonplace wedding-day traditions.
There’s no doubt that most people are incredibly thankful weddings typically come with cake, but have you ever wondered why that became the dessert of choice?
Initially, it’s said that grooms used to take a bite of bread and then essentially crumble the rest of it over their brides’ heads. Guests would then scramble around her feet trying to pick up crumbs as they fell to the floor because it was good luck.
When wedding cakes first came into play, the bride would actually pass small pieces through her ring to the wedding guests—you guessed it, for good luck—which eventually turned into guests saving the piece of cake they were given to be placed under their pillows for, again, good luck. Thankfully, we just eat it these days.
Nowadays, a bride’s dress is one of notable details of any wedding, whether they’re simple or extravagant. White is the traditional color, but did you know that at one point, your wedding dress was essentially just the best dress that you had?
Women who were getting married didn’t always go out hunting for what was essentially themselves embodied in a dress—they just went into their closets, found the fanciest thing they had, and called it a day. They didn’t even care what color it was! Whether it was pink, blue, or purple, they wore what they had with pride, and often tried to dress it up even more with jewelry, furs, and silk.
The tradition of wearing a white wedding dress didn’t come about until 1840 when Queen Victoria was married—a marriage, by the way, that was between her and her first cousin. Her dress was white, covered in lace, and threaded with orange blossoms along the trim, and it was such a hit that people everywhere began to copy the look.
The Old, New, Borrowed, and Blue
We’ve all heard it before—all weddings need something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue. It’s a tradition that not everyone follows, but those who do tend to put some effort into procuring the items they need. The rhyme combines a number of Victorian customs that were meant to bring good luck when they were all done together.
The “something old” aimed to link the bride to both her own past and that of her family, while the “something new” was meant to represent the fact that she essentially belonged to a new family now.
The “something borrowed” was especially important, as it was supposed to be taken from a couple who was already happily married so the good vibes could be passed on. Lastly, the “something blue” represented quite a few things—purity, faithfulness, and loyalty within the relationship.
The part at the end you’ve never heard before, though, is “a sixpence in my shoe,” which was a literal sixpence coin meant to bring the couple fortune.
Having a Wedding Party
Today, wedding parties consist of the bride and groom’s best, most trusted friends, but that wasn’t always the case. Previously, the best man was responsible for making sure the groom was able to take the bride away in the event that her parents disapproved of him—yes, he was essentially a kidnapper.
The word “best” is included in the title because that particular friend was typically the best at wielding a sword or weapon, which is what you’d need in case a rival group attacked during the ceremony.
When it comes to the bridesmaids dress, you’d think it’s sole purpose was probably to make sure the bride looked stunning compared to her friends, but it’s actually not true. The dresses were originally meant to look fairly similar to the dress of the bride so that any evil spirits that happened to pass her wouldn’t automatically know which woman in the group was the bride.
The Bouquet and Garter Toss
Tossing the bouquet is still a pretty standard part of most weddings, though the garter toss is something that you don’t always see quite as often. Both are truly the worst part of any wedding for a single person, but most people choose to get out there and suck it up to move the reception along.
The real origins of these traditions are actually quite creepy, however. Simply put, couples used to go and consummate their marriage as soon as they could after saying “I do,” and it was no secret to any of their family members or guests that they were about to go do the deed.
Not only that, it wasn’t really official unless there were witnesses, so wedding guests often watched it happen, trying to get a piece of ripped wedding dress for good luck. In this situation, “weird” is an understatement.
The bouquet toss eventually became a way for the bride to distract everyone from what was about to happen so she and the groom could run off alone. Tossing the garter was what essentially served as the proof that the groom was about to go, ahem… make things happen.
Giving the Bride Away
Many brides have their fathers walk them down the aisle on their wedding day mainly because it’s been a tradition for as long as they can remember, and it’s certainly thought of as a very special honor for any dad. However, the tradition is rooted in a time when women were still thought of as being lesser than men, even as property.
Today, a dad giving his daughter away essentially means he’s approving of her marrying that particular man, but it used to be quite literal. Daughters were actually once used by their fathers as currency to pay off a debt he owed, settle any negative feelings between a neighboring village or tribe, or force his family’s way into a higher social class by giving her away to a wealthy family.
Oh, and the veil? It was essentially the dad’s way of tricking the groom into marrying his daughter, who may have been less than savory in the looks department. Surprise!
Though throwing rice at the end of a wedding ceremony isn’t necessarily a forgotten tradition, it’s one that we don’t typically see as often anymore.
For one thing, getting hit with a shower of rice is essentially like standing under needle-like rain, not to mention that it’s also a waste of food—thankfully, though, it’s just a myth that eating uncooked rice will cause a bird’s stomach to explode. Before rice was the material of choice for throwing, wedding guests often threw oats and dried corn as a way to, literally, shower the newlyweds with fortune, fertility, and prosperity.
It seems like the tradition started to die out when people realized that it was surprisingly easy to slip on rice when walking on a hard surface.
These days, it seems like bubbles or sparklers have become the most popular replacement, with many couples opting to hand out small, individual bubble packs or sparklers for their guests to hold.
Aside from keeping any leftover food from the wedding reception, it’s long been the tradition that couples save the top tier of their wedding cake so they can eat it together on their first wedding anniversary.
In fact, many people today probably adopt the tradition for themselves without having any real reason as to why they’re doing it. Turns out, the answer lies in a rhyme we’ve all heard before—”first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in a baby carriage.” The rhyme assumes that shortly after a couple falls in love and gets married, a baby can’t be far behind. So, how does this tie into saving the cake?
Well, instead of having a separate cake made to celebrate a pregnancy or birth, you just used the top tier of the giant cake you had at your wedding for that occasion, because it was apparently assumed that you’d have a baby within a year later.