Wedding traditions vary wildly from one culture to another, and many of these traditions and rituals stem from the dominant religions of each region. Shinto weddings in Japan include the san-san-ku-do, a purification ritual that involves sharing cups of sake. Jewish couples may fast on their wedding day to atone for any sins (don’t worry—they can eat at the reception!). Muslim and Hindu brides decorate their bodies with intricate henna patterns before their big day.
Even western, predominately Christian nations have special, faith-based wedding rituals. Many of these traditions have become so commonplace that we hardly bat an eye about including them in our weddings. In fact, Christian wedding traditions have become so pervasive (particularly through film and TV) that many other cultures have adopted these traditions; in Japan, an estimated 80% of weddings are in the “Western” style, featuring Christian traditions.
Which wedding traditions are considered traditionally Christian? Here are just a few rituals with a religious history.
1. The Bridal Dress and Veil
I have talked at length about the white wedding gown and its origins. I’ve mentioned how it was originally a trend started by Queen Victoria, how she chose a white gown simply to showcase the lace on her dress, and how it’s not actually a symbol of virginity—and that’s it not a big deal if you don’t want to wear one. However, there is some reason to believe that the classic wedding ensemble (a white dress and veil) has some connection to Christian traditions.
In Revelation 19:7-8, John the Apostle writes about the bride (i.e., the Christian Church) being presented to Jesus. He describes her as wearing “fine linen, bright and clean,” which many have interpreted to mean wearing the color white. Similarly, the bridal veil has long been considered a reference to the Temple veil—a cloth that, in Biblical times, kept the Ark of the Covenant hidden from view. When Christ died, the veil was torn, signifying the forgiveness of sin and the people’s reconnection with God. Similarly, the bridal veil is lifted during the wedding, signifying the couple’s connection to one another.
2. The Brides’s Entrance
Think about a traditional, Western wedding for a moment: when the ceremony starts, the groom and his groomsmen are already at the altar. This may seem like no big deal—after all, it’s the bride who has an incredible dress (and spends hours on her makeup); she should get a big moment walking down the aisle. But this simple tradition was very likely designed to reflect a Biblical description of marriage.
The Bible is full of references to a husband being “the head of the wife,” but in Ephesians 5:23-32, the description of Christian marriage is made very clear. The apostle Paul calls for husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the Church, and to “present her to himself as…without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish.” This is part of the reason why the bride walks down the aisle while the groom does not; the bride is being “presented” to him.
3. The Cord of Three Strands
Now, we’re getting into some of the more unique Christian wedding traditions—the kind you may not see outside of a religious ceremony. These traditions use Bible verses and stories to symbolize a couple’s love and commitment to each other, as well as their devotion to God.
The first tradition I’d like to talk about is the cord of three strands. This is a reference to Ecclesiastes 4:12: “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Just like a unity candle or sand pour, this ritual is meant to symbolize two people coming together as one. However, this particular ritual adds a third party into the picture: God.
Couples who include a cord of three strands in the marriage ceremony usually take three ropes (one for each member of the couple and one for God) and braid them together while someone prays aloud or performs a song. The braided ropes often become a piece of décor in the couple’s home after the wedding, reminding them of the strength and resilience of their marriage.
4. Foot Washing
Foot washing is another wedding tradition you won’t see at the average Western wedding, but it is very common among more religious ceremonies. This ritual is, well, exactly what you’d expect. The couple takes turns washing each other’s feet in a basin of water.
This tradition has its roots in the story of Jesus. The book of John (John 13:1-17) describes Jesus washing the feet of his disciples before he was crucified. This was a symbol of humility and devotion. Jesus told his disciples, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.” For this reason, some Christian couples choose to recreate the ritual, symbolizing their desire to help and serve one another.