The History of the Most Common Wedding Traditions

A bride and groom standing underneath the bride's large veil.

If there’s one thing besides love associated with weddings, it’s traditions. There are so many of them that date back years—in some cases, centuries. Many couples are familiar with these as they begin the wedding planning process, but what an abundance of couples aren’t familiar with is the history behind many of these long-held wedding traditions. Here are some of the fascinating and surprising origins to eight popular wedding traditions.

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue

A bride wearing a white dress with blue trim.

Perhaps the most recognizable of wedding traditions, this one dates back to the Victorian era. The rhyme has four parts, each of which historically represent something different the bride is supposed to wear. Something old is representative of something from the bride’s past, likely tied to her family. Something new signifies the future and good fortune to come in the life of the bride as she embarks upon her marriage. Something borrowed symbolizes “borrowed happiness.” Finally, the something blue stands for fidelity, purity, and love.

Bridesmaids

Three bridesmaids wearing neutral dresss.

As a bride, you may never have given much thought to where the tradition of having bridesmaids comes from. This is a tradition with an interesting origin dating back to Roman times. When the idea of bridesmaids began, they used to wear dresses similar to the bride to confuse her exes and to also outsmart evil spirits—it was believed that doing so would confuse the spirits as to who was getting married within the group. The early duties of bridesmaids when the tradition started included lining up to form a protective shield when walking the bride into the village of the groom. Clearly, the responsibilities of bridesmaids have changed over the years!

Garter Toss

Although not all couples participate in this long-held wedding tradition these days, the garter toss originated in the Middle Ages. The tradition sprouted from the superstition that taking an article of the bride’s clothing would bring good luck.

Bridal Bouquet

A bride wearing a strapless dress and holding a large bouquet.

Almost every bride carries a bouquet down the aisle, but this tradition didn’t start out with flowers like we’re accustomed to today. Instead, back before Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were married, brides used to carry a bouquet made up of garlic, dill, and other herbs, believing it would ward off evil spirits. However, at the queen and king’s wedding, the herbs were replaced with flowers, bringing the tradition the familiarity we’re accustomed to today.

Saving Wedding Cake

A small wedding cake decorated with gold leaf and surrounded by candles.

Many couples save the top tier of their wedding cake to indulge in on their first anniversary. And while this in part is the reason that the tradition started, there was more to the idea when it began. In the old days, it was assumed that brides would have their first baby within a year of marriage. The ritual of saving part of the wedding cake was so that the newlyweds wouldn’t have to buy another cake in order to announce the birth or pregnancy of their first baby.

Bridal Veil

Brides began wearing wedding veils to protect themselves from evil and jealous spirits. Veils were also thought to protect the modesty of a bride. This tradition dates back to Ancient Greek and Roman times. In these cultures, veils were believed to confuse the devil. Another believed origin of this tradition is that the father of the bride used it as a tactic to get a groom to marry a bride who is more beautiful on the inside than out. Finally, veils were traditionally used to conceal the identity of a bride up until vows were exchanged at an arranged wedding.

The First Kiss

A bride and groom kissing an intimate church wedding.

That first married kiss actually has traditional origins, believe it or not! Back in the day, it was customary for the priest who married a couple to give a “holy kiss of peace” to the groom, which he would then pass along to his bride. This was meant to bless the marriage inside of the church. This tradition eventually morphed into what it is today, which is the phrase, “You may now kiss the bride”.

Carrying the Bride Across the Threshold

That romantic gesture of a groom whisking his bride across the threshold of their home once they return after their wedding or honeymoon is another long-held tradition. This one comes from the idea that it was unladylike for a bride to express that she wanted to leave her father’s home. So, a groom picking her up and carrying her into her new home is symbolic of him having to “force” her over the threshold.

Many of the things commonly carried out at weddings today have roots that go back a long period of time—some even hundreds of years ago! While some of the origins of these traditions seem a bit bizarre today, they’re fun to learn about and to connect the past to the present.

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