Incorporating wedding traditions in your wedding day is a wonderful and fun way of celebrating and recognising the historical importance of marriage within a modern context. Listed below are many of the traditions that are still popular throughout the United Kingdom today. As we stumble across more while we research our articles, we will add them to our list. We should add that we have come across several explanations for most traditions during our research and have documented here the most frequently occurring. Also, many of the traditions date back many hundreds of years and consequently their origins are not fully known although most have their roots in ancient superstitious beliefs. So, if you read other explanations elsewhere, don’t be surprised since there are many about and they all sound plausible.
something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue.
The full wording of this popular bridal attire rhyme, which dates back to the Victorian times is ‘something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue and a silver sixpence in your shoe.’ Something old refers to wearing something that represents a link with the bride’s family and her old life. Usually, the bride wears a piece of family jewellery or maybe her mother’s or grandmother’s wedding dress.
Wearing something new represents good fortune and success in the bride’s new life. The bride’s wedding dress is usually chosen, if purchased new, but it can be any other new item of the bride’s wedding attire.
Wearing something borrowed, which has already been worn by a happy bride at her wedding, is meant to bring good luck to the marriage. Something borrowed could be an item of bridal clothing, a handkerchief or an item of jewellery.
Wearing something blue dates back to biblical times when the colour blue was considered to represent purity and fidelity. Over time this has evolved from wearing a blue clothing to wearing a blue band around the bottom of the bride’s dress and to modern times where the bride wears a blue or blue-trimmed garter.
…and a silver sixpence in your shoe.
Placing a silver sixpence in the bride’s left shoe is a symbol of wealth. This is not just to bring the bride financial wealth but also a wealth of happiness and joy throughout her married life. Why not treat yourself to a real silver sixpence from our online store?
The wedding veil.
The origin of the wedding veil is unclear but it is thought that it predates the wedding dress by centuries. One explanation is that it is a relic of the days when a groom would throw a blanket over the head of the woman of his choice when he captured her and carted her off. Another explanation is that during the times of arranged marriages, the bride’s face was covered until the groom was committed to her at the ceremony – so it would be too late for him to run off if he didn’t like the look of her! It is also thought that the veil was worn to protect the bride from evil spirits that would be floating around on her wedding day.
These origins have all evolved into the tradition that the veil covers the bride’s face throughout the ceremony until the minister pronounces the couple man and wife – although today, the veil is often lifted by the bride’s father when the bride arrives at the alter.
carry the bride Carrying the bride over the threshold.
There seems to be two explanations for this tradition where the groom carries his bride over the threshold when entering their home as a married couple for the first time. The first is to protect the bride from evil spirits that were thought to be lying in wait under the threshold. The second explanation relates to Roman times when it was believed that if the bride stumbled when entering the newlywed’s home for the first time, it would bring bad luck and harm to their marriage. So carrying the bride across the threshold would prevent this from happening (although we haven’t established the likely outcome to the marriage if the groom stumbled while carrying the bride!).
wedding ring Third finger, left hand.
A bride’s engagement ring and wedding ring are traditionally worn on the third finger of the left hand (the finger next to your little finger). Although there is no precise evidence to explain the origin of this tradition, there are two strongly held beliefs. The first, dating back to the 17th century, is that during a Christian wedding the priest arrived at the forth finger (counting the thumb) after touching the three fingers on the left hand ‘…in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost’. The second belief refers to an Egyptian belief that the ring finger follows the vena amoris, that is, the vein of love that runs directly to the heart.
Why the bride stands on the left.
During the marriage ceremony, the bride stands on the left and the groom on the right. The origin of this goes back to the days when a groom would capture his bride by kidnapping her. If the groom had to fight off other men who also wanted her as their bride, he would hold his bride-to-be with his left hand allowing his right hand to be free to use his sword.
First on the dance floor.
At the evening celebrations, the bride and groom traditionally dance first on their own to a waltz. However, as ballroom dancing is not so popular these days, the newlyweds usually dance to a favourite romantic song. During the playing of this song, it is traditional for the groom to dance with his new mother-in-law and then with his mother, while the bride dances with her new father-in-law and then with her father. The best man also joins in dancing with the chief bridesmaid and the ushers with the other bridesmaids when the bride and groom first change. After the first dance, all the guests are invited to join the newlyweds on the dance floor. Please read our related article Music For Your Wedding
Leap year proposals.
The right of every women to propose on 29th February each leap year, goes back many hundreds of years to when the leap year day had no recognition in English law (the day was ‘lept over’ and ignored, hence the term ‘leap year’). It was considered, therefore, that as the day had no legal status, it was reasonable to assume that traditions also had no status. Consequently, women who were concerned about being ‘left on the shelf’ took advantage of this anomoly and proposed to the man they wished to marry.It was also thought that since the leap year day corrected the discrepancy between the calendar year of 365 days and the time taken for the Earth to complete one orbit of the sun (365 days and 6 hours), it was an opportunity for women to correct a tradition that was one-sided and unjust. For those wishing to take advantage of this ancient tradition, you will only have to wait until Sunday 29th February 2004.
The origin of throwing confetti over newly weds predated Christ since it originates from the ancient Pagan rite of showering the happy couple with grain to wish upon them a ‘fruitful’ union. Pagans believed that the fertility of the seeds would be transferred to the couple on whom they fell. The throwing of rice has the same symbolic meaning. The word confetti has the same root as the word ‘confectionery’ in Italian and was used to describe ‘sweetmeats’ that is, grain and nuts coated in sugar that were thrown over newly weds for the same Pagan reason. In recent years, small pieces of coloured paper have replaced sweetmeats, grain and nuts as an inexpensive substitute but the use of the word confetti has remained.
Confetti is now available in a wide range of colours and designs to match you wedding theme. Despite the longevity of this tradition, it is on the verge of extinction because the throwing of confetti is not permitted at most register offices and churches due to the mess it makes. However, the tradition may survive with the recent introduction of wedding bubbles, which provides an environmentally safe alternative.
The tradition of giving your guests something to remember the day by in the form of favours has been around for hundreds of years. Today, the tradition has evolved to giving each guest five sugar coated almonds to symbolise health, wealth, fertility, happiness and long-life. However, during the late 19th century at high society weddings, guests could expect to receive favours such as scarves, garters and gloves. Looking back further, an article in the Caldwell Papers (Scotland) dated 1750, reports:
“The bride’s favours are sewn on her gown from top to bottom, and round the neck and sleeves. The moment the wedding ceremony was performed the whole company ran to her and pulled off the favours; in an instant she was stripped of all of them. The bride’s mother then came in with a basket of favours belonging to the bridegroom; those and the bride’s were the same, with the livery’s of their families, hers pink and white, his gold and blue colour.”
But why almonds? It appears that the association of almonds with love goes back to Greek legend with the story of a young man called Demophon, who met and fell in love with a Tracian princess, Phyllis. However, before the marriage ceremony could take place Demophon is informed that his father has died in Athens and he must return for the funeral.
He promises to return by a certain date but errs on the time it will take him and does not return until three months later. By this time Phyllis is convinced that she will never see her lover again and hanged herself. The Gods, touched by her love, transform her into an almond tree. The grief stricken Demophon offered a sacrifice to the almond tree, declaring his undying love. In response, the almond tree blossomed. Impetuous youth and undying love were thus symbolised by the almond. Also, in his writings on natural history in 77AD, Pliny advised that eating five almonds would prevent drunkenness, therefore maybe the giving of the five almonds to wedding guests was to ensure that celebrations did not get out of hand.
wedding shoes Shoes and weddings.
The tradition of tying shoes to the bumper of the newly wed’s car has various believed origins ranging from the times of marriage by capture, with the bride’s father throwing his shoe in anger at the escaping groom and his stolen bride to the notion that leather had the quality to protect against evil spirits and the tying of shoes to the back of the newly wed’s transport would deter them from interference. Another belief is that shoes symbolise fertility (hence why Mother Goose’s little old woman lived in a shoe).
The exchange or throwing of shoes once symbolised the fulfilment of a bargain, which, in the case of marriage, transferred the father’s authority over the bride to her new husband. The Bride’s father would give the groom one of her old shoes and the groom would tap the bride over the head with it, symbolising the acceptance of his new authority.
It was also considered to bring good luck to the bride and groom if their guests threw shoes at them, although one can only hope that their aims weren’t too accurate. If the bride throws her shoe, it was thought that the one to catch it would be the next to marry, rather like the throwing of the bouquet. Finally, it was also considered lucky to get married in a pair of old shoes.
The meaning of “Bride”
The word bride comes from old English being a name for ‘cook’, which explains a lot! While groom originated from ‘male child’ , it would be logically to think that bridegroom meant male cook. But it does not. Instead, bridegroom is a Germanic word meaning exactly what is appears to mean – simply, the man who is marrying the bride.
Bridesmaids and ushers.
Bridesmaids and ushers originate from the Roman law that demanded ten witnesses be present at a wedding in order to dupe evil spirits who were believed to attend marriages with the view to causing mischief and disharmony. The bridesmaids and ushers all dressed in identical clothing to the bride and groom so that the evil spirits wouldn’t know who was getting married. This explanation ties in with the bride’s veil being an anti evil spirit device!
The meaning of “Wedlock”.
Wed is from old English (wedd) and old Scottish (wad) both meaning to pledge. Lock is old English (lac) and means carrying out an action. Therefore, the meaning of wedlock originally meant pledging property to the bride’s father as payment for his daughter. Today, wedlock simply means the married state especially in the phrase born in wedlock or born out of wedlock, meaning a legitimate or illegitimate birth.
wedding cake The wedding cake.
The wedding cake has a rich symbolic history of its own that is relatively forgotten today. The ancient Greeks threw cakes at the newly married couple, just as we throw confetti today. In Roman times, at the marriages of the upper classes, cakes made of flour, salt and water would firstly be shared by the bride and groom, which was thought to promise the couple a life of plenty, in both children and happiness. The remainder was then broken over the bride’s head. The guests, believing they would share in the blessing it symbolised, would rush forward to procure a morsel for themselves. Furthermore, it was only the children born to a marriage sanctified in this way that qualified for the high sacred offices in Roman life, hence, not only did the cake provide the couple with future fertility, but also it promised their yet unconceived children with a propitious future.
A huge basket of dried biscuits was provided at the wedding ceremonies of the early Anglo Saxons where the guests would take one each and the remainder was shared amongst the poor. However, in later times the wedding guests would bring their own cakes, often spiced buns, which were piled into a huge mound. It was deemed to be good fortune if the bride and groom were able to kiss each other over the mountain of cakes, promising them life-long happiness and good fortune. Legend suggests that at about the time of King Charles II (1630-1685) a French chef, observing the tedious way that all the small cakes were piled on top of each other suggested icing the mound into one mass, out of which grew the traditional French celebration cake called the croquembouche. The many tiered, elaborately iced, traditional wedding cakes of today are based on the unusual shape of the spire of St Bride’s church in London.
In Victorian times, the tradition of breaking the cake over the bride’s head was believed to promote fertility and unmarried girls would pass a piece of the cake through the bride’s wedding ring and place it under their pillow believing that they would dream of their future husband. In more recent times the cutting of the cake, once the sole responsibility of the bride, was symbolic of the bride’s pending loss of virginity, and even now the wedding cake is often still regarded as a symbol of fertility, and its distribution among the guests is symbolic of the sharing of happiness – sharing is regarded as an important feature of all religions, hence the tradition of sending a piece of cake to those unable to attend the ceremony.
Tips, guides and articles on weddings and wedding traditions