Ah, weddings. A time for us to suit up, watch our loved ones make one of the biggest decisions in their life, and get rip-roaring drunk while the DJ plays “Shout!” It seems like everyone is getting married these days, and after attending so many weddings, you’ve probably picked up on some of the wedding traditions people still use today. Most of these seem pretty quaint and reasonable, but other traditions are just plain weird. Weddings are as old as time itself; they happen in every culture, in every language, in every denomination. While most weddings follow a pretty standard, generic outline, our melting pot culture has collected thousands of traditions that we still use today. Whatever wedding you go to, wherever you are, you’re bound to see some pretty weird things. Have you ever wondered why the groom throws a garter? Or why only the bride is allowed to wear white?
Even some of the not-so-weird traditions are actually pretty weird. Having bridesmaids and a best man may seem like a normal idea, but the sordid history behind bridesmaids and best men is anything but normal. Carrying the bride over the threshold may seem romantic, but the origins of this tradition are far from romantic. Somehow, these traditions have withstood the test of time. Sure, men no longer pay for their brides with precious stones (at least, not in the U.S.), but they still give their fiancées diamond rings (you’ll think about that next time you ask a girl to marry you, won’t you?). From the seemingly normal to the completely bizarre, we’ve compiled a list of the weirdest tradition weddings and what they mean.
15. “Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue”
If you’ve lived in the US, chances are you’ve heard this phrase before–whether from an older female relative or from that one episode of Friends. Traditionally, a bride had to have something that fit each of the criteria in order for her to have good luck at her wedding and, symbolically, a happy marriage. The “something old” is supposed to represent continuity with the past while the “something new” is supposed to represent the new life upon which the bride and groom are embarking. The “something borrowed” traditionally meant the undergarments of a woman who had previously been blessed with children so as to bestow the same fertility upon the new bride. Today, it can be anything, and thank goodness for that–no one wants to wear Aunt Caroline’s panties. The “something blue” is a little more dubious, but most historians have attributed it to the wearing of a blue garter–possibly also the borrowed undergarment meant to bestow fertility. Many garters today are still blue.
14. June Weddings
June is the most popular month for weddings. Chances are, 90% of the weddings you’ve attended were in June. At first glance, this seems perfectly reasonable; June is the transition from spring to summer, meaning the weather is usually nice and spring flowers are still in bloom. An old rhyme even states that May and July are unlucky months in which to wed, whereas a June wedding means traveling overseas. A popular quote (made even more popular by the movie Seven Brides For Seven Brothers) says that a June bride is a bride forever. But why June specifically?
Historians believe that this tradition dates back to Ancient Rome. The month of June was named after the goddess Juno, who was the goddess of marriage and domestic tranquility. By marrying in June, couples hoped to ensure their own domestic tranquility.
13. Wedding Cake
It wouldn’t be a wedding without wedding cake. Cakes are easily one of the most expensive items on the wedding list–the bride and groom can spend up to thousands of dollars on a cake big enough to share with the wedding guests. It didn’t always used to be this way. Wedding cakes actually started out as a special loaf of bread that was broken over the heads of the bride and groom to bless them with a fertile union, and only the bride and groom ate the broken bread. One legend even claims that people used to throw pieces of bread at the bride and groom. Gradually, bakers started preparing cakes instead of bread–possibly after guests stopped throwing food at the happy couple. This way, everyone was able to enjoy the baked goods. While no one throws bread at the newlyweds today, the bride and groom often smash cake onto the other’s face, so maybe going back to bread isn’t a terrible idea.
12. The Bride Wears White
It’s rare today that a bride won’t wear a white dress–it has become synonymous with the wedding itself. However, this was not always the case. Before 1840, women were married in their best dress, whatever the color or style. In fact, colorful dresses were often considered more elegant. However, when Queen Victoria married Prince Albert in 1840, she donned a dress of white silk satin. It was such a fashion statement that other women took a leaf from her book and wore white dresses at their own weddings. The elegance and purity of the white dress embodied Victorian ideals, but the trend didn’t die out when the Victorian period ended. Fashion magazines praised Victoria’s white dress for decades after her wedding and even made the bold claim that white had “always” been considered an appropriate color for a wedding dress, despite Victoria being one of the few to wear a white dress. Gradually, women began buying a whole new dress for their wedding instead of selecting the best dress they already owned. Some modern women are starting to lean away from white dresses, but it will be a while before those go completely out of vogue.
Honeymoons actually have more than one origin; one is significantly nicer than the other. In ancient cultures, many men kidnapped women to be their brides. Whether because of their beauty or their dowry, men with power would steal women away, force them to marry them, sire an heir on them, and then force their fathers to acknowledge the marriage and hand over the dowry. The men would often hide their wives away for about a month or two to impregnate them; by the time the “honeymoon” ended, the women were often pregnant.
The other, nicer origin is that in Viking culture, newlyweds would spend their first month of marriage having a lot of sex and drinking a lot of mead, which is made from honey and thought to make a woman more fertile. This “honeyed month,” later translated to “honeymoon,” was a time in which the newlyweds would try to get pregnant. Couples today still repeat the tradition of drinking a lot and having a lot of sex, though not everyone is lucky enough to make it last a month.
10. Bad Luck To See The Bride Before The Wedding
This tradition has become less and less popular as more and more couples live together before getting married–if you really want the groom to not see the bride before the wedding, that means the groom has to get up super-early or spend the night somewhere else. Some couples will separate the night before for this reason (or to appease conservative family members), but more often than not the groom has seen the bride on the day of the wedding. Older folks may say that this is bad luck, but chances are they don’t know where the superstition came from.
If we followed the superstition, however, the groom wouldn’t see the bride at all before getting married. Back when many marriages were arranged by family members or a matchmaker, the bride’s family would often hide her from the groom until the wedding in case he thought her too ugly and refused to marry her. For some grooms, unveiling the bride at the altar was the first time he’d ever get to see her, and by then it would be too late to say “nah bro, I’m good.” And speaking of the bridal veil…
9. Bridal Veil
The veil is actually significant in several cultures. As well as helping to hide the bride’s appearance until she and the groom are ready to take their vows (a tradition that is still sometimes practiced in parts of the Middle East and Asia), women of Ancient Rome would actually wear a full-body veil that would later serve as their burial shroud. Just let that sink in for a minute. Judeo-Christian tradition actually holds that the practice of unveiling the bride started with Jacob. In the Bible, Jacob spent seven years as a laborer in service to his uncle Laban; in exchange, Laban had promised the hand of his younger daughter, Rachel. At the wedding, however, Laban exchanged Rachel for his older daughter, Leah, because it was the custom in his country for the older daughter to be married before the younger. Supposedly, the reason the bride wears a veil today is so that she can be unveiled and her father, who is expected to give her away, can show that he is not trying to deceive the groom. Obviously switching the bride with her sister isn’t something we really have to worry about these days, but it’s worth noting that veils are steadily disappearing.
8. Stepping On A Wine Glass
If you’ve been to a Jewish wedding, you’ve almost definitely seen the happy couple step on a wine glass or lightbulb. Even though it has become the staple of a Jewish wedding, very few people can confidently say that they know why. There are many schools of thought, but one of the most common is that the breaking of the glass represents the destruction of the Temple of Israel. According to Jewish custom, the destruction of the temple destroyed man’s connection to Heaven and, consequently, to God. But just as God and man are inextricably linked, so are the bride and groom. They step on the wine glass to remind everyone that love is fragile and easily destroyed, but no matter what has happened in the past, love can and will always find a way.
Another school of thought says that the wine glass is usually the one over which the seven sacraments have been said; by destroying the glass, the families of the bride and groom are signaling that they are satisfied with the proceedings and have no grounds upon which to object to the marriage.
7. Throwing The Garter And Bouquet
At most weddings today, women will jostle each other for the chance to catch the bouquet, and the groom will sometimes sensuously remove the garter from the bride’s leg before throwing it into a crowd of men. The superstition dictates that whoever catches these items will be the next people to get married. But why the bouquet, and why on earth do we throw a garter?
This practice began back in the good ol’ days when witnesses were required to be present during the consummation in order to make it a legitimate marriage. Witnesses (usually of the male persuasion) would often take pieces of the bride’s clothes and show them to the wedding guests to prove that the marriage had been consummated. Garments such as the garter were especially telling. Supposedly, brides began to freely give away their garters to prevent any unnecessary invasions of privacy. Bouquets, while not nearly as racy as garters, were still seen as part of the bride’s outfit and therefore acceptable as proof of consummation. Unmarried women believed that if they touched the bride’s clothes, they would soon be blessed with a marriage of their own. Gradually the tradition evolved and became gendered so that only women chased after the bouquet while the garter became intended for men.
6. Bridesmaids And Groomsmen
If you’re a bridesmaid, your duties usually involve calming down the bride, helping her get ready for the wedding, and posing for some pictures. At worst, you’ll have to hold up the bride’s enormous dress while she’s taking a pee. If you’re a groomsman, your duties likely involve throwing a stag party and…yeah, that’s about it.
It wasn’t always so easy. In medieval times, being a bridesmaid or groomsman occasionally meant risking your life. No, really. Wives’ tales claim that the families of the bride and groom were afraid that fairies would steal away one of the newlyweds, so they dressed the bridal party in the same clothes to confuse any fairies or malicious spirits. More commonly, rivals of the groom who wanted to marry the bride and take her dowry would kill the groom and steal the bride. By dressing the bridesmaids like the bride and by dressing the groomsmen like the groom, any rivals would get confused and prevent any kidnap and/or bloodshed.
So next time you’re complaining about being a bridesmaid, just remember that it could be a lot worse. You could be kidnapped. Or dead.
5. The Best Man
Not unlike the other groomsmen, being a best man was no small task. You didn’t just have to toast the newlyweds; you often had to risk your life. Back when stealing brides was perfectly acceptable (I mean, sort of), the disgruntled family of the bride would come after her captor and try to kill him and take her home. Because of this, the groom would enlist the help of a small army of best men–it wasn’t just one. The “best men” would defend their bro against the bride’s family, even if it meant dying. Sometimes, when there weren’t enough men to form a small army, a family member of the bride would challenge her captor to a duel for her honor. The groom would select a best man to either duel in his place or take his place should he die. “Best man” actually originated as a dueling term for a second.
So remember that next time someone asks you to be their best man–you may have to defend them with your life.
4. Throwing Rice
Out of all the wedding traditions, pelting the newlyweds with rice or birdseed has gotta be one of the most obnoxious. Rice and birdseed hurt, and the birdseed often attracts unwanted fowls. Many couples today choose to have bubbles blown instead, as they don’t hurt and are pretty cute. But why, you are probably wondering, do we even throw these things in the first place? It doesn’t seem very congratulatory.
Traditionally, in farming communities, wedding guests would throw seeds at the newlyweds to ensure fertility and prosperity. When the harvest was bad, rather than using precious seeds, guests would throw rice instead because it was all they could afford to throw. So even though it seems like kind of an jerky thing to do, throwing seeds and rice is actually one of the sweeter wedding traditions.
3. Tying Shoes To The Bumper Of A Car
Luckily this is one tradition we don’t see a lot of anymore, but it does still happen. When a woman got married in some ancient cultures, her father would give her shoes to her new husband. People rarely owned more than one or two pairs of shoes at a time, and by transferring the shoes, the bride’s father was transferring his ownership of the bride to her new husband. The husband would then display the shoes to show everyone that he had full ownership of his wife. Yeah, it was pretty gross. You know what was grosser, though? Being given possession of the shoes and displaying them indicated that the groom fully controlled the bride and she could not run away. Tying shoes to the bumper of a car reinforced this idea–if her shoes are tied to the car’s bumper, she can’t get to them, ergo she can’t run away.
Many couples use tin cans instead of shoes today. We’re not sure when tin cans became the replacement or why, but all we can say is thank God.
2. Bride Side And Groom Side
Having a bride’s side and a groom’s side seems fairly reasonable–presumably the bride’s friends and family want to sit together, and the groom’s want to sit together too. The bride’s side is almost always the left hand side while the groom’s side is usually the right. Why this specific placement? A lot of it goes back to those good ol’ days when men used to kidnap women for their brides. Because the bride’s family often came looking for retribution, the groom would have a sword at the ready to fight off an angry father or brother or even the bride’s intended husband. Because most men were taught to fight with their right hand, they would hold their sword at the ready in their right hand and hold the bride in their left arm to make sure she didn’t get away. This became such a common arrangement that gradually the bride always stood to the left–whether or not she had been kidnapped.
1. Carrying The Bride Over The Threshold
There are actually two origins behind this tradition–one is kind of sweet, and the other. Well… Plutarch’s Livesrecords the story of the Sabine women–a group of women who had been kidnapped and forced into marriage. Because the women refused to go quietly, they were carried kicking and screaming into their new homes. The tradition still continues today, lest any woman try to run away. You can’t make this stuff up.
The other, much nicer origin comes from Viking culture. The groom would carry the bride over the threshold lest any evil spirits lay waiting underfoot. If he tripped, they would have an unlucky marriage, but if he did not trip, their marriage would be blessed. So try to think of that story and not the Sabine women if and when you carry the missus over the threshold. And thank the Vikings for having such sweet wedding traditions. Who knew?