Have you ever wondered where the many different wedding traditions come from? From the groom-to-be muddying his smart trousers to get down on one knee and offer up a diamond ring right through to the bridal chucking of the bouquet and the cutting of the cake, the wedding process is steeped in history. And truth be told, friends, some of the traditions that we’ve come to know and love, started out as downright creepy.
These days celebrating a bridegroom’s last night of “freedom” usually involves a few beers down the pub, a debaucherous weekend away and/or perhaps a few other less refined activities. But it’s believed that we owe the tradition of celebrating the stag do to the ancient Spartans. Soldiers held a dinner in honour of their pal and made toasts for his good health and a long, happy future with his wife.
The history of the best man is slightly less savoury, by today’s standards. Many centuries ago, “marriage by capture” was commonplace. Friends of the groom-to-be would assist in the kidnap of the bride from her family if they didn’t approve of her future husband. The “groomsmen” as we know ’em now, acted as a small army to fight off angry relatives of the bride as the groom whisked her off into the sunset. And who says romance is dead?
This battle-orientated approach to weddings extended to the ceremony too in years gone by. Bridesmaids and groomsmen initially wore clothes that mimicked the attire of the couple getting wed to protect against evil. What evil could befall a bride on her wedding day, we hear you ask? Well, Romans believed that evil spirits or jealous suiters would be confounded by the many folk dressed alike, and thus wouldn’t know which member of the bridal party to harm (if you’re an evil spirit) or kidnap (if you’re a rejected beau).
The bridal bouquet served as a method for warding off evil spirits too, but it never used to be quite so floral. Women carried fragrant bunches of garlic, herbs and grains, but these were eventually replaced with the flowers we know and love today. FYI, wedding flowers symbolise fertility and everlasting love.
Brides continually had a bit of a tough time of it in the past. These days, a bride can throw her bouquet into a crowd of grappling women, to find out who’ll be walking down the aisle next. But in 14th century France, it was common for guests to rip the bride’s dress to pieces as it was considered lucky to snaffle a piece to take home with you. Medieval French brides, after likely being kidnapped by their “suitor”, would then be pounced on by the congregation after the ceremony and literally have the clothes ripped off their backs. Poor old gals.
We’ve got Queen Victoria to thank for the wedding dress as we know it today though. Before she married Prince Albert in 1840, women just wore their best dress for their nuptials, but Vicky had rather a penchant for white lace, so insisted it featured heavily in her frock. She wrote in her diary: ‘I wore a white satin dress with a deep flounce of Honiton lace, an imitation of an old design, and my jewels were my Turkish diamond necklace and earrings and dear Albert’s beautiful sapphire brooch.’
You probably already know this one, but the bride being “given away” by her father was significantly less symbolic and far more literal in the past. Families – well, predominantly fathers as the fellas made all the decisions – used to give eligible daughters to their future husbands in return for a dowry. Yep. That’s a payment. So the act of giving a bride away symbolised (quite literally) the family exchanging their daughter for dollar. This dates back to Roman customs too, when marriages tended to be arranged.
Food has taken the centre stage in celebrations since medieval times, but back then wedding guests used to offer up small cakes to the bride and groom. The newlyweds would then have to kiss (for additional voyeurism) over the pile after their wedding feast to secure their future prosperity. The tiered cake situation we’re more familiar with now became popular in the 1880’s after the wedding of Prince Leopold the Duke of Albany.
But to paraphrase Bob Dylan, times have changed. Over the years these traditions have adapted to become a little more in line with modern expectations and couples are able to choose whichever traditions they want to include in their wedding. Can we go so far as to suggest kidnap plots are not part of your wedding planning though?