Wedding Traditions: Then and Now

Weddings are rooted in tradition, brimming with symbolic elements and practices. Because many of these traditions, history tells us, began as sexist, superstitious, and barbaric customs, some today question wedding rituals and even the whole concept of the wedding. While I agree that the roots of  certain wedding rituals are problematic, I am strong believer that they have evolved beyond their historic origins into liberal contemporary customs.  Here are a few examples.

The Bouquet

When it comes to the bridal bouquet, much has changed … certainly (and thankfully) the odour. Before flowers, brides would carry bunches of garlic, grains, and herbs to ward off evil spirits. Over time, bunches of pungent smelling arrangements were replaced by pretty bundles of pleasant smelling blooms. Today, arrangements can be selected based on the symbolic meaning of each flower. For example, Kate Middleton’s bouquet was composed of flowers such as lily-of-the-valley ( symbolizing trustworthiness), sweet William (representing gallantry), and ivy (standing for marriage, friendship, and affection).

by left to right: image via Visual Photos, image via Wedding Paper Divas

by left to right: image via Visual Photos, image via Wedding Paper Divas

The Wedding Ring

In ancient times, a superstitious ritual was practised whereby a husband would bind his bride’s ankles and wrists with rope made of grass to encourage her spirit to stay within her and thus live a long life. Some believe this is the origin of the wedding band. Today, wedding rings have taken on a totally different meaning and material. A ring is the sign of eternal love (a continuous circle never ending) and worn as a constant reminder of commitment, love, and faithfulness.

Bridesmaid Dresses

You think bridesmaid dresses have a bad rep now . . . well, in ancient Rome, bridesmaids were dressed to match the bride as a decoy in case any of those pesky evil spirits were after the bride again. Although some may argue that certain bridesmaids dresses are still selected to attract evil spirits (hello metallic blue dress with matching parasol), today bridesmaid attire can be totally attractive and fashionable.

from left to right: image via Brides, image via Wedding High

from left to right: image via Brides, image via Wedding High

The Veil

From protecting the bride from evil spirits (again), symbolizing modesty and virginity, to proclaiming one's status in society, the history of the wedding veil is a long one. Since many couples consummate before marriage (sorry mom), the veil has become more of a fashion statement to reflect a bride’s own style and personality.

from left to right: image via Wikipedia, image via Liv Hart

from left to right: image via Wikipedia, image via Liv Hart

The Honeymoon

This one is definitely scary! The term “honeymoon” dates back to when a groom would abduct his bride of choice, throw a blanket over her head, and carry her off on horseback (also the source of the term “swept off her feet”). The abduction lasted as long as it took her relatives to stop looking for her, which apparently took about a month as marked by the phases of the moon. Sheesh! Thanks, Mum, Dad, and big bro. I can happily say we have come a long way since then. Now honeymoons are much more appealing experiences with newlyweds vacationing in romantic destinations and the only horseback adventures require that both individuals are upright with their feet in the stirrups!

Giving Away the Bride

This tradition is probably the most widely known and criticized. The custom reflects a time when a daughter was considered property and a groom would pay her family to secure his bride-to-be. The giving away of the bride was treated much like a business transaction, transferring authority over the bride from father to groom (I know, I know: cue eye roll). However, the symbolism of this tradition has progressed dramatically. The custom now represents the support and importance of family. I had both my mom and dad walk me down the aisle as it felt right to have them both by my side. Some brides have their brother, sister, aunt, grandma, or close friend accompany them down the aisle. It’s a personal decision and differs from one person to the next, but the sentiment of having the support of a loved one is the root of this modernized wedding practice.

from left to right: image via Unusual Historical, image via Swooned Magazine

from left to right: image via Unusual Historical, image via Swooned Magazine

It’s true, certain wedding traditions performed by our ancestors were discriminative and darn right nasty. However, instead of focusing on the past, I choose to celebrate how far weddings have come. Couples have the choice to include traditions that resonate with them, skip those that don’t, and cultivate new customs that contribute to an open-minded, modern, and authentic celebration.

By Certified Wedding Planner Alexandra McNamara