One of my favorite parts of a wedding is seeing which traditions and symbols the couple uses to accentuate the meaning of their very special day.
From the white dress in Judeo-Christian weddings, representing the bride’s virginity, or purity of spirit, to the symbolism of an eternal union expressed by the continuous circling gold of a wedding band, each element from the ceremony to the honeymoon has an explanation.
Knowing why generations have followed the same customs, knowing why traditions are traditions makes these gestures thoughtful and full of feeling.
Most of our traditions have European origins…
When near an Anglo-Saxon bride around her wedding day, you can sometimes hear her mumbling “Something old, something new, something borrowed something blue…” Wondering where this saying comes from?
It dates back to Victorian England :
The “something old” links the woman to her family and her past; it represents her “old” life. It can be a cherished gift from a happily married friend, or from the bride’s family as a blessing on the union.
The “something new” symbolizes the “new” life that is beginning (I find it romantic to have this be the shoes that take her down the aisle, towards her new husband – although today there are generally many “something new-s”).
“Something borrowed” reminds the bride that she is not alone, and that sometimes she must rely on others. It’s a reminder of the support she has from her entourage.
“Something blue” stands for faithfulness and purity and is also said to signify the moon who was considered the protector of women.
(Blue soled Louboutin’s ! Something New & Blue!)
In the US we’ve forgotten the last sentence of the saying which is: “And a Silver Sixpence in her shoe” meaning literally the bride carries a coin in her shoe representing the wealth wished upon her (both emotional and financial) by her loved ones.
Knowing exactly what each “something” stands for, makes having these elements at your ceremony so much more meaningful!
While researching the origins of different wedding traditions, I found it interesting that in the Christian Bible(Deuteronomy 24:5) they say “When a man is newly-wed, he need not go out on a military expedition, nor shall any public duty be imposed on him. He shall be exempt for one year for the sake of his family, to bring joy to the wife he has married. (I like that translation!!)
This is probably one of the first historic references to taking a “honeymoon” after a wedding. It is commonly known that the term “honeymoon” or “lune de miel” in French, comes from the fact that it was customary for the Bride’s family to supply the couple with a months’ worth of mead (honey-based beer or wine) to ensure fertility and happiness.
Apparently the idea of actually taking a trip during this period originated in early 19th century Great Britain. Upper-class couples would take a “bridal tour”, sometimes accompanied by friends or family, to visit relatives that had not been able to attend the wedding. The practice soon spread to the European continent and was known as “voyage à la façon anglaise” (English-style voyage) in France from around the 1820s. (NB The English no longer get credit for this customary trip, in today’s French, the honeymoon is now generally called the Voyage de noces (Voyage of the newly-weds) or simply the Lune de miel).
Those 19th century British nobles had it right! When considering a destination wedding, it is important to remember those who couldn’t follow you across the ocean. Think of having a mini-reception in your home town, or perhaps even taking this “bridal-tour” to share your happiness with less mobile loved ones!
Couples who choose to have a destination wedding generally like to include traditions from their destination country. For those considering getting married in France, tradition says to give 5 almonds (called dragées – now candy or chocolate covered ) to each guest at the wedding, symbolizing the bitter-sweet aspects of married life. The five almonds represent Love, Happiness, Loyalty, Prosperity and Virility.
A wedding day is filled with many “firsts.” First kiss as husband and wife, first dance… everything you do after saying those vows becomes a “first time as a married couple.” I know several brides who find the tradition of “cutting the cake” a little tired, and I know I find the newer version of squashing the cake in to eachother’s face is a rather indelicate way of modernizing this custom. However, the basis of this tradition is rather sweet. It is representative of the first task the united couple does together, followed by the act of feeding it to eachother, representing their commitment to take care of and nurturing eachother in their life to come. In the past, the couple also had the task of serving the cake their family and friends, a generous and thankful gesture that we have now left to the caterers in order to keep the white dress clean.
If you’d like to do as the French do, instead of a cake, serve a croquembouche (a pyramid of either sweet caramel covered cream puffs or perfectly perfumed macarons) ! As you can see below, certain patissiers decorate these sometimes extremely ornate pièces montées with cristal-like caramel feuilles and chocolate detailing ! (Be careful, the caramel is likely to stick in your teeth!!)
The pièce montée is usually brought out before the dessert is served, and is a show in itself, as there are generally 5-10 giant sparklers sticking out from all angles, announcing its arrival. There should be 2 loose puffs or macarons that the couple can easily dislodge to complete the tasty part of this tradition.
In more mystical traditions, it is said that carrying the bride over the threshold protected her from evil spirits, and that the time of day to get married was to be when the hands of the clock were working their way towards the top – and thus “ascending towards heaven”.
Today, wearing pearls is considered by some, classic sophistication, but at one time, the pearls hanging from a bride’s neck or wrist were seen as taking place of future tears to be shed, meaning the bride will have a happy wedded life without tears.
Rosemary is an herb symbolizing remembrance and fidelity that has been used in wedding ceremonies for hundreds of years. To incorporate it today, it can be dipped into the couple’s communal wine glass or given as favors to guests in jars of olive oil, or as simple sprigs tied with ribbon.
One of the beautiful traditions at Jewish weddings is the mitzvah (commandement) of bringing joy to the couple. Putting aside their own problems, the family & friends of the Bride & Groom celebrate with a fervor meant to keep the newly-weds smiling the whole day through.
I wish happy and low stress weddings to all you future Brides out there, whatever traditions and symbols you decide to include in your ceremony. Hopefully some of the info in this blog gives you ideas on how to make your wedding day as powerful as the love you share.
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