I once heard of a husband who was watching his new bride prepare their first dinner as man and wife. She was preparing to bake a ham. She put it in a large pan, got a butcher knife, and cut off both ends. Then, she placed it in the oven. He thought that was peculiar, since his mother always served ham 'intact'. He asked his wife, "Why did you cut off both the ends?" She answered, "That's the way my mother always cooked it. It has something to do with the juices." And that was that.
A couple months later, they were at her parents' house for dinner. Out came his mother-in-law with her famous ham, again with the ends missing. He couldn't help himself. He had to ask, "Why do you cut the ends off the ham?" His mother-in-law replied, "That's the way my mother cooked it. It has to do with the circulation of heat." And that was that.
Two years later, they all had gathered at Grandma's house to celebrate the new year. Out from the kitchen came the old woman to serve her famous ham, ends off and all. After dinner, he went back to the kitchen to ask her his famous question, "Grandma Jenner, why do you cut the ends off your ham?" She replied, "Welp, it's the only way I can get it to fit in my roastin' pan!" And that was that. A family tradition was started due to constrains of a pan.
Just like family traditions, wedding traditions are passed down from generation to generation. But somewhere along the way, the intention may have gotten lost in translation. Some traditions have been tied to superstition, and closely connected with good and bad luck. Others are rooted in the customs of earlier generations. One thing is for sure, like cutting the ends off a ham, some traditions have long outlasted their original purpose.
Marriage announcements are a special courtesy these days, but about one thousand years ago, the formal announcement for an upcoming wedding was used for a different reason. The original purpose of an announcement was to give the members of the community an opportunity to object to the marriage. Justifiable reasons included if the bride-to-be or groom-to-be was already engaged to be married to someone else, if either was already married or if there was knowledge of any 'sinful' acts of the bride. That's right, not the groom. Obviously, we've come a long way, baby!
Many know that the tradition of wearing a white wedding dress symbolizes virginity and purity. But did you know that it was also thought to ward off evil spirits that may try to disrupt the happiness and harmony of the ceremony? It was believed that those spirits might be jealous of the new couple's happiness, and that the white dress protected the bride.
The wedding veil originated with the Romans as well. They believed that covering the bride's face and body with a full-length veil would keep the evil spirits from recognizing her. The Romans believed that it would confuse the spirits. Interestingly enough, the same bridal veil was also used as the bride's burial shroud. Nothing like planning your wedding and funeral at the same time!
The tradition of having both bridesmaids and groomsmen present during a ceremony derives from ancient Roman law, that mandated there be ten witnesses present at the ceremony. The purpose of this was also to confuse those tricky evil spirits who were believed to cause mischief. The bridesmaids and groomsmen would be dressed in matching identical clothing to the bride and groom, so the evil spirits wouldn't figure out which couple was actually getting married.
A well-known wedding tradition is for the bride to wear 'something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a lucky sixpence in her shoe', dates back to Victorian times. 'Something Old' is for the bride to stay connected to her family and her past. Many brides choose to wear an heirloom piece of jewelry or the wedding gown belonging to her mother or grandmother. 'Something New' symbolizes good fortune and success in her new life. The wedding dress is most often the chosen new item. 'Something Borrowed' serves to remind the bride of her friends and family that will always be there for her whenever she may need help or support. Many brides choose items like an antique handkerchief or other precious jewelry of close friends. 'Something Blue' represents faithfulness and loyalty. The symbolism dates back to biblical times when blue represented purity and constancy. Brides often choose to wear a blue garter to keep with this tradition, or blue ribbons in their hair to symbolize fidelity. 'A Silver Sixpence in her Shoe' denotes loved ones wishes to the bride to have both financial security and happiness.
And then there is the tradition of the kiss at the end of the wedding ceremony. During ancient times, the kiss was legally binding and signified that the contract of marriage was mutually accepted. The superstition of the kiss sealing the marriage is that the bride and the groom 'exchange a bit of their souls' with the kiss.
And why do you throw rice at the bride and groom? The custom originated with the ancient Assyrians, Hebrews, and Egyptians, as a symbol of fertility and good wishes for a bountiful life. Although nowadays, you're more likely to throw confetti, flower petals, or the ever-popular bubbles. That tradition began due to the fact that it was believed that rice was bad for birds to eat.
There are so many more wedding traditions, that one could write a book (and probably has) about the origins. If you are a bride-to-be this season, let me wish you good luck. Also, if you plan on wearing white and choose to wear a veil over your face as you walk down the aisle, rest assured, you should be safe from evil spirits. However, I can't promise you'll be safe from guests who may be drinking spirits. They tend to be more prevalent at weddings these days.