The Evolution of Tradition

Traditions and customs change and evolve over the years. It’s true for most things and for weddings as well. I recently wrote about how some ancient customs were connected to fertility and survival in the ‘rain on your wedding day’ column. But if we go back only a few hundred years ago, or less, we find lots of interesting wedding stories, and see a direct line to modern times.

Kidnapping the bride!

According to the New England Historical Societyweddings in the 1700s were a mix of homegrown ideas and practices brought from England. That kind of intertwining makes complete sense to me. Superstition reigned then, think: Salem Witch Trials, so we can easily imagine how their world-view impacted their weddings. For example, is was considered bad luck to get married on a Tuesday. That makes no sense to us, but in some places, it was even forbidden, and it was also bad luck to marry on Friday. Wednesday was seen as the best day, maybe because it sounds something like ‘wed day.’

Other superstitions have also faded away – such as it being unlucky for the bride to look in a mirror before the ceremony. That would never fly today!

Bee hives were used as decoration?  I can’t imagine that happening today either. But apparently bees had to be informed of the wedding and were even given a piece of cake. No one wanted bees getting angry we presume!

I officiated for this couple - she wore grandmothers dress!

With our present-day receptions, or parties, we see a straight line back to what was once called the ‘second-day wedding.’ Up until recently, couples were usually married at home, most often the home of the bride, so the following day the parents of the groom, or other close relatives, would throw a party for them. Today we combine the two into one big day.

Life existed before the internet, and even before every day postal service, so to let people know about the nuptials it was posted at their church or at the town hall.

The ‘something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue’ routine dates to the Victorian era when the ‘something old’ was worn to connect the bride to her past and her family and we see that today as well, usually with something small. I recently officiated for a bride who wore her grandmothers dress and it was so lovely. The ‘something new’ shows that she was ready to start her own family and journey forward. ‘Something borrowed’ was supposed to be taken from a happily married couple so that couple’s good fortune could be passed on to the bride. The ‘something blue’ was associated with faithfulness and loyalty, as in the phrase: ‘true blue.’ However, the part of the rhyme that most people leave off is ‘a sixpence in my shoe,’ which encouraged the bride to tuck in a sixpence coin for good luck.

All the little details have history

Bridal showers come from Holland where an old story explains how a bride’s father didn’t approve of the marriage and refused her dowry. So the brides friends ‘showered’ her with gifts, so she would have the dowry necessary to marry the man of her choice. Hurray for bridesmaids! After that, any woman who didn’t have a dowry was given a shower.

Some customs don’t go back very far at all. The diamond engagement ring only dates back to the 1920s. Good to remember if you want a different kind of ring.

A fascinating evolution is one that is traced from the literal abduction of the bride to what we now call the honeymoon. Vikings, who took the kidnapping less literal, ritualized it and it became a time for the couple to hide together after the wedding. During that period of about a month, the couple would spend that time alone, but friends would bring them honey wine and thus the name ‘honeymoon’ evolved. There is documentation from 1546 calling the first month of marriage the sweetest, add to that the honey mead and viola!

These are just a few examples of customs that have come and gone or changed. When it comes to weddings rituals, traditions, customs, beliefs and history all come together.

thank you Lisa Rhinehart for your beautiful photography!

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    Lois Heckman

    Lois Heckman is a certified Life-Cycle Celebrant who officiates at weddings, funerals, and other ceremonies in the Poconos and beyond. She has performed hundreds of ceremonies and brings a wealth of knowledge to her work. Visit her website: ... Read Full
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