Church bells ringing, the wedding march – weddings are a time of immense excitement not only for the couple tying the knot but those privileged enough to share in the day with them.
Over the years, the format for a church wedding has become almost set in stone – but for everything that happens at the wedding, there is a fascinating history behind.
Much of the events at your typical ‘white wedding’ as we call down here in Ghana, originated from Roman times and Victorian Britain.
In those days, life was much harder than it is now, and the cute traditions like walking down the aisle, having bridesmaids and groomsmen – all stem from our more barbaric and superstitious past.
The UK’s Bride magazine have an instructive article on how these traditions originated, and on the back of Chris-Vincent and Elsie’s wedding, we’ve compiled some of the more interesting ones here.
So read on to learn more about how mainstay modern wedding traditions such as throwing the bouquet, wearing a veil, and having a ‘storey building’ cake, originated – courtesy bridemagazine.co.uk.
The White Wedding Dress
In the past, brides used to wear their most expensive dress on their wedding days. Until Queen Victoria in 1840, who wore a white dress for her marriage to Prince Albert because her it was the colour of her favourite lace. From then on, the Queen set the standard for future brides.
Throwing the bouquet
This mainstay of modern weddings emerged from a 14th-century French tradition. It was considered lucky in those days to have a piece of the bride’s dress, so the guests would rip it to shreds at the end to get a piece for themselves. Later, the bride’s garter was thrown into the crowd, which later metamorphosed into the bouquet.
The Wedding Cake
In medieval times, guests to a wedding brought bread or cake along to gift the couple getting married. It was placed before the couple, who had to kiss over the pile.
Currently, every wedding features a multi-tiered cake, and that tradition is believed to have originated from the 1882 wedding of Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany. Over the next few decades, placing pillars between the tiers also became a thing – but originally those pillars were made from chopped broomsticks covered in icing.
The bride having numerous bridesmaids is another custom originating from Roman times. In those days, the bride needed 10 witnesses, who were usually dressed identically to them. The reason was simple, to confuse evil spirits attempting to attack the bride or foil the attacks of a rejected suitor who wanted to kidnap her.
Luckily, these days, all they have to do on the big day is turn up and smile.
The Best Man
Again, a remnant of man’s barbaric past. In Anglo-Saxon England, the groom brought along his most trusted friend to help him fight any resistance from the bride’s family. He would also stay close throughout the ceremony to help protect the bride.
Walking down the aisle
A well-known part of the marriage ceremony is the bride being walked down the aisle (usually) by her father.
This happens because much of the wedding ceremony as we know it now originated from ancient Rome, and in those times most marriages where arranged – essentially a transaction between two people.
So the father (owner) had to walk his daughter (property) to the other side and (literally) give her away, in exchange for the arranged dowry (price).
Wearing a Veil
Another tradition originating from Roman times, Roman brides wore the veil, again to ward off evil spirits. The Victorians once again improved on the tradition by introducing the long, white veil.
Bride standing to the left of the groom
This custom originated from our more savage past, when the wedding could be invaded by intruders at any moment.
Hence by positioning the bride on his left, the groom could hold her with his left arm and be ready to draw his sword at a moment’s notice with his right hand if need be.
In those days, brides were often ‘kidnapped’ from their families, so it could be her own family coming to get her back.
Spraying the air with confetti at weddings is a recent ‘innovation’, but it has it roots in ancient traditions where something else was thrown during the wedding.
The word ‘confetti’ itself refers to an Italian sugared almond which is thrown into the air during special occasions. During British’s pagan past, grains of rice was sprayed at the couple, as a symbol of fertility.
The custom changed to shredded paper during the era of the Victorians, and it has been ‘updated’ since.
The first dance
The bride and the groom, after everything is over, get the first dance at the wedding. The tradition in 17th century Europe was for the guests of honour at a ball to get the first dance. Since the bride and the groom are practically the guests of honour at the wedding, they get the first dance.