Have you ever wondered why certain things are almost always done at weddings?
For example, why the bride carries a bouquet or wears a veil? Or why guests
throw rice or rose petals over the newlyweds? In this section we discuss the
origin and symbolism of some of the most popular wedding traditions.
It is believed that “bridal showers” originated in Holland. A Dutch father did
not approve of the poor miller whom his daughter wished to marry. Her friends
“showered” her with gifts so that she would have the necessary dowry to gain
her father’s permission to marry the man of her choice. Years later, an English
woman heard of a great friend who was to be married and wanted to give her a
gift to express her congratulations, but the gift seemed too small. She
remembered the story of the Dutch girl and the miller and began calling the
bride’s friends suggesting they present their gifts at the same time. The party
was successful, others tried it, and “bridal showers” became popular.
The Brides Bouquet
Bridal bouquets have evolved through the ages. Saracen brides carried bouquets
of orange blossoms to symbolize fertility, and Roman brides carried sheaves of
wheat to symbolize prosperity for their husbands. In the eighteenth century,
the practice of carrying a bouquet of flowers or herbs became a popular
tradition which symbolized fragility, purity, and new life. Bouquets of dill
were among the most popular herb carried. After the ceremony the dill was eaten
to “provoke lust.” Also it was a Roman custom to light the first fire of the
couple’s house with a torch, which was then tossed out to be caught by one of
the wedding party. In the fourteenth century, the French substituted the
bouquet for the torch and thus began the legend that whoever among the bride’s
attendants caught the blossoms would be the next to marry. Over the years,
certain flowers have been selected as “flowers of the month,” as shown below:
or Sweetheart Rose
or Sweet Pea
Bridal gowns are traditionally white because the ancient Greeks and Romans
believed white was a symbol of purity, innocence, and joy. Recently, the white
or ivory bridal dress has evolved as a symbol of the celebration of the
ceremony itself. Lace, considered a work of art in Europe, was often used for
festive celebrations and important occasions and has remained a popular grown
The Groom Must Not See His Bride
Tradition holds that the groom must not lay eyes on the bride the day of the
ceremony until they meet at the altar. The superstition is that this can bring
the couple bad luck, since they have glimpsed the future before it has
The Special Meaning of the Bride’s Veil
The veil represents modesty and respect. It symbolizes the sanctity and
exclusiveness of the marriage covenant and reminds the couple and the witnesses
that the physical relationship is to be entered into only after the vows are
Rice and Petals
In the Middle Ages, Handfuls of wheat were thrown over married couples to
symbolize the hope for fertility. In modern times, rice is thrown instead of
wheat to symbolize fertility. In recent years, flower petals have become
another alternative, symbolizing beauty, happiness and prosperity.
Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue
The popular wedding phrase, “Something old, something new, something borrowed,
something blue, and a lucky sixpence for our shoe,” has several different
meanings. Each of these items is worn or carried by the bride to symbolize
something special. “Something old” and something borrowed” are items which
represent security and friendship and are given to the bride by a loved one to
bring happiness to the new marriage. “Something new” (often the wedding gown)
represents the bride’s acceptance of a new life. The origin of something blue
can be traced to the rhyme, “those who dress in blue are lover true.” A “lucky
sixpence” (usually a penny today) worn in the shoe or carried by the bride is a
very old tradition thought to insure future wealth and good fortune for the
newly wedded couple.
White Aisle Runner
A white aisle runner symbolizes walking on holy ground. A marriage covenant is
not made merely between two people and their witnesses. It is made in the
presence of God and he is actively involved in the agreement. The white aisle
runner symbolizes God’s holiness.
Special Seating for the Parents
The parents of the bride and groom are part of the marriage covenant. The
commitments they make during the ceremony are just as binding as the vows of
the couple. The final responsibility of parents for their children is to
determine with them God’s will for a life partner. Thereafter, they serve as a
chain of counsel for them and their children. Parents enter as the line of
authority and leave as the line of counsel.
The roles of various members of the bridal party have origins in ancient
customs. Bridesmaids likely developed from the need to have witnesses. Their
original purpose for wearing festive attire was to deceive the demons in the
identification of the bride. Flower girls originated from a custom that two
little girls, identically dressed, walked ahead of the bride carrying garlands
of wheat to symbolize the wish for a fruitful union. In the 1600’s, it became
popular for flower girls to carry baskets. In the Middle Ages, the groomsmen
were known as “Bride Knights” because they served the bride by taking her to
the church and to the alter, and then relinquishing her to the groom. Today
these “duties” are completed by the bridesmaids. The duty of the best man dates
back to the era of marriage by capture. Hundreds of years ago, when a man
intended to capture a bride, he was accompanied by a strong- armed friend, thus
simplifying the capture.
Bridal Party Dressing Alike
In more superstitious times, the bride and groom were surrounded by friends of
similar ages dressed in similar attire, as a way of confusing evil demons. This
way the demons could not find the real bride and groom and bring them bad luck.
The Groom Entering First
By this action the groom signifies that he is the covenant initiator. This is
important because whoever initiates the covenant assumes greater responsibility
for seeing it fulfilled.
The Father of the Bride Walking Down the Aisle
This action has two meanings. By doing so, the Father is saying to the bride,
“I am endorsing this young man as God’s very best choice of a husband for you,
and I am now bringing you to him.” In addition, the father is saying to the
young man, “I am presenting to you a daughter who I have earnestly endeavored
to raise as a pure bride.”
The Bride and Groom Taking Each Other’s Right Hand During the Ceremony
The open right hand offered by each party symbolizes their strength, resources
and purpose. By clasping each other’s right hand, they pledge these qualities
to each other so that each partner can depend on all the resources that the
other brings into the covenant relationship. The handclasp goes far beyond
sealing the contract. It symbolizes the cleaving together of lives which is to
be accomplished in the marriage covenant.
The Groom Making the First Marriage Vow
The groom must be the leader and assume greater responsibility for fulfilling
the marriage covenant. As covenant initiator, he must commit himself to the
purposes of marriage which God established in the beginning and these must be
reflected in his vows.
The gift of a ring is a very old tradition which was used to seal any important
or sacred agreement. Engagement rings were given in the days of “marriage by
purchase,” both as a partial payment and as a symbol of the groom’s good
intentions. Diamonds have been the popular gems for engagement rings because
they are the most durable stones. The first diamond engagement rings were worn
in medieval Italy. Superstition maintains that a diamond’s sparkle come from
the fires of love.
The Symbolism of the Wedding Rings
The wedding rings symbolize the promises binding two people together in
marriage. The unbroken circle of the wedding band represents the continuity of
undying love. Greek theory believed the fourth finger of the left hand to be
connected to the heart, making this the appropriate finger to be “bound” in
Kissing the Bride
During the Roman Empire, the kiss between a couple symbolized a legal bond.
Continued use of the kiss to seal the marriage bond is based on the deeply
rooted idea of the kiss as a vehicle for transference of power and souls. It
symbolizes the couple’s faith and love, and seals the confidence that they
privately share. The kiss also signifies respect and obedience to mutual
The Couple Being Pronounced “Husband and Wife”
This establishes their change of names and a definite point in time for the
beginning of the marriage. These words are to remove any doubt in the minds of
the couple or the witnesses concerning the validity of the marriage.
Signing the Wedding Papers
The newlywed couple signs the wedding papers to establish a public document and
a continuing public record of the covenant.
Signing the Guest Book
Your wedding guests are official witnesses to the covenant. By signing the
guest book, they are saying, “I have witnessed the vows, and I will testify to
the reality of this marriage.” Because of this significance, the guest book
should be signed after the wedding rather than before it.
The Purpose of Receiving Line
The receiving line is for guests to give their blessing to the couple and their
The Meaning of Serving Food at the Reception
Food is part of the covenant celebration. It further symbolizes the unity of
the couple. Entering into a meal itself is a form of covenant.
Cake and bread have always been a vital part of wedding celebrations. In
ancient Rome, bread was considered a symbol of fertility. Thus, to ensure
fertility, a loaf of bread would be broken over the bride’s head and the crumbs
shared with the guests. Also the couple was not considered married until they
ate together. In contemporary wedding receptions, this practice is continued as
the bride and groom cut the first slice of wedding cake together and feed each
other. Guests eat from the cake, both as a sign of unity and as a way of
wishing luck to the newly wedded couple. The tradition of having a second
“grooms” cake at the reception has evolved over the years. Originally, the
groom’s cake was a dark rich fruitcake and was said to also provide the couple
with the blessing of fertility. Today, the cake may be of any type and is often
chocolate or fruit flavored.
Historically, marriage was often brought about by capture and was often not
agreed upon by either the bride or groom. The groom would take his wife to a
place where she could not be found. They stayed approximately 30 days and drank
brew made of honey while the moon went through al of its phases. The term
“honeymoon” originated with this practice. Today, newlyweds also go away to
celebrate their new lives together.
Carried over the Threshold
Centuries ago the bride was not always willing to leave her family home;
therefore, the groom needed to forcibly carry her over the threshold into her
new home. It was also thought that demons dwelled on the newlyweds’ doorstep;
as a result, the groom carried his bride over the threshold to protect her.