If you’ve ever been to a wedding or even just watched a rom-com, you’ve probably heard the phrase “something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue.” That well-known saying is just the tip of the iceberg of wedding traditions and superstitions. If you’ve ever been to a wedding, you probably didn't think twice about the spouses-to-be taking care to avoid seeing each other until they walked down the aisle, for example.
But imagine that you’re an alien visiting Earth for the first time. You’d probably be baffled by wedding traditions, because they’re so unlike humans' day-to-day lives. In what other situation would a person’s close friends all wear the same dress? And why would you throw a bouquet of flowers at your single guests — don't they have it hard enough? Wedding bouquets are heavy, you know!
The meanings of wedding traditions have changed over time — so even if your favorite tradition has a surprisingly dark history, it can represent something different to you today. On the other hand, if a certain tradition creeps you out, you don’t have to participate. When it comes to getting married, the only requirement is signing the marriage license — and with non-legally-binding weddings on the rise among celebrities, that’s becoming optional, too.
Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue
This tradition dates back to an old English rhyme: “Something olde, something new, something borrowed, something blue, a silver sixpence in your shoe.” The “something old” and the “something blue” protect against the Evil Eye, thought to cause infertility. Additionally, the color blue symbolizes love, purity, and faithfulness. “Something new” symbolizes the couple’s future. The “something borrowed” was supposed to be borrowed from a friend or relative in a happy marriage, so that their good luck would rub off on the new spouses.
According to Brides, the bridal veil dates back to ancient times and served two purposes: to represent the bride’s modesty and virginity, and to hide the bride from evil spirits trying to ruin her happiness. Others say the veil was used to hide the bride’s face from the groom in arranged marriages, in case he didn’t like what he saw and called off the wedding. In Christian and Jewish tradition, in the story of Rachel and Leah, Leah wears a veil to trick Jacob into marrying her instead of her sister Rachel.
In ancient Rome, bridesmaids didn’t just dress like each other — they dressed like the bride, too. The bridesmaids wore the same outfit as the bride in order to confuse evil spirits (or creepy men) looking to ruin the bride’s happiness or steal her away.
Back in the day, newlyweds were expected to consummate their marriage immediately after the wedding, with their families and friends waiting and listening outside — yes, just like in Game of Thrones. “After the marriage was consummated, the groom would give the bride’s garter to the waiting crowd to prove that the deed was done,” Kim Forrest, Senior Editor, WeddingWire, previously told Refinery29.
Other stories say that wedding guests would try to tear off pieces of the bride’s dress for good luck, and “the bride would wear an easily-accessible garter to toss to the crowd so they would stop grabbing her!" says Forrest. By the Renaissance era, the garter toss was less violent. Instead, it was associated with good luck and fertility.
The bouquet toss has a similar origin to the garter toss: when wedding guests would begin to tear the bride’s clothes off of her, she would toss the bouquet as a distraction and run away. Later, the tradition became a symbol of spreading good luck to single women: the woman who caught the bouquet would become the next one to get married.
The spouses can't see each other until the wedding
Whether spouses want to avoid seeing each other until they’re walking down the aisle, or they arrange for a photographer to capture their “first look ” before the wedding, it’s not uncommon for spouses-to-be to go to great lengths to avoid seeing each other before that special moment. This tradition also dates back to historic arranged marriages: if the groom couldn’t see the bride until the wedding, he couldn’t back out if he didn’t like her looks!
Rain on your wedding day
Some people say rain on your wedding day is lucky, some say it’s unlucky (and some sing, “isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?”). On the good luck side, rain symbolizes fertility, cleansing, new beginnings, and luck. Others say that rain symbolizes tears: the good luck camp says the rain represents the last time the bride will ever cry, while the bad luck camp says the rain represents all the tears she’ll shed during her marriage.
Carrying the bride over the threshold
This tradition was also designed to trick evil spirits. By carrying the bride over the threshold into their new home, the groom made it harder for the spirits to catch her. Other stories say it would be unlucky for the bride to trip going into her new house for the first time, so the groom carried her to avoid this. On the darker side, some say this tradition dates back to forced marriages in ancient times: the bride wouldn’t go willingly into her new home, so she had to be carried.
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