The history of wedding traditions

From throwing the bouquet to going on your honeymoon, weddings are filled with age-old traditions. But where do these customs originate from?

We take a step back in time to discover how some of these traditions came to be celebrated.

The bouquet

Until modern times, brides carried a bouquet of garlic and dill, rather than the traditional floral arrangement we favour today. All reports indicate this practice originated from the time of the Plague, when people clutched the herbs over their noses and mouths in a desperate effort to ward off the deadly illness.

Survivors of great tragedy can affix tremendous protective powers to anything that has provided comfort, and the herbs made it into the ceremony marking renewal. Over time however, brides added the much better-smelling flora to their arrangements.

Throwing the garter

This practice, as it turned out, was devised as a way to actually physically protect the bride from the wedding guests.

In France, at the end of the wedding ceremony guests would rush to the bride at the altar to snag a piece of her dress, which was considered a token of good luck.

A wedding would end with a battered bride sobbing at the altar in the remnants of her tattered dress.

It also derives from a tradition in medieval England and France called “fingering the stocking.” Guests would go into the wedding chamber and check the bride’s stockings for signs that the marriage had been consummated.

Apparently, these practices were so intrusive and invasive that someone, somewhere, decided to pacify the mob by tossing out the garter.

Bridesmaid dresses

The earliest tradition in bridesmaid fashion involved dressing the bridesmaids exactly the same as the bride. As with many older traditions, the idea was that by setting up lookalikes, any troublesome spirits in the area could not fixate on the bride.

That custom gave way in Victorian times to dressing bridesmaids in white dresses but short veils, to contrast with the bride’s voluminous veiling and train system. When society’s fears of evil spirits subsided and commercial dyes became more available coloured bridesmaid dresses came into fashion.

The bridal veil

The veiling of the bride has origins in the idea that she’s vulnerable to enchantment, so she must be hidden from evil spirits. The Romans veiled brides in flame-coloured veils to actually scare off those spirits.

In many religions the veil is a sign of humility and respect before God during a religious ceremony.

During Victorian times, when archaic customs were formally incorporated into proper weddings, the weight, length and quality of the veil was a sign of the bride’s status. Royal brides had the longest veils and the longest trains.

Today, the tradition has become more of a finishing touch in wedding fashion. It’s the icing on the cake, so to speak, that pulls together the hair and the dress.

The honeymoon

Legends have claimed that honeymoons existed before the marriage ceremony came into being. The first recorded appearance came in 1546 but the ritual goes back much further.

In the earliest days, the groom simply abducted the woman of his choice to be his bride and took her into hiding. This is where the term “swept off her feet” comes from – a blanket would often be thrown over the bride and she would be carried off on horseback.  This lasted as long as it took for the bride’s relatives to stop searching for her, which was about a month, as marked by the phases of the moon. Thus, the “moon” in honeymoon. The practice of kidnapping a bride dates back to Attila the Hun, AD 433-453.

Thankfully today, honeymoons have far less sinister connotations, devoid of kidnapping and are merely a chance for a couple to begin married life while on a fabulous holiday!

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