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Old Traditions: Diving into the History of Weddings

Photo by Alex Medvick Photography

Since the dawn of civilization, people have celebrated the union of two people. Whether it was to solidify relations between countries or a little party around a Maypole, we've been drawn to weddings. Maybe it's all of the positive energy, or maybe it's the open bar- it's different for everyone!

I was wandering through the depths of the internet rabbit hole the other night and an old tradition popped up- the Romans believed that weaving herbs into the bride's hair would bring luck. I started going through my library to find other find traditions that should definitely make a comeback!

Photo by Viva Love Photo.

The handfasting ceremony is a lovely tradition that's made a comeback into the mainstream trends of weddings lately, and I love it. Not only is it the origin of the phrase "tying the knot", it's a sweet symbol of joining together.

There's another Celtic tradition that's a little less known, however. It's called the Oathing Stone. It's a stone or a piece of wood that the couple lays their hands on during the ceremony. In ancient times, sacred lands were important to the tribes. By swearing on the stone, it bound the couple to the earth. These days, it makes for a great (and often gorgeous) symbol of your marriage that you can set up in your home after the wedding. It's a nice reminder outside of your wedding photos!

In Greek tradition, the single bridesmaids write their names on the bottom of the bride's shoe. Whichever bridesmaid's name is still visible at the end of the night, is the next one to get married! This is a much cuter tradition (in my opinion) than the public spectacle of tossing the bouquet. I mean, I love a ninja-kicking guest as much as the next person, but throwing the (rather expensive) bouquet seems to be on the way out. Gee, I can't imagine why people would want to avoid a man putting his hands- or face- up a stranger's skirt at their wedding! Fun fact: in Turkey, the bridesmaid's name that's worn off by the end of the night is the next one to get married.

If you're not a fan of sand bottles or unity candles, there's another option- wine! I'm not kidding, this is a real tradition coming from both Catholics and the Jewish faith. Just like with a sand ceremony, two bottles of wine are poured into a glass, and the couple drinks from it. Just like the sand, the wine can't be separated. Also, much more delicious than sand (and if you're a non-drinker, there are definitely options for you, too).

Passing the rope is another fun one, because it gets your guests involved. I would suggest starting it before the ceremony, just for time purposes. Three ropes are knotted together at the top (but not braided). Each guest holds the rope and thinks of well-wishes for the bride and groom. After the last guest has held the rope, it's given to the bride and groom, who braid it together as a symbol of unity.

Quaker ceremonies are becoming more and more common. It's considered a self-uniting marriage (as in there's no officiant). Friends and family are invited to circle the bride and groom. The room stays quiet except for any guest that would like to share well-wishes, thoughts on marriage, or stories about the couple. It's a lovely way to involve your guests!

For the environmentally conscious, planting a sapling might be a way to go. Some folks will get soil from each of their hometowns to plant around the tree. It's a lasting symbol that will also do a little bit of good. In Holland, it was specifically a pine tree that was later planted outside of the bride and groom's house.

The washing of hands- I wouldn't advise the feet, although that would have meaning for Christian couples- is a sweet way to symbolize the washing away of any obstacles for the marriage.

An old Bulgarian tradition is the throwing of figs, but I would definitely suggest talking to your venue about that one first, as it could result in a sticky mess. Peas are another rice substitute that came up as well.

But let me tell you, in my research, I found some really bizarro stuff. It's inevitable that there would be strange wedding traditions, but you would not believe how many ancient traditions involved beating the absolute bejesus out of the groom. I think 1800s Russia takes the cake though. I'm not putting the details here, because it's straight up abuse. Seriously Russia, get it together.

The Welsh get points for coming up with what could be the most entertaining wedding game- the groom and groomsmen race across town to "capture" the bride. The bride, however, has left booby traps everywhere, including a gwyntyn, which, I kid you not, translates to "face-smacker". Once they're at the house, they have to sing songs and recite poetry through the door, and the gals have to sing back. Once the women run out of poetry and songs, they have to open the door (no details on if the guys ran out of songs and poetry first). The groom and groomsmen take off with the bride while the bridesmaids chase them. All in all, it sounds like a pretty crazy game of "capture the bride". I guess if the Welsh were able to hold off almost every invading force until they gave up, you might have some pretty epic wedding traditions!

Another fun fact- the wedding cake comes from the Roman tradition of breaking a loaf of bread over the bride's head for fertility. Tiered cakes came into the picture as a competition- could you kiss over the height of the cake?

A less fun fact- an old wives' tale says that if the younger of sisters marries first, the older sister has to dance barefoot at the wedding or she'll never get married (thank goodness that's been proved wrong).

And by the way- you can thank the Spartans for bachelor parties. Yes, those Spartans.

If you made it this far, thanks for sticking with me! I hope this has been an entertaining ride through history!


(A quick note: I stuck with largely European traditions. I do have a ton of different culture's traditions in my repertoire, but that's a different article!)

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