by Allison Bergstedt
The tradition of the wedding dates back to as early as prehistoric times. Back when a man need only carry a woman away from her village to claim her as his bride. While this was truly only the beginning of what we know of today as a traditional wedding ceremony, most of today's traditions have developed as a result of changing values, beliefs, and the overall status quo. No longer is it acceptable for a man to enter a town, throw a woman over his shoulder, and carry her away as his.
Up until recently, wedding ceremonies in America were generally small and held privately at the home of the bride or groom’s parents. The traditional American wedding ceremony actually only dates back to about 400 years ago. In fact, nearly 500 years ago, couples were free to marry themselves and only needed ask for a priest’s blessing afterward if they wanted to. It wasn’t until the late 1500’s that marriage was declared a sacrament by the church. Weddings were then moved inside the church and performed at the altar. Today, the state now has control over marriages making it a requirement to obtain a marriage license for a valid union. However, it is no longer a requirement to be married inside the church and is becoming more common for couples to follow in their ancestors footsteps and marry outside the church whether in a backyard, on a beach, or at the courthouse.
While the actual traditions of American wedding ceremonies continue to change and evolve with the times, the overall practice of certain wedding traditions has stuck with brides and grooms throughout the years. The following traditions and the history behind them will hopefully provide some insight and be a helpful stepping stone for planning your own wedding. Whichever traditions you decide to incorporate into your wedding day is entirely up to you. After all, your wedding is meant to showcase your personality and your hopes and dreams for the future.
While the wedding veil has held different meanings for different cultures, one common belief is that wedding veils protected the purity of the bride from evil spirits. Another source attests that the opaque wedding veils were used to prevent the groom from seeing the bride’s face until after the ceremony was over. This of course is why brides had to be literally escorted down the aisle by their fathers and given away to their groom. Wedding veils today are used more as a fashion statement that that of necessity. From short blusher veils to long cathedral veils, the styles of veils change with each passing year and are based a lot on the personality of the bride and the style of her wedding gown.
It has long been a belief among most cultures that demons lurked underneath the ground and it was bad luck for the bride to come in contact with the ground before the ceremony. Thus aisle runners
acted as a barrier between the ground and those evil spirits. Traditionally, a white aisle runner has symbolized a pathway of purity. More so today, the aisle runner is not only used for decoration but as a clean surface for the bride to walk down in her wedding gown. Bride’s today are breaking the mold on traditional aisle runners opting for personalized runners or alternatives like rose petals or burlap.
In years past, fathers were known to offer their daughters up as a peace offering to resolve a war between tribes. To eliminate any conflict during the ceremony, the two families would sit on opposite sides of the room. Today you will still see the bride’s family and groom’s family sitting on opposite sides with the bride’s family typically sitting on the left side of the altar where the bride stands during the ceremony. Just as noteworthy, brides began to stand to the left of the groom back in Ancient times so that the groom’s fighting hand would be free to ward off anyone who wished his bride harm.
Children have long been associated with weddings and were thought to bring luck and fertility to a wedding. In Greek times, young girls were used to throw grain and herbs in the bride’s path as a symbol of fruitfulness. This tradition has not changed much today evolving only through the years into a more romantic nature with traditional flowers girls now throwing flower petals from flower girl baskets
instead of wheat. For modern fall brides looking for a unique twist on flower petals, they may be interested in opting for this traditional medium of wheat.
Originally it was tradition for a small boy (or page boy) to carry the bride’s wedding train for the bride. But as wedding gown styles changed, the need for a page boy dwindled and the ring bearer was born. Now typically an American tradition, a young relative of the bride or groom is given the duty of carrying the wedding rings down the aisle on a small wedding ring pillow
to present to the bride and groom.
Truly one of the greatest of wedding traditions, no ceremony is complete without the seal of a wedding kiss. Dating back to Roman times, the kiss represented a bond that quite literally sealed your contract. Without one, your engagement would be null or void. Spiritually, the kiss is the first moment after your vows that your bodies and souls are united as husband and wife. The wedding kiss today is now simply a symbol of faithful love and is done more so out of tradition then requirement. More couple's today look at this tradition as a sign of the completion of their ceremony symbolizing their union as husband and wife.
“A History of the American Wedding.” Random History. May 8, 2007. Web. Jan 17, 2013.
Hudson, Sandie. “A History of the Wedding Ceremony.” Writing Historical Romance. Sandie Hudson. Oct 23, 2010. Web. Jan 17, 2013.
Stewart, Arlene Hamilton. A Bride’s Book of Wedding Traditions. New York: Hearst Books, 1995. Print.
“Wedding Traditions: The Aisle Runner.” Majestic Gardens. 2013. Web. Jan 18, 2013.