Wedding Traditions in Modern Marriage


Modern Western Wedding Traditions and their role in the Marriage Ceremony.

© Chaplain Robert H. Walker, B.Th., M.Minn.

When it comes to planning one's wedding there are many things to consider. Most men do not have a clue as to how much planning and preparation that is involved in wedding planning. I know about the work involved with wedding planning since I have been working with mostly brides and a few grooms in the wedding business over the last eight years or so. I would say with my client base that I am involved with over 95% of the brides when it comes to planning the wedding day.

When I do rarely hear from a man about a wedding I wonder if the bride is a professional, like a doctor or lawyer. I wonder if the man is very cheap and watches every penny and/or a control freak that wants to be involved in every aspect and detail of the nuptials. Either way I want to be able to assist the bride or groom on their wedding day and upcoming marriage.

Ladies, the reason men do not want to get involved with the wedding is often the woman's fault. She asks him to help her with something, say for example the decorations, and he picks something out that he likes. Maybe the bride to be will counter and say "honey, I do not like that shade of color". Maybe the bride to be will ask him to help pick the design of the dinner plates. The man will pick something he likes and the bride to be will counter that she does not like the design or color that he chose. Well that is fine ladies if you want a different shade of color or design, it is your special day, but that is why men often run off and let the woman run the show for the wedding.

If we men pick something and it is wrong and not something that you like, so then if we do nothing then it cannot be wrong then and no one gets mad at us. Most men will stay far away from the planning of the wedding in order to not be wrong. So if you want help ladies, think about what you really want him to do.

When planning the upcoming wedding day event the bridal party and their people have to worry not only about food, flowers, and what they wear. They also seem to have to honor the many wedding traditions, even if they don't understand their origins or their associated meanings. However many feel that to not follow these many varied wedding traditions, understood or not, might mean bad luck for the marriage or, at the very least, unhappy and disgruntled wedding family and guests.

Every culture cherishes its own marriage traditions and wedding superstitions. Many traditions are not understood but are still followed seriously because "it's always been done that way". Even people who are not normally superstitious or who consider themselves as such wouldn't think of violating these wedding traditions. Many of our modern wedding traditions originated from old storybook rhymes, folktales or ancient tribal traditions and believe it or not the Holy Bible whose origins of the traditions are lost in time.

One of the original meanings of the word "wedding" was to make a bet, gamble or place a wager. Marriage nowadays and from the beginning was always a bit of a gamble, wouldn't you say?

This reference to gambling comes from the time when a brides' price or a dowry was required before marriage. The Bible mentions a dowry being given by the man to the bride's father. Man has changed this to dowry to being the bride's family giving the groom to be something to take the woman off their hands. The dowry in the Bible was given to give compensation to the family for losing a valuable family member. Read the story of Jacob in the Bible and about Rachael and Leah and their father Laban.

This bride price or dowry could include land, social status, political alliances or money. Social status was often known to us in times past as a duke, duchess, baron or count, titles of nobility. Thus, the "Anglo-Saxon" word ‘wedd' meant that the groom would be betrothed and vow to marry the woman, but it also referred to the brides price (money or dowry) to be paid by the groom to the bride's father.

There are many equally surprising origins for such traditions as the ring finger, wedding ring, engagement ring with the diamond, and the multi-layered wedding cake. The finger used as the ring finger differs from country as well as culture to culture. In Greece during the third century the index finger was used. In India they used the thumb. The modern use of what is called the ring finger started being used in the fourth century A.D. when the Greeks originated the belief that the third finger was connected to the heart by the "vena amoris," or the vein of love. Use of a wedding ring can be traced back to ancient Roman times, and even way back then in Rome the ring was made of gold.

Roman wedding rings were often adorned and decorated with the carving of two hands to symbolize the two people journeying through life together as one. It is mentioned that the early women's rings also had keys carved in them, symbolizing that women were able to unlock the hearts of their husbands. Pope Nicholas I, who lived in 860 AD made a papal decree that an engagement ring become a mandatory required statement of nuptial intent. He also insisted that this wedding ring also be made of gold, it's worth requiring a sacrifice on the man's part for the woman he was about to marry. The Bible relates gold with God if you look at all the places gold is mentioned. Put the letter L in God and you have gold. Add an O to God and you have good. Remember that God is good.

This wedding ring went way up in its value in the fifteenth century when a diamond was to be added to it. It was believed that the diamond's durability and strength would symbolize the strength of the relationship. Diamonds are the hardest substance known in nature to modern man. That is what you want in a marriage is strength.

Most of these traditions deal with the strength of the relationship or rather its worth or value, but there are other wedding traditions that deal indirectly or indirectly with fertility or childbearing.

In the first century B.C. the ancient Romans began using wedding cakes at their marriage ceremonies. However, these cakes weren't eaten; they were either thrown at the bride or broken over her head. This wedding cake was believed to assure many healthy children for the couple. Throwing cake instead of rice is an interesting tradition. Many places do not want rice thrown anymore due to birds eating the rice and it was killing the birds when they drink water and the rice expands and bursts their stomach.

In more recent times it has became quite common for the newlywed couple to save the top tier of their cake to be eaten on their first anniversary. This wedding tradition is said to have originated in the ninetieth century, when the extra tiers of the wedding cake were preserved and served at the christening of the couple's first born child. This is an event that normally occurred about a year after the marriage was consummated.

A wedding cake is traditionally for the most part white. Many people would probably say this was to symbolize the bride's purity or her virginity. Some say that there was actually a valid economic reason for it. In Victorian times or rather during the lifetime of England's queen Victoria it was well known that the ingredients for the wedding cake were much harder to acquire, especially for the icing on the cake. White icing on the wedding cake meant that only the very best and finest refined sugar was to be used, so the whiter the wedding cake, the more affluent the families involved was to be perceived by the guests at the wedding reception party. Some say that wedding cake is the world's most dangerous food.

Sugar was in great demand for the making of rum in those days. Sailors of the royal navy were given a daily allotment of rum in those days gone past and the tradition of grog of rum was only recently broken in today's modern nuclear British navy.

In the modern world today, most couples have the opportunity to first meet and get to know each other and arraigned marriages are not in vogue in western culture. However, this wasn't always the case. Up until the fourteenth century, it was customarily known for the brides to be either kidnapped or given a dowry for their fathers, who were responsible for their health and safety until they were united in marriage to their husbands. Some say that the bride or rather they became the property of their husbands.

I have an earned master's degree in Bible ministry and you would not believe the number of times women hate the idea of being in subjection to their husbands. Even so-called Christian women hate the idea of subjecting themselves to the husband. You should not marry someone that you do not trust with your life. Remember ladies that God in his Holy word, the Bible says the following:

Ephesians 5:22 ¶ Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.

Titus 2:3   The aged women likewise, that [they be] in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed. I am sure gossip is to be avoided and hated also.

Ephesians 5:23   For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so [let] the wives [be] to their own husbands in everything.

Women do not realize and understand that one day they will be taken before God and give account of their lives. If God asks you why you did such a thing while you were married and it was wrong in his eyes, you can tell the Lord to "talk to my husband as I did what he told me to" and you are off the hook for that part of your life. We are not talking about the husband telling you as a wife to break one of Gods laws and disobey God. You are not to obey a husband that commands you to be disobedient to God. That is another story for another day and article.

If you do not like the "obey" part remember that God in the Holy Bible commands husbands of the following:

Ephesians 5:25   Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,   That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.

God commands husbands to love their wives - can you not subjugate yourself to someone that loves you and protects you under God's holy words and law?

Since a dowry or what some say was a purchase of a daughter was often involved, an ugly daughter was not considered a valuable asset to the family. In arraigned marriages the tradition of it being bad luck to see the bride the night before the wedding came into being and existence. If the unlucky father and the bride's family just happened to have an ugly daughter, a husband from as far away as possible could or would be arranged for her. Think about the story or Jacob and Leah in the Bible.  

It was not uncommon for the groom to be, upon seeing his ugly duckling or rather unattractive bride the day of the wedding, to leave her standing at the church's altar. The saying goes that necessity is the mother of invention and the answer to this problem is proof that necessity is the mother of invention. The tradition of the wedding veil was introduced, a facial curtain was introduced and being that it couldn't be raised until the wedding ceremony was completed solved this problem.  

Once the bride was safely married off then other problems would arise. For example, during the fourteenth century it was the wedding custom for the bride to toss her garter belt to the drunken men at the reception. Some drunken uncouth Men being men, they would often get so drunk and not wait for the bride to take off her garter and they would go and take the garter before the time. To protect the bride and her modesty it quickly became the new husband's responsibility to remove the garter belt. It was then becoming a customary tradition for the bride to toss her floral bouquet to the waiting hopeful unmarried women.

It was just in recent times that people started believing the more that the woman who caught the bouquet would be next to being married. Some say that the bride of old times most likely would not have been dressed in white. That tradition some say originated with Queen Victoria and white in the Bible always symbolizes purity. If the bride's family was well off she would most certainly have had a brand new wedding dress made for her wedding day, but it did not necessarily have to be white.

In ancient times, color was not always and usually considered in the choice of a bridal gown. It became customary for the bride to wear red or other brightly colored gowns. Purple was a color reserved for royalty and commoners could be put to death for wearing this color.

The ancient Greeks and Romans used the color white in any celebration to express joy at their marriage. It is not always clear who first made the white gown popular, but Queen Victoria was credited with this tradition. Some say it was the wife of Napoleon III who popularized the white wedding gown or dress, others say it was Ann of Brittany, and still others believe it was Queen Victoria. What is known is that the wedding gown or dress is traditionally only worn once. This showed a person's wealth and affluence.

In today's modern culture nearly everyone has heard the old rhyme or wives tale about what a bride should wear: something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue, and a silver sixpence in her shoe. Silver was what coins used to be made out of long ago and even from Biblical times, as was gold.

Many brides abide by this tradition today but most likely, few brides knows the meaning of the rhyme. Something old signifies that the bride will stay close to her family or so some say. A Mr. Van Ostrom believes it gives a sense of community and tradition. The Jewish culture gives a great deal of respect and weight to tradition as do Catholics. Some say something new signifies her and his hope for the future. Something borrowed from a happily married couple, who are friends, in hopes that their good luck will rub off on the new couple. The color blue traces back its roots to Biblical times when this was the color for purity and fidelity and the keeping of the law as in the Ten Commandments.

Both the bride and the groom usually wore a band of blue material around the bottom of their wedding attire is a throwback to the time when the priests of God wore a fringe of blue around their garments to remind them of the laws of the Lord. The silver sixpence is to wish the bride wealth. Silver and gold always signified wealth, and today we carry fake paper around and call it money. Some countries just print currency and call it money.

One can often hear a reference to marriage as tying the knot which is an obvious reference to the binding of two lives and  perhaps, the roping in of the male or tying him down so to speak.

However in ancient Roman times, it was the untying of the knot, or knots, that had the greater importance to the husband. This is because a Roman bride would often wear a girdle that had many knots tied in it. On the wedding night it was the grooms responsibility (often, most likely, with fumbling fingers) to untie these knots to get to the "prize" as was what the bride was considered. One could not consummate the marriage with the girdle on his wife's body.

The honeymoon was and is considered a time for the newlywed couple to escape all of the pre-wedding stress and just enjoy getting to really know and relaxing with each other before the pressures of married life set in. Some say the "moon" part of the honeymoon was because customarily the bride and groom would go away for a whole month or from full moon to full moon and this was also a tradition in Hebrew culture for the bride and groom to go away for a month.

A wine that was flavored with honey was frequently enjoyed on honeymoon getaway by the newlyweds. Honey was considered the ancient symbol of life, health, and fertility in many cultures and it even was said to strengthen Samson in the Bible. The two words of Honey and moon were eventually combined to denote the modern honeymoon that we know of in today's modern culture.

Wedding cakes and diamond wedding rings, white wedding gowns and bridal garters, wedding veils and the ring fingers. These and the many other wedding traditions of the modern wedding in today's society all have their origins in the beliefs and varied superstitions that are many centuries old.

Planning a modern wedding can be a chaotic, hectic, nerve wracking experience, and the chaos of the responsibility can often blind the young bride and the couple to the true meaning of the ceremony they are about to share. Which is to be bound to one another and husbands are commanded in the Bible to:

Ephesians 5:25   Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it. Remember Christ died for his church and so should a husband die to protect his family. Women forget that part when they hate the ‘obey" part of the marriage vows and the marriage ceremony.

Perhaps if the modern western couple took the time to research and try to understand some of the wedding ceremony's customs and traditions about their wedding day, then they could have even greater respect for the meaning for the traditions.

I want to cry when I marry a couple in their mid-thirties and they have 6-7 marriages between the two of them. Practise does not make perfect and I am guilty of the same.

This is not a 'photoshopped" image of flowers. These are the actual flowers I got for a bride with the "grand wedding package" and she was very happy...

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