Wedding Traditions

By Julie Seitz

Today is Bosses’ Day, October 16, 2003. Bosses’ Day is a “holiday” that I haven’t observed for quite some time. This year, however, I have a new boss. Many of you know him as “The Diamond Guy.” I know him as “He Who Has Had Many Assistants.” I think I’m number 250…..this year. Not really, but he has had, lets just say, a difficult time finding an assistant who understands him, who he understands, who isn’t afraid to work hard and, well……someone who will put up with him. (Just kidding, Fred)

My name is Julie Seitz and I’m the newest employee of Diamond Cutters International. I’m the Assistant to our President and CEO, Fred Cuellar. I’m 34 years old, with two beautiful children, ages 11 and 13, and a wonderful husband to whom I have been married for 14 years. I decided to go to work full-time as my children entered middle school, and everyone seems to be adjusting well. It was an incredibly difficult decision; much more difficult than I anticipated. I loved being a stay-at-home mom for many years, but as my children got older and hungrier for independence, I found myself wanting to be part of the “rat race.” I’d heard people discuss it, complain about it, even praise it. I was ready to discover what it was all about and if it was for me. I miss the days of kids running home from elementary school, hugging me, wanting a cookie and a glass of milk…but we can’t go back, all we can do is move forward and look for the next adventure. It’s what life is all about. My kids are doing it, my husband is doing it, and now I am too.

Yes, it’s true, we can’t go back. But it is fun, on occasion, to look back. I was lucky enough to meet the man of my dreams at an early age–in high school, actually. We got engaged the year after high school, and after a long engagement, married at ages 20 and 21. When I became “Bride-to-be” on that fateful May evening, as my favorite guy pulled a small ring box from his jeans pocket standing in our favorite park with a light mist falling, something happened to me. Yes, I was incredibly, deliriously happy, excited, nervous…but I immediately began stressing out about everything I had to do to prepare for this wedding. Everything had to be perfect. The cake, the dress, the jewelry, the honeymoon, the hair, the guest list. I was overwhelmed, to say the least. I don’t think I handled the stress very gracefully. In fact, I know I didn’t. I’m sure, if they’re honest with themselves, most brides-to-be will admit to the same thing to some degree. I was, for this short period of my life, known to my family and friends as BRIDEZILLA! I was the stereotypical, hysterical, stressed out bride-to-be who had the overwhelming urge to control, plan and organize every aspect of my wedding. Oh yes, my bridesmaids and friends and family members all tried to help by pacifying me to the best of their ability, but some of my requests and demands were just too unreasonable for words. “No drinking at the bachelor party! Where is that maid of honor? She promised to loan me her new blue handkerchief! (It’s time efficient to combine traditions whenever possible.) What do you mean the church doesn’t allow rice throwing? Who knows what kind of children we’ll have if they throw BIRDSEED at us?!! ” I can look back and laugh now. However, I don’t think that I’m alone in my thinking that certain things, no matter how silly they may seem to some people, are important to brides all over the world. We don’t need a reason for them to be important, they just are, and that should be enough. It’s our day, dammit… Sorry…Getting back on track…..

Is there truly any actual reasoning that is involved in a woman’s frantic search for something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue? Have you ever seen a bride “freak out” because her guy accidentally caught a peak at her a few hours before the wedding? Not a pretty sight. But is there any factual basis to why this is a bad thing? I was curious, so I did some research. I was surprised by how important and, yes, necessary, many of these customs were at one time. Of course, some were silly then and are still silly today, but learning their origin will make you understand them in a more sensible way. But who are we kidding? The bride (zilla) is always right, and is under no obligation to be sensible.

Did you know that several of our wedding traditions are based on the concept of the bride being too ugly for the groom? I’m serious! Seeing the bride before the ceremony is considered bad luck because there was a time when marriages were completely arranged by the families. To keep the groom from backing out, he wasn’t permitted to see the bride until the ceremony just in case he considered her unattractive. The custom of wearing a veil came about for same reason. But in this case, the groom wasn’t allowed to see the bride’s potentially ugly mug until he actually lifted the veil to kiss her. Cruel? Maybe. But necessary at the time.

Watching a groom remove his bride’s garter at the reception is always fun. She’s usually quite embarrassed, he’s usually way too comfortable with the whole thing. Everyone gets a big kick out of it. What’s the purpose? In certain parts of Europe in the 14th Century, it was considered to be good luck to come away from a wedding with a piece of the bride’s clothing. Inebriated guests would destroy the poor bride’s dress trying to get a scrap. So, over time, it evolved to the tossing of the garter, providing safety for the bride, but making the dispersion of luck more of a lottery. This same idea of protecting the bride is also why the bride has always stood to the groom’s left. This was so the groom could have his right hand free to draw his sword against sudden attack. I guess this could still be considered a convenient concept. How else is the poor guy supposed to retrieve his cell phone from his right pocket on the first ring?

You’ve all heard, I’m sure, the term “to tie the knot.” I always thought it referred to tying your lives together. It actually goes back to Roman times, when the women’s girdles had many strings on them that were tied securely. Of course, the groom had the “duty” of untying the knots on the wedding night.

Stag parties have had the same meaning since they started. Stag parties, or bachelor parties as they are often called, are a farewell to bachelorhood and celebration of camaraderie between the groom and his friends. Although the reason has changed over the years, there has always been a shroud of mystery and secrecy when it comes to the bachelor party. It’s a sort of unspoken rule that details of the party usually aren’t revealed to women. I’ve heard rumors and hints, but after 14 years of marriage, I’m still not 100% sure what happened at my husband’s bachelor party. I only know that he lost his shoe and never did find it. Interesting. I think I feel an in-depth article on bachelor parties coming on.

Of course the bride has her own festivities to attend in the weeks leading up to her wedding. The first bridal shower is said to have come about from a Dutch folk tale in which well-meaning townspeople gave household items to a poor, newly married couple. The father of the bride disapproved of the union, so he had not provided a dowry. Anything goes today. Many bridal showers even become “bachelorette parties.”

Have you ever wondered where the word “honeymoon” came from? I have. I’ve even asked around. Not surprisingly, few people know the origin of the word or original meaning. Teutonic newlyweds drank wine made of honey and yeast from one full moon until the next full moon after they were married. I guess I should refer to my post-nuptial vacation as my “margaritamoon.”

Speaking of drinking, I found out in my research that the word “toast”, as in toasting the happy couple, actually comes from toasted bread. An old French custom is the source of this tradition. A piece of toasted bread was placed at the bottom of a glass filled with wine. After passing the glass around at the wedding, the bride would finish the wine, eat the wine-soaked bread at the bottom, thus receiving all of the good wishes of the guests.

Now to the tradition that most brides take very seriously. I know I did. Did I understand what the meaning of “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue” was? No. But now I do. Something old signifies continuity. I had my Great Grandmother’s wedding band to wear on my little finger. Something new signifies optimism. This is the easy one. The dress is new, the rings are new, the shoes are new, you get the picture. Something borrowed signifies future happiness. A friend of mine borrowed her uncle’s Ferrari to drive to the church. Hey, whatever works for you. Something blue signifies modesty, fidelity and love. It’s funny to me that most brides I’ve known have gone with the blue garter. The garter is removed in front of hundreds of people! Fidelity and love? Maybe. Modesty? I’m not sure.

There are enough stories about the origin of the customary white wedding dress to fill an entire page. But, I couldn’t find a single story that had anything to do with wearing white only if you were “pure.” It was mainly just a fashion trend credited to Ann of Brittany in 1499 and again by Queen Victoria in 1840. I did come across a great poem about the topic, however.

Married in White, you have chosen right
Married in Grey, you will go far away,
Married in Black, you will wish yourself back,
Married in Red, you will wish yourself dead,
Married in Green, ashamed to be seen,
Married in Blue, you will always be true,
Married in Pearl, you will live in a whirl,
Married in Yellow, ashamed of your fellow,
Married in Brown, you will live in the town,
Married in Pink, you spirit will sink.
-Author Unknown

When a girl wore a green dress, the implication was that she was of questionable morals and her dress was green from “rolling in the fields.”

There are many traditions, customs and superstitions that are not covered here. There are, simply, too many to mention. Depending on race, culture, religion, geographic location, there are literally thousands of different particulars that brides must organize and prepare for her wedding. Some are silly, meaningless things that are done “just because it’s always been done.” Others have been passed down from generation to generation and, for whatever reason, have true meaning for the bride and her marriage. Do we have any conclusive answers to whether following wedding tradition will lead to a happy marriage? No. I do know, however, that I have never met a divorced person who told me that the reason for the split was that rice wasn’t thrown at the reception, or he didn’t carry her over the threshold, or cans weren’t tied to the bumper of their car. Not that I’m trivializing the value of these actions. In fact, it may be many little things combined that will make or break your wedding day. But remembering the “little things” AFTER that one day is what will make or break a marriage in my opinion. Rice may or may not have been thrown at the reception, but taking the time to throw your arm around each other for no reason…now that’s important. He may or may not have carried her over the threshold, but has he ever carried the groceries in from the car without being asked? I don’t feel that I missed anything by not having cans tied to the bumper of my car on my wedding day. Seeing my husband teach my son to tie his shoes for the first time, however, I wouldn’t have missed for the world.

Wedding Traditions: A Quick Reference Guide

Bachelor Party

A party given for the groom to say goodbye to his bachelorhood and celebrate the camaraderie between him and his friends.

Bad Luck for Groom to See Bride Before Ceremony

This came about as a means to keep a groom from backing out of an arranged marriage to an unattractive woman.

Bouquet Toss, Garter Toss

In the 14th century, it was thought to bring luck to have a piece of the bride’s clothing. To prevent the bride from harm, brides began throwing their garter. That later evolved into the groom throwing the garter and the bride throwing her bouquet.

Breaking the Wine Glass

The Jewish tradition of the groom stomping on a wine glass at the conclusion of the ceremony signifies the fragility of the relationship and also the irrevocable act of breaking something. “Mazel Tov!”

Bridal Party

This tradition has many different origins depending on culture. The groom would use the help of his “bridesmen” to capture or escort his bride from her village. They were also responsible for getting the bride to the wedding and to the groom’s home after the ceremony. The women who assisted the bride were called her “brideswomen.”

Bridal Shower

Dating back to the 1800’s, a bride receives gifts from her friends to prepare her for marriage.

Bride Standing on Grooms Left

This goes back to ancient times, when the groom would need to keep his right hand free to draw his sword against sudden attack.

Carrying the Bride Over the Threshold

It is considered very bad luck for the new bride to trip and fall upon entering her new home for the first time. To eliminate the risk, the groom traditionally carries her through the door.

Engagement Ring

Pope Nicholas I decreed the engagement ring a required symbol of intent to marry. The Diamond became popular because of its long-lasting and enduring qualities.

Flowers

The practice of matching the groom’s boutonniere to the bride’s bouquet goes back to medieval times when knights would match the colors of their lady in tournaments.

Honeymoon

Teutonic newlyweds would drink wine made of honey and yeast from one full moon to the next immediately following their wedding.

Kissing

The kiss between the bride and groom dates back to the earliest days of civilization. A kiss has almost always been used as a legal seal for contracts and agreements, thus the obvious use of the kiss for the end of a wedding ceremony.

Money Dance

The money dance that many people see at wedding receptions, has its roots in dozens of cultures around the world. Basically, guests pay the groom money for the privilege of dancing with his bride. The money is then used for the honeymoon.

Ring Finger

Greek belief was that the third finger was connected directly to the heart by a vein they called “the vein of love.”

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue

Old signifies continuity, new signifies optimism, borrowed reflects future happiness, and blue is a sign of modesty, fidelity and love.

Throwing Rice

This is a symbol of fertility and also a wish for the couple to always have a full pantry. Note: birdseed is often used as an alternative that is nature-friendly.

Tie the Knot

This dates back to Roman times when the bride would wear a girdle tied in little knots.

Toasting the Bride and Groom

Originates from the 16th century. A small piece of toasted bread was placed in the bottom of a glass of wine. Guests would pass the glass until it reached the bride, who would drink the last drink, eat the bread, and receive the good wishes of the guests.

Tying Cans or Shoes to the Car

In England during the Tudor period, shoes were thrown at the carriage as a sign of luck. Eventually it became more common to just tie the shoes to the vehicle. Today, it’s usually tin cans that are used.

Veils

Veils were originally worn to keep the groom from seeing his bride until he lifted the veil to kiss her in case she was unattractive. In Roman times, veils were also thought to ward off evil spirits.

Vows

Vows are spoken promises between the groom and his bride in front of witnesses. Today, many religions and cultures allow and encourage the bride and groom to write their own vows.

Wedding

The Anglo-Saxon word “wedd” refers to promise of a man to marry a certain woman, but it also refers to the money or land, or social status to be paid to the woman’s family for her hand.

Wedding Bells

Like many wedding customs, bells are rung to protect the couple from misfortune.

Wedding Cake

In the 1st century, cake was thrown at the bride for fertility. It is considered very good luck to all who eat wedding cake.

Wedding Ring

Ancient belief was that the ring was protection against evil spirits. Early Rome is the source of our modern symbolism of love and commitment.

White Wedding Dress

A fashion trend credited to Ann of Brittany in 1499 and again to Queen Victoria in 1840.