In keeping with the holiday season and all the wonderful traditions surrounding Easter, I got to thinking about wedding traditions. Why are wedding dresses white? What is the reason we have bridesmaids? Throw rice....what for?
I started researching this and found some very interesting stories revealed. Often in wedding ceremonies, traditions are repeated simply because they are just that: traditions. Many of our popular wedding traditions can be traced to ancient Egyptian and European customs. Based on symbolism, superstition, folklore, religion, and even the belief that evil spirits could bring newlyweds disease, unhappiness and death to crops, these traditions were taken very seriously in many early cultures. Although the exact origins and usefulness of many of these early wedding traditions are not always clear and have become mixed and jumbled over the centuries, their acceptance and popularity has allowed them to flourish. More often than not though, brides and grooms nowadays actually have no idea why they’re doing what they’re doing..... it's just "done" and it's part of the fun!
I’m going to try and dedicate a few blog articles this year to traditions and look into some of the wedding customs we still use today and see if I can reveal the origins of their existence. Today I'm going to start with the origin of marriages and the roles of the attendants. Let me know if you have any wedding traditions that have been passed down through generations in your family, I'd love to hear them and even share a few!
MARRIAGES AND WEDDINGS
According to numerous sources many of the very early "marriages" (for lack of a better word) were literally "carried out" by the Groom and his "Bridesmen" (or "Bridesknights", now known as Groomsmen) who would kidnap a woman - that's where we got "carrying a Bride over the threshold" - from another tribe. The Groom and his band of merrymakers would then fight off the females family of tribesmen with swords held in their right hand while the Groom would hold the captured Bride in his left hand..... this is where the Bride standing on the left side of the Groom during the ceremony originated.
After a successful kidnapping, another "fun" ritual was for the Groom to hide his new Bride for one month for mating purposes. Apparently the word "honeymoon" was created to describe the one month cycle of the moon when they would drink mead, (a honey based alcohol) that was said to effect the acidity of the womb which increased fertility.
Beginning around 1000 A.D., marriages were often nothing more than negotiation used in bartering for land, social status, political alliances, or money. The word, "Wedding" comes from the Anglo-Saxon word "wedd" that meant a man would marry a woman and pay the Bride's father.
Moving forward weddings became a little more "civilized" shall we say. Churches, parties, presents and attendants were the fashion. Even still, centuries ago the role of the bridesmaid was not simply to look attractive and help out the bride before and during the wedding. They had an even nobler duty....their main purpose was for protection.
A wedding was and still is, a happy, important day - and for the religious, which most people were in those times - one blessed by their god. So naturally it was considered a obvious target for evil spirits. People then believed that demons would attempt to infiltrate the wedding and curse the brides happiness.
The role of the bridesmaids, generally 5 of them, was to protect against this. They were there to confuse and distract the evil spirits away from its real target by dressing in their finest clothes and jewels which were most often almost identical to the bride. In this way it was thought that the demons wouldn't be able to tell who was really getting married.
Obviously this could be quite a dangerous task as the bridesmaids themselves could have the evil spirit's curse turned on them so being a bridesmaid was a true display of great loyalty and devotion to the bride
It wasn't just dark spirits that could be a threat to a happy wedding. There was also the more real problem of thieves. Weddings were the perfect target for thieves. They brought out people dressed in fine clothes, wearing lavish jewelry, bringing wedding gifts, and of course lets not forget, there was the bride herself.
Part of the bridesmaids job was to act as a lookout and watch out for suspicious people and activity. It was then up to them to ensure it was stopped, possibly by getting the authorities or involving the groomsmen/ushers.
The bridesmaids then would lead the groom to the church and the groomsmen would lead the bride, as they were the only ones capable of fighting off any rival of the grooms who may try to kidnap the bride for himself. The best man, who was chosen for being someone who truly had the grooms best interests at heart, would lead the men in battle should the need present itself.
Today the roles of the bridesmaid, groomsman and best man have most of the danger element taken out of them and are mainly ceremonial, thank goodness, yet still they are roles that hold great importance and are a huge honor.
I'll have more traditions for you next week, but in the mean time I leave you pondering over how lucky we are that these traditions have evolved over centuries into what we know today.....something a lot more pleasant than battling with kidnapping grooms or vanquishing nasty spirits...... :)