Wedding traditions and superstitions have played a huge part in weddings across the globe for hundreds of years.
If you’re in the midst of wedding planning, you’ve probably been frantically searching for something blue, warning your OH they can’t see you before you walk down the aisle, and planning your bouquet toss. It’s likely your partner also probably proposed on one knee, too. But do you actually know where these wedding traditions come from and what they mean?
With this handy guide, you’ll be a fountain of knowledge when it comes to wedding traditions and superstitions, so you’ll know exactly which traditions you want to ditch, and what the traditions you choose to keep actually mean! We've even included wedding traditions from around the world should you wish to incorporate something new into your special day.
- What to Expect at a Hindu Wedding
- Everything You Need to Know About Greek Wedding Traditions
- 23 Wedding Traditions You Can Skip
15 UK Wedding Traditions
What Are Traditional Wedding Rules?
While couples today are making their own wedding rules for their big day, there are traditional wedding rules that you can choose to follow (or not!) such asking for permission or a blessing to get married, each family having to sit on separate sides for the ceremony and guests not wearing black to the wedding.
What is the Most Popular Wedding Tradition?
Some wedding traditions certainly stand the test of time! According to the Hitched National Wedding Survey, in 2021, 90% of couples served alcohol at their wedding, 83% of couples had a first dance and 80% did a cake-cutting ceremony.
What Are the Wedding Traditions in the UK?
There are plenty of timeless traditions that couples in the UK embrace on their big day. The Hitched National Wedding Survey revealed that in 2021, 78% of couples had a wedding squad, such as bridesmaids and best man, 72% gave wedding favours to their guests and 12% did a bouquet toss.
What Are Some Strange Wedding Traditions?
Traditionally speaking, the top tier of the wedding cake should not be eaten and instead saved and preserved for either your 1st wedding anniversary or your first child's christening. We don't think we have the will-power for that one!
A silver sixpence is traditionally slipped into the bride's shoe by her father before she is walked down the aisle and while we don't have any shillings to hand, finding a tenner in your shoe wouldn't go amiss.
Are There Any New Wedding Traditions?
2021 saw the emergence of some exciting new wedding traditions. Our National Wedding Survey found that 1 in 10 couples had an alcohol-free wedding, 12% had a 'first look', and 11% of brides wore another colour other than white. Pink wedding dress, anyone?
More over, couples are looking to include eco-friendly elements into their big day with many opting for sustainable décor and 4% choosing to wear sustainable fashion. Dog chaperones are also on the rise with 3% of couples utilising them in 2021 - we're certainly on board with this!
READ MORE: The 20 Biggest Wedding Trends for 2022
Wedding Traditions Before the Big Day
1. Why Do We Get Down on One Knee to Propose?
The exact origin of this tradition is unknown, but there are lots of ideas floating around as to how it came about. The act of getting down on one knee is called genuflection, and in the Middle Ages, men would bend down in front of the women they adored. What’s more, in religion, kneeling in front of someone is a sign of respect, loyalty and obedience.
Fast forward to today, and most people still get down on one knee to propose. It represents a certain vulnerability and a deep emotional connection, showing that you’re willing to commit the rest of your life to giving your other half what they need and want. You’re almost surrendering to your love. Romantic!
2. What Day Should I Get Married On?
According to tradition, to marry during a full moon is unlucky, and during Lent is poor choice. As the age-old saying goes, “if you marry in Lent, you’re sure to repent”. There’s also a rhyme about the chosen day of your wedding, which goes a little something like this:
“Monday for health,
Tuesday for wealth,
Wednesday’s the best of all.
Thursday brings crosses,
And Friday losses,
But Saturday – no luck at all.”
In terms of the time of day to get married, it has long been said that the couple should exchange vows as the clock’s minute hand is “ascending towards heaven” – i.e. upwards. You’ve been warned!
3. Where Do Hen and Stag Parties Come From?
In Middle English, the word “hen” means female bird, which is why a hen party is typically for the women in your life. The term “hen party” dates back to the 1800s when it was used to refer to a gathering of women.
The idea itself is said to come from Ancient Greek wedding traditions, where wedding celebrations were split into three parts with the first being an all-female feasting dinner called the Gamos.
Stag dos emerged around a similar time, and are also traditionally Greek. The first ever stag dos took place in the Ancient Greek city of Sparta (apparently), when feasts were held to toast the groom and mark the end of youth.
Hen and stag parties are now something which most brides and grooms choose to throw before they tie the knot, with the introduction of gender-neutral sten and fox parties too!
On the Wedding Day
4. What Does “Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed & Something Blue” Mean?
“Something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue” is an age-old Victorian rhyme. Something old represents the link with the bride’s family and the past. Many brides choose to wear a piece of family jewellery or their mother or grandmother’s wedding dress.
Something new represents good fortune and success in the bride’s new life. The wedding dress often symbolises the new item, or perhaps the bride’s shoes.
Something borrowed reminds the bride that her family and friends will be there for her when help is needed. The borrowed object might be something small, such as lace handkerchief or a hair pin.
The something blue symbolises faithfulness and loyalty. The tradition dates back to biblical times when blue represented purity. Often, the bride’s garter has a blue ribbon on it, making that the blue item.
Another tradition is that of a “silver sixpence in your shoe”. This tradition is said to bring the couple wealth and happiness during their life together, and was originally a sign that the bride’s father had sent the couple well wishes.
READ MORE: 35 of the Best Blue Wedding Shoes
5. Why Can’t the Couple See Each Other Before They Meet at the Altar?
This tradition dates back to the days of arranged marriages, when marriage was more of a business arrangement than something done for love. The couple weren’t allowed to see each other before the ceremony for fear they’d pull out of the marriage!
Today, it’s simply seen as unlucky to see your other half on the morning of your wedding – but since you’re not partaking in a business deal, we’re pretty sure you shouldn’t be worried! Most people just choose not to see their spouse to build up excitement and give them a surprise when they walk down the aisle looking so beautiful.
6. Why Does the Bride Get Given Away?
This is another tradition which dates back to the days when marriage was more of a business arrangement. Brides would quite literally be handed over to “a new owner”, usually in exchange for money or dowry.
Nowadays, it is totally up to the bride who gives them away. It can be a special moment to share with your dad, but you’ve got to feel comfortable. If it’s better suited to your family, perhaps your mum or sibling could give you away.
7. Why Does the Bride Stand to the Left of the Groom?
The bride stands to the left of the groom during the wedding ceremony so that the groom can protect her with his left arm and use his sword with the right.
Traditionally, the groom would need to fight anyone who was trying to steal his wife – mostly members of her own family, since it was common for them to think she’d be “stolen”.
8. Why Do We Wear the Ring on the Fourth Finger of the Left Hand?
Many believe the tradition began with the Romans, who thought a vein ran straight from the fourth finger on the left hand to the heart. Others believe it began simply because the left hand is generally least used and so a more practical choice for adornment.
The Egyptians used the middle finger of the left hand, while ancient Gauls and Britons favoured the little finger.
Roman Catholics preferred to use the right hand for betrothal and wedding rings until the middle of the 18th century.
It is supposedly unlucky for a bride to try on her wedding ring before marriage and it is said that whichever of the couple drops the ring in church shall be the first to die. It is also said to be unlucky to remove a wedding ring before seven years of marriage. Discover more about the history of the wedding ring finger here.
9. Why Is a Wedding Cake Tiered?
It has always been tradition for cake to play a part in a wedding, but originally, guests would bring small cakes and place them in front of the couple. They would then kiss over the pile of cakes to guarantee future prosperity. It also allows for that great best man joke we all love to groan at...
The wedding cake, as we know it today, is tiered – graduated cakes stacked on top of each other – and this originated at the wedding of Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany in 1882.
The cutting of the cake is a focal point at any reception today, a tradition rooted in history when the first cut was made by the bride to ensure the marriage would be blessed by children.
It's also a wedding tradition to save the top tier of your wedding cake for your first child's christening, although some couples prefer to tuck into it on their first wedding anniversary - discover how to store the top tier of your wedding cake here.
READ MORE: 18 Best Wedding Cake Makers in the UK
10. Why Are Wedding Dresses White?
White has connotations of purity, so that is the main reason why brides would traditionally wear white on their wedding day. White is also closely linked to wealth (because apparently, only the wealthy could afford to wear it). Despite this, the trend landed much later than you might expect.
It was Queen Victoria who was the first to do so, as before her wedding to Prince Albert in 1840, brides would wear the most expensive dress they owned on their wedding day. In her diary, she wrote: “I wore a white satin dress with a deep flounce of Honiton lace, an imitation of an old design, and my jewels were my Turkish diamond necklace and earrings and dear Albert’s beautiful sapphire brooch”. See even more iconic royal wedding dresses here.
When it comes to the dress and getting ready, there’s one tradition which we’re not sure we could stick by. Traditionally, it is seen as unlucky for a bride-to-be to see her completed bridal look before saying ‘I do’.
This has evolved into some brides choosing to see their bridal look just once, when it’s completed… but even that we’re not sure we could stick to!
11. Why Does the Bride Wear a Veil?
The wedding veil hides the bride’s beauty and wards off evil spirits. Another explanation is that during the times of arranged marriages the bride’s face would be covered until the groom had committed to the marriage.
Oh, and after your wedding, don’t let your friend try on your veil! It’s supposed to mean she’ll run off with your partner, and we can’t be having that.
12. Why Does the Bride Throw Her Bouquet?
Contrary to popular belief, the bouquet wasn’t traditionally carried down the aisle just to look pretty, but to mask the bride’s odour (how rude!).
Rumour has it, the scents of fragrant flowers were used to ward off evil spirits – as were bouquets made of herbs and garlic…
Traditionally, the bride also throws her bouquet, and this is a still a very popular feature of weddings today. It stems from a French 14th century tradition, where the groom would throw the bride’s garter into the crowd, but this quickly emerged as the more civilised alternative of throwing a bouquet.
It is said that whoever catches the bouquet will be next to be married.
13. Why Give Out Favours?
The tradition of giving guests something to remember the day by in the form of favours has been around for hundreds of years.
Today, the tradition has evolved to lots of couples choosing to give each guest five sugar coated almonds to symbolise health, wealth, fertility, happiness and long-life. Not many couples stick by this, though, and popular favours include seeds, mini bottles of spirits or DIY food wedding favours.
READ MORE: The Ultimate Guide to Wedding Favours
14. Why Do We Throw Confetti?
Traditionally, rice was thrown at the newly married couple to encourage fertility, but it was the Victorians who first used shredded paper. We’re pretty chuffed about that one, because the thought of picking food out of our hair on our wedding day does not appeal.
15. Why Does the Bride Get Carried Over the Threshold?
Carrying the bride over the threshold protects her from any evil spirits that may be lurking in the new home, particularly since the soles of her feet were known to be at the greatest risk of evil. Spooky!
Top Tips for Wedding Traditions
- You don’t have to include them all! Pick the ones you like and do them well.
- Mix things up if you’re hosting a same-sex wedding! Lots of these traditions were for brides and grooms, but there’s so many fun ideas you can replace them with if that isn’t you.
- The biggest rule of 2022 is that there are no rules. Mix up the traditions as you see fit, and put a modern spin on things.
Wedding Traditions from Around the World
Across the world, every culture has its own unique and beloved wedding traditions that range from the sweet to the truly bizarre. French couples must drink from a toilet bowl, while Congolese newlyweds are forbidden to smile. In Romania, brides are kidnapped and must be ransomed back by their husband, while in India the bride's family do the same - but to the groom's shoes. And in South Korea, poor grooms can barely get their feet back in their shoes after they've been whipped with a stick.
Some are funny, some are pretty gruesome, but all of them have their roots in wishing good fortune, fidelity and fertility to the newlyweds. Here's our pick of some of the sweetest and wildest wedding traditions around the world.
To Good Luck and Long Lives
1. In Greece, brides should hide a sugar cube in their glove to ensure a sweet life and place a gold coin in their shoe for prosperous finances. The groom gets a less sticky end of the deal with a piece of iron in his pocket to ward off evil spirits. It's also considered good luck to have an odd number of guests at a Greek wedding.
2. We'd never heard of this one before, and it definitely sounds like something a mum made up the spot. Apparently if you find a spider lurking in your wedding dress, it's good luck. We'll hold our breath on this English tradition.
3. Hands up if you love chocolate and Champagne? Hands up if you'd drink it from a toilet bowl? Yes, it's a tradition in France for friends of the couple to put leftover food and drink in a (clean) toilet bowl or chamber pot then force the newlyweds to drink 'La Soupe'. The leftovers have been replaced these days with chocolate and fizz, but the toilet bowl is still a very key part. It's meant to give the couple strength for their wedding night.
4. Ouch! Egyptian women pinch the bride on her wedding day to bring the marriage good luck.
5. If you like baths, take after the Moroccan tradition where women bathe in milk to purify themselves before the wedding ceremony.
6. Congolese couples are not allowed to smile during their entire wedding day. Not during their photos, vows, dancing, nothing! If they do, it means they aren't serious about marriage.
7. The falaka or bastinado ceremony in South Korea is hard to beat for weird wedding traditions. The groom's friends and family hold him down and whip the soles of his feet with a stick or dried fish while asking him trivia questions. It's meant to test his strength of character and strengthen his memory.
8. Bulgarian couples MUST step into the church right foot first for good luck.
9. Like peas? Let's hope you live in the Czech Republic. Couples are showered with peas or lentils instead of rice as confetti. It's meant to enhance fertility - as is the custom of placing a baby on the couple's bed to bless them with children.
10. A pine tree or lilies of the valley are planted outside of the newlyweds' home in Holland as a symbol of fertility and luck. It symbolises a love that blossoms every spring.
11. Speaking of trees, if you're a Hindu woman born during the astrological period when Mars and Saturn are both under the seventh house, you'll have a quarrelsome marriage and should prepare for early widowhood. To break this curse, the bride has to first marry a tree and then cut it down.
12. The Scottish aren't ones for making it easy: in the past, the bride and groom were taken out the day before their wedding, soaked through with alcohol, then covered in treacle, feathers, flour and ash by their loved ones. Apparently this humiliating ritual kept the evil spirits away – and we can only imagine how long it took to scrub that concoction off.
13. If you're after something much nicer, Mexican couples will drape a lasso, or lazo, of rosary beads and flowers around their shoulders in a figure of eight while exchanging vows. This infinity symbol symbolises how long they want the marriage to last and the joining of the couple.
14. In Norway, the bride must wear an ornate silver and gold crown on her head that has small charms on it. When she walks, the tinkling sound of the charms is supposed to ward off those pesky evil spirits.
15. You may argue among yourselves who has the biggest mouth, but there's a way to test that in Russia. Newlyweds share a sweetbread called karavay which is decorated with a wheat ear-shaped wreath for prosperity and two interlaced rings for faithfulness. The puffier the bread, the happier and richer the newlyweds will be when they taste it. And whichever of the couple takes the biggest bite without using their hands is considered to be the head of the family.
16. The Yoruba tribe in Africa have a tradition called the Tasting of the Four Elements. The couple get a literal taste during their ceremony of four flavours that represent the stages in a marriage. A slice of lemon for sourness to represent the disappointments they will face; a sip of vinegar for bitterness they must overcomes; cayenne pepper for heat to show the spice and passion and their relationship; and a spoonful of honey for the sweet joy in marriage. Tasting they all shows the couple will be able to overcome anything.
17. Shoes feature heavily in good luck traditions, and in Sweden the bride places a gold coin from her father and a silver coin given by her mother in each show to give lifelong good fortune and prosperity.
18. The people of Sweden also have a kissing tradition where any time the bride or groom leaves the table to use the bathroom, anyone and everyone of the opposite sex can steal a kiss from the newlywed left behind. Let's hope you're not the jealous type.
19. As for bathroom practices, it's this one in Borneo that's really making us wince. Indonesian couples spend the first three days of their marriage confined to their home together - quite nice so far - except they aren't allowed to use the toilet! It's meant to strengthen their bond (because nothing says love like a UTI).
20. In Thailand, wedding guests tie white strings, known as sai sins, around the bride's wrists for luck. If she can wear them for three days, even better fortune will come their way!
21. With sore dancing feet, we bet there's many a couple that wish they could sneak out their wedding reception early. But in Venezuela, there's even more reason to! It's good luck for the newlyweds to sneak off from the party before the end without being caught. It's also good luck for the guest that first realises they're gone.
22. Supposedly, Saturday is the unluckiest day to marry according to English folklore. Wednesday is considered the "best day" to marry, while Monday is for wealth and Tuesday is for health.
23. And did you know why summer weddings became so popular in the UK? It dates back to the 16th century when most people had their annual bath in May so they were still smelling pretty sweet by June. Luckily the bride could carry a bouquet of flowers to hide her body odour if she'd started to ripen - hence why brides carry a bouquet today.
24. German couples are presented with a log after their wedding, which they must saw in half as a team. It's believed to show their ability to overcome tough obstacles together.
25. The poor Germans aren't just sawing through a whole tree trunk. The night before the wedding, the guests will traditionally break loads of porcelain outside the bride's house to bring the couple's marriage luck in a custom called Polterabend. The couple have to take care of cleaning all the shards of porcelain up, helping them learn to get through any hardships in their marriage.
26. In Spanish Catholic weddings, the couple share 13 coins known as arras or unity coins which represent Jesus and his twelve apostles. The coins symbolise good fortune in the marriage ahead.
27. We all know that the best man began as a sibling or clansman who would stand to the right of the groom, armed and ready to fight anyone who tried to steal the bride during the ceremony. But the best man has a very different job today. In Greece, the best man or koumparos comes armed with a razor and shaves the groom's face. After this, the groom's new mother-in-law feeds him honey and almonds.
28. Each jewel has a symbolic meaning which can spell triumph or troubles for your marriage if it features in your engagement or wedding ring. Sapphire traditionally mean marital happiness and aquamarine represents martial harmony, both ensuring a long, happy marriage. However, a pearl is said to ring bad luck as its shape mirrors a tear.
29. You've got to have a lot of trust in your soon-to-be husband in China. The groom must shoot his bride with a bow and arrow (importantly the arrow doesn't have a head!), collect the arrows and then break them during the ceremony. Supposedly this ensures their love lasts forever.
30. In fact China has a wealth of unusual traditions. In the Sichuan province, brides schedule an hour of crying into their day for at least a month before the wedding. After 10 days, the bride's mum joins her for an hour of sobbing each day, and 10 days after that, Granny joins in; by the end of the month all the females in the family are crying with the bride. Known as Zuo Tang, which means Sitting in the Hall, it's actually meant to be an expression of joy - and brides can be punished if they don't cry hard enough.
31. After the wedding ceremony in Guatemala, the wedding party head back to the groom's house. Outside is a white ceramic bell filled with rice, flour and other grains that represent abundance and prosperity. It's the groom's mum's job to smash the bell to shower best wishes on the couple.
32. Ceramic factories must love a wedding as there's some smashing going on in Armenia too! The newlyweds will balance lavash flatbreads on their shoulders to ward off even spirits, and when they enter the wedding reception, they'll break a plate for good luck. The couple will then be fed lavash and honey by the groom's mum.
33. Irish folklore says that evil fairies will come and steal the bride away if she doesn't keep one foot on the floor at all times while dancing.
34. Never work with animals, but what about inviting one to your wedding? In Niger, wedding guests gather round a trained camel to watch it dance to a drumbeat at the reception. In the Philippines, the newlyweds release a pair of white doves into the air to represent a harmonious life.
35. Across Asia, wearing robes with cranes embroidered in them symbolises a loyal and faithful marriage.
36. Dance-offs are big at traditional Zulu weddings in South Africa. The Umabo ceremony takes place at the house of the groom and the bride must leave her own home early in the morning, covered in a blanket and not look back. Her father takes her to the groom's home and she is snuck in through the kitchen. The groom's family then pay a penalty for not noticing her. A cow is ritually slaughtered, the two families exchange gifts and there's a big dance-off between the two sides, symbolising the bride leaving her ancestral home for her husband's.
Money, Money, Money
37. On the day of the wedding, an Indian bride's female relatives take part in a ritual called Joota Chupai where they steal the groom's shoes and demand ransom money for their return.
38. At some Spanish weddings, the groom's friends will take scissors and chop up his tie. The pieces will then be sold to guests to raise money for the newlyweds. The bride can get in on the action too by offering up her garter for the snip.
39. In Romania, the bride is playfully kidnapped her her wedding by her wedding guests. The guests will keep her hostage until the groom pays a ransom - normally bottles of alcohol, and sometimes as little as a love song for his bride.
40. There's a similar thing in Russia, where the groom must go to the home of the bride's parents on the wedding morning and pay them a "ransom" to show his worth. He'll use either use, gifts, or simply humiliate himself with a song and dance until the bride's family has had enough.
41. Bridesmaids in China have a seriously fun job on the wedding morning. They must put the groom through a series of tests called "wedding door games" to prove he's worthy of the bride. Then he pays the bridesmaids off with envelopes of money. Not too shabby a job!
42. A Nigerian money dance is a must if you want to claw back some money on your big day. In the Yoruba and Igbo tribes, guests will toss cash over the couples as they dance in what's called a money spray. The wedding party then help them gather it all up!
43. It's custom in Cuba that every male guest who dances with the bride must pin money to her wedding dress. This is to help the couple pay for their wedding.
44. Finnish brides traditionally went door-to-door with an older married man to collect gifts in a pillowcase. The man was meant to represent a long marriage.
45. Got an older, unmarried sibling? At French-Canadian weddings, your unwed brothers and sisters will don brightly coloured socks and do a dance for the guests. The guests will throw money at them which is then collected for the newlyweds.
46. You've heard of a cake pop; well what about a cake pull? In Peru, the wedding cake is assembled with layers of ribbon between it to which charms are attached. One of these is a fake wedding ring, and at the reception, each single woman is encouraged to pull a ribbon from the cake. The single lady who gets the ring will be the next to marry. Considering this involves cake and a free ring, we much prefer this to the bouquet toss!
47. That's maybe better in some people's eyes than this Mongolian tradition. The engaged couple must cut up a chicken, holding the knife together, to find a healthy liver. They keep doing it until they find a healthy one, and only then can they set a date.
48. Welshmen are known for having big hearts. No wonder when a Welshman fell in love and wanted to propose, he'd carve a lovespoon from wood for his beloved. It would feature a key, to show they had the key to his heart, and beads which symbolised the number of children he hoped for.
49. You've got to really want to propose in Fiji. When a man asks his partner's father or her hand in marriage, he must present his future father-in-law with a whale's tooth. Plus points if you caught it yourself.
50. Indian, North African and Middle Eastern brides paint henna designs on their hands and feet to protect themselves from the evil eye.
51. Welsh brides are pretty good at making sure their bridesmaids get a chance to tie the knot too. The bridal bouquet customarily includes myrtle, a herb that symbolises love. The bride will give a cutting of myrtle to each of her bridesmaids, who must plant it. The first one it blooms for will be the next bride.
52. Forget a quick drink before the ceremony, in Lebanon it's an all out party! The pre-wedding celebration, known as the Zaffe, is a performance made up by a zaffe group, consisting of dancers, singers and drummers in traditional costumes. They lead the guests to the bride's house, where the couple is showered in flower petals, before being escorted to the ceremony with music and drums. Then they'll lead them from the wedding reception to the dance floor before the first dance.
53. Forget matching bridesmaid dresses! Especially popular in West Africa is the tradition of Asoebi: matching ceremonial fabric that the entire family and close friends of the bride and groom will wear during the wedding. The bride and groom's families will each have their own asoebi making it very easy to tell who is with who!
54. Brides in the Western world didn't wear white until Queen Victoria started the trend in 1840. Before then brides wore red or whatever was their best dress. However, this was always the trend in Japan.
55. And veils came from Ancient Greeks and Romans who thought the veil protected the bride from evil spirits.
Now you’ve decided which traditions you’ll be including in your wedding day, you might want to think about the more contemporary touches you can add to the celebration. Take a look at our round-up of the best TikTok wedding trends for 2022!