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!
READ MORE: Traditions You Can Ditch if You’re Having a Same-Sex Wedding
Wedding Traditions Before the Big Day
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!
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!
READ MORE: Wedding Dates to Avoid in 2019, 2020 and 2021
Where Do Hen and Stag Parties Come From?
In Middle English, the word “hen” means female bird, which is why a hen party is exclusively 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.
It was only during the mid-1960s that hen parties began to grow in popularity, probably aided by the fact that The Times reported on male stripper being inappropriate at such a celebration, popping the term in quotation marks.
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 (and for that we are eternally thankful!)
READ MORE: 30 Unusual Hen Party Ideas for Brides Who Want Something Different
On the Wedding Day
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: Creative Ways to Include the Something Borrowed Tradition in Your Wedding
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.
READ MORE: 21 Romantic Ways to Surprise Your Bride or Groom on Your Wedding Day
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.
READ MORE: What are the Duties of the Father of the Bride?
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”.
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.
READ MORE: The Most Unusual and Unique Wedding Rings
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.
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.
READ MORE: 33 Questions to Ask Your Wedding Cake Maker
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 Price 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”.
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!
READ MORE: How to Choose a Wedding Dress
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 husband, and we can’t be having that.
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… Check out our round-up of the prettiest cascading bouquets if garlic was not quite what you had in mind.
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.
READ MORE: The Most Gorgeous Flower Garlands to Decorate Your Wedding
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
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.
Today, biodegradable confetti is really popular (particularly if you’re planning an eco-friendly wedding). Take a look at our confetti guide for more ideas!
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!
READ MORE: 17 of the Most Unusual Wedding Gifts
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 2019 is that there are no rules. Mix up the traditions as you see fit, and put a modern spin on things.
READ MORE: Traditional Speech Order Explained
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 Pinterest wedding trends of 2019!