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 Something old, something new

 Something borrowed, something blue

 And a silver sixpence in your shoe.

These rhymes are thought to originate in Victorian times but some of these actual customs are much older.  “Something Old” refers to friends who will hopefully remain close during the marriage.  Traditionally speaking, “something old” also refers to an old garter given to the bride by a happily married woman hoping that her happy marriage will be passed on to the new bride.

“Something New” symbolizes the newlyweds’ happy and prosperous future.  

“Something Borrowed” is some much-valued item loaned by the bride’s family.   And the bride must return the item to ensure good luck.  

The custom of the bride wearing “Something Blue” actually originated in ancient Israel where the bride wore a blue ribbon in her hair to represent fidelity.  In Biblical days, “Something Blue” also stood for purity and love. Thus, both the bride and groom wore blue bands around the bottom of their wedding attire, symbolizing “Something Blue.”

Placing “Silver Sixpence” in the bride’s shoe comes from England and ensured wealth in the couple’s married life. Today, some brides place a penny in their shoe.  

9. BRIDESMAIDS  – Roman Bridesmaids were dressed in a similar way to the bride to disguise her from evil spirts wanting to thwart her happiness.  The bridesmaids were placed as decoys to confuse the evil spirits and protect the bride.  

10. BEST MAN  – As marriages were historically accomplished by the groom kidnapping the bride, a warrior friend often assisted. This “Best Man” would help the groom fight off other men wanting his bride and in preventing the woman’s family from finding the couple.  Nowadays, the best man’s duty is to protect the groom from bad luck.  He ensures that the groom makes it to the church on time without distractions.  The best man also arranges for a small good-luck charm for the groom to carry in his pocket on his wedding day.  And, lastly, when the best man pays the minister’s fee, it should be an odd sum of money to bring good luck to the couple.

11. WEDDING BANDS – It’s unknown when wedding bands were first worn. It’s guessed that they were probably made of a strong metal such as iron.  (One can easily guess the fear of a bad omen if the wedding band broke.) As far back as the ancient Romans, there was a belief that the vein in the third finger ran directly to the heart, so the wearing of rings on that finger joined the couple’s hearts and destinies.  In the United States, we wear our wedding bands on the left hand but in most countries of Europe, they wear them on the right hand.

12. GIVING THE BRIDE AWAY – It’s tradition for the bride’s father to walk his daughter down the aisle and “give her away to the groom.”  This signifies the father giving his sincerest blessing to the marriage and expressing confidence in his son-in-law’s ability to take care of his daughter. In the Jewish faith, both the Mother AND Father walk the bride down the aisle.  Today, in most traditional ceremonies, the minister or celebrant will usually ask  “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?”  And the father of the bride will reply, “Her mother and I.”  

13. WEDDING CAKE  – As with other celebrations, cakes have been associated with weddings for centuries.  The Romans shared a cake during the actual wedding ceremony. It was a plain confection made from wheat flour, salt and water unlike the sophisticated cake we enjoy today. The Fijians and some Native American tribes still incorporate cake in the wedding ceremonies.  

Centuries ago in Britain, early cakes were flat, round and contained fruit & nuts to symbolize fertility.  Also, tradition had guests throwing small cakes over the bride similar to how we throw rice and confetti today.   In Scotland, Oat Cakes were also thrown over the bride to promote fertility.

In Yorkshire, after the wedding, a plate holding some wedding cake was thrown out the window before the bride returned to her parent’s home. Legend has it if the plate broke, the bride would enjoy a happy future with her husband.  However, if the plate didn’t break, her future would be grim.    

Another old English custom was to place a ring in the wedding cake. And while the guests ate the cake, the one who found the ring would be ensured happiness for the coming year.  Legend also says that unmarried guests who placed some wedding cake under their pillow at night would increase their prospects of finding a partner.  And, bridesmaids who did the same would dream of their future husbands.  

As with other wedding-related rituals handed down through the ages, a wedding wouldn’t be complete without plenty of fertility symbols.  The wedding cake is one.  Ancient Romans would bake a cake of wheat or barley and then crumble or break it over the bride’s head as a symbol of her fertility and male dominance. (Whether this meant cracking the cake above the bride’s head or actually bonking her on the noggin is unclear.)  Finally, during the reign of King Charles II of England, it became customary for wedding cakes to be delicious, ornate desserts iced with sugar.

The wedding couple makes the first cut of the wedding cake together as part of the ritual reception symbolizing their shared future.  Then, they are to gently feed cake to each other symbolizing their willingness to be partners and share a household, and their  commitment to provide for and take care of each other throughout their lives.  However, if the cake is smashed into a partner’s face, all bets are off.

Historically, couples would often keep the top tier of their wedding cake for the christening of their first child.  While today, it’s stored in their freezer to celebrate the couple’s first anniversary.  

Over time, it’s also become tradition to stack several cakes atop one another as tall as possible. (The shape of the modern three-tiered iced wedding cake is believed to have been inspired by the bell tower of Saint Bride’s Church in London.)  The bride and groom are to kiss over this tower trying not to knock it over.  Legend said if the new couple is successful, a lifetime of good fortune is certain for them. 

14. THROWING RICE –Throwing rice on the just-married couple is symbolic of wishing prosperity and good luck.  In Asia, throwing rice means, “may you always have a full pantry.”   Wheat and other grains are sometimes thrown along with the rice, thereby wishing prosperity and “lack of want.” Each rice shower bestows  “goodwill traditions” of wealth upon the newlyweds. To this day, rice showers remain a symbol for “a life of plenty.” 

15. HONEYMOON – The actual word “Honeymoon” first appeared in the 16th century. There are many theories on the origin of the word.  The two most prevalent theories are fairly similar.  Starting in pre-historic times, the Teuton people began the practice of honeymoons.  The first marriages were by capture… not by choice as unwilling women were forceably carried off to a secret place for a wedding ceremony under a full moon… far away from relatives.  They were kept hostage for one month, a full moon cycle, drinking honey wine, a fertility symbol, with the intention of getting the bride pregnant, hopefully with a male child.  That’s how the man proved his virality to the tribe.  And, due to a 90% infant mortality rate and a 25-year life expectancy, necessity dictated that they start a family immediately.

Another theory is practically the same as the pre-historic traditions, but takes place sometime later in the mid-1500’s.  Men still captured their brides and hid from the bride’s parents before marrying in order to secure their bride.  Following the wedding, the couple remained in hiding for a full 30 days, a moon cycle, drinking honey wine, called “Mead.”  And, by the time the bride’s family found the couple, the bride was usually pregnant.  And, so on and so on.

Today the term “honeymoon” survives as a vacation, a romantic get-away.  “Honey” is a reference to a sweet new marriage. And the “moon” is no longer a reference to the lunar-based month.  Rather a bitter acknowledgment that this sweetness, like a full moon, will quickly fade.

16. CARRYING THE BRIDE OVER THE THRESHOLD  –  After the wedding, when the newlyweds enter their new home for the first time, it must be through the main entrance.  And tradition dictates the groom carries his bride over the threshold.  The reason is unclear. One explanation says the bride will have bad luck if she falls while entering. Another theory says the bride will have bad luck if she steps into the new home with her left foot first. Thus, you avoid both misfortunes by carrying the bride over the threshold.  A third explanation for carrying the bride over the threshold symbolizes the old Anglo-Saxon custom of a groom stealing his bride and carrying her away. All are believable variations of the custom.

As you prepare for your new life together, it’s my hope that you’ll think about these traditions, the long history that goes along with them and how they influence what should be the happiest day of your lives.
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