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Seven Well-Known Wedding Traditions Explained

  |  By Sophie Diego

Closeup of groom placing a wedding ring on the brides hand. Couple exchanging wedding rings during a wedding ceremony outdoors.

Whether you’ve attended several weddings or watched them in romantic comedies, you’ve probably noticed a few wedding traditions. They usually define the classic wedding ceremony and some of us don’t pay too much attention towards them. As we move to a new decade, modern weddings are starting to stray away from these customs. 

But have you ever wondered where these traditions originated from? Why does the bride wear white? Why do we use rings to signify marriage? Why is the wedding march, well, called the wedding march? All of these answers circle back to hundreds of years ago, where the original meanings are more interesting than you originally thought. By knowing the background of these traditions, you might find they hold greater meaning for your wedding ceremony, you might want to tweak them to be more personal to you, or you might want to ditch them altogether. Here we explain seven of the most popular, well-known wedding traditions. 

Why is the ring worn on the left hand on the fourth finger? In ancient Rome, it was believed that the vein in the fourth finger of the left hand travelled directly to the heart of the person wearing the ring. This particular vein was thus named “vena amoris,” or the vein of love. Unfortunately, no such vein exists since all the veins in the hand have the same vasculature.

Why do rings symbolize marriage? The practice of exchanging rings dates backs to ancient Egypt—nearly 3,000 years ago. Old Egyptian scrolls suggest that couples gave each other rings made out of hemp or reeds. However, in order to preserve the otherwise fragile nature of these wedding bands, they turned to stronger materials such as bone and ivory. Furthermore, the Egyptians believed that marital rings symbolized eternal love through the infinite shape of the band.

Why are wedding dresses traditionally white? One of the first wedding trendsetters was Queen Victoria, when she married Prince Albert in 1840. She donned the first white bridal gown, which was made out Honiton lace and cream Spitalfields silk satin. The press made her bridal fashion an overnight success as it spread internationally, and thus the tradition of the white wedding dress began. Additionally, white is also considered to represent purity and virtue in some societies.

What are the origins of bridesmaids and groomsmen? Having bridesmaids dates back to ancient Rome where, in order for a wedding to be legally binding, there had to be at least 10 witnesses present. The role of the bridesmaid was to dress very similar to the bride in order to confuse evil spirits who may try to harm the newlyweds. In Christianity, the term bridesmaid is taken in its literal form: a maid to help the bride on her wedding day.

The role of the groomsmen originated in Biblical times where they were tasked to capture the bride from her family. The best man would be the head of the kidnapping. But in a more romantic setting, groomsmen could also be seen as the bride’s protection force against family members who opposed the marriage, thus ensuring that she marries the man that she loves.  

What is the purpose of the wedding veil? Its origin can be traced back to ancient Rome yet again. While some cultures perceive the veil as a symbol of modesty and humility, its original purpose was to disguise the bride from any vengeful entities who wanted to take away her happiness. 

Why do some weddings play the wedding march during the ceremony? This musical trend started 160 years ago when Princess Victoria married Frederick William IV of Prussia. The “Wedding March” or “Here Comes the Bride” were actually never written to be used as wedding songs. The composer of the "Wedding March," Felix Mendelssohn, wrote the piece for an 1842 production of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night’s Dream. “Here Comes the Bride” originated from Richard Wagner’s opera Lohengrin that played in 1850.

What is the symbolism behind ringing the church bells at a wedding? Wedding bells originates from ancient Celtic and Irish history. The bells were perceived to help ward off evil spirits and it blessed the newlyweds with the loudness of the bells. Additionally, the literal ring of the bells was a way to spread the news that a wedding took place.


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