Traditions are simply memories of the past, still taking root in our lives today. As you read make
your day more meaningful and special.
AFRICA: Holding hands at the alter and the walk back up the aisle after your ceremony may well
be a custom derived from the tradition still performed in some tribes today of binding the bride
and groom’s wrists together with plaited grass.
BELGIUM: A lovely tradition has long been practiced in Belgium to make and embroider a
handkerchief for the bride to carry during her wedding. The brides name would also be
embroidered on it. Following the wedding, she would them frame the handkerchief and hang it
on the wall until the next wedding in the family, at which time it was to be taken down and the
new bride’s name embroidered on it as well. This was handed down from generation to
BERMUDA: An old custom which is certainly catching on today as we look forward to the new
millennium is that of planting a tree to memorialize the wedding day. Even yet today, some
Islanders top off their wedding cake with a small tree sapling. The tree is planted during the
reception which is often held at the home of one of their parents, if not the new home they will
share together as man wife.
CHINA: Red is the color of “Love and Joy” in China. At one time it was the brides favorite color of
choice for the wedding garment, candles, guest gift favors and everything that went along with
her wedding. In China today, many girls still choose to go by the old traditions of their
forefathers, but more and more, the country is becoming westernized and brides are opting for
the exquisite white gowns worn throughout the world. An interesting point of interest may be the
number of wedding gowns made in China today, finding their way to your favorite bridal shop.
Almost without a doubt as you have shopped for your gown, you have either tried on or looked
upon gowns made on mainland China.
CZECHOSLOVAKIA: Rosemary wreaths, handmade by the mother or grandmother of the bride
is a century old tradition for brides in the countryside. A variation of this today is seen as
wreaths of baby’s breath and miniature roses, worn as often by the attendants as the bride
ENGLAND: The familiar tradition of a flower girl throwing rose petals as she passes down the
aisle before the bride is a reminder of days gone by when the bride walked to the church with
her maids in waiting. Leading the procession was always a young girl throwing flower petals
along the lane, so the bride’s path through life would be happy and laden with flowers.
FINLAND: In Finland, brides once wore crowns of gold. Following the wedding and during the
reception, the tradition known as the “Dance of the Crowns” took place. The bride would be
blindfolded, while her unmarried maids would dance around her in a circle. She would remove
her crown and place it on a maiden, and whoever she crowned was said to be the next to
marry. This custom could be easily be reborn by the bride who wears a wreath rather than a
veil, and she too could dance the “Dance of Crowns”.
FRANCE: A lovely custom coming to us out of France comes in the form of a two handled cup
called the “coup de marriage”. The cup was saved to be used from one generation to another.
Of course, the custom has long been established of drinking a toast to one another, but the two
handled cup adds a special touch to the weddings of today. Until recently, these cups have
been very difficult to find. Drinking from the same cup denotes “togetherness.”
GERMANY: The tradition coming to us out of Germany includes the bride and groom holding
candles trimmed with flowers and ribbons. This beautiful old tradition could be included in a
wedding of today, with the couple placing candles they have carried to the alter beside their
unity candle. These candles could then be used to light the unity candle at the end of the
HOLLAND: A canopy of fragrant evergreens meaning “everlasting love” was where the bride and
groom would sit following their ceremony to receive best wishes and gifts from their friends.
INDIA: Flowers have always played a very important part in the Indian wedding. A lasting
tradition passed along from generation to generation is that of the brother of the groom
sprinkling flower petals over the heads of the couple following the wedding vows and at the end
of the ceremony.
IRAN: When this country was called Persia, back in the Bible times, the groom would purchase
ten yards of sheeting fabric and wrap it around and around his bride. Just think how fun it must
have been to unwrap her :). Today, of course, the fashionable Iranian bride wears the traditional
wedding gown fashioned in Paris or other European countries.
IRELAND: For a touch of tradition from the lovely green isle, you might well want to consider
their traditional wedding cake, which is a far cry from the sugary delight we call a “wedding
cake”. Theirs is the true fruit cake well laced with raisins, almonds, cherries, and spice. In the
true Irish spirit the recipe is laden with brandy or bourbon.
ITALY: Sugared almonds have for centuries been tossed by guests at the Italian wedding. This
is called “confetti”. Today, sugared almonds are a popular favor found bound in netting and tied
with matching ribbon as a treat to your wedding guests.
JAPAN: The bridal couple in Japan takes nine sips of sake, becoming husband and wife after
the first sip. They will set across the table from each other, looking directly into the eyes of the
other, each taking a sip at the same moment, being very careful to set the cup down on the table
at the same exact moment. The purpose of this is to keep one from dying before the other. The
tradition being, that whoever’s cup is set on the table last will be the first to die.
MEXICO: The guests at a Mexican wedding have a lovely old custom of forming a circle around
the couple in the shape of a heart. The newlyweds will then dance their first dance together
within this circle of love.
POLAND: The custom of pinning money to the gown of the bride is centuries old in Poland. It
was once done to help the young couple set up housekeeping and gave them money to begin
their new life together. Today, it is more popularly known as the “money dance” and money
may be pinned on both the bride and groom in payment for dancing with them.
ROMANIA: Rather than throwing rice at the couple making their get away in Romania, the
guests would throw sweets and nuts at the couple as they made their exit. A far cry from the oft
thrown bird seed of today.
RUSSIA: Wedding guests received small thank you gifts when attending the traditional Russian
wedding of days gone by. Popular items included small pictures, bud vases or other tiny items.
These were in appreciation of their presence and well wishing.
SPAIN: Long ago, in certain regions of Spain, the bride wore a black silk dress and mantilla.
Orange blossoms in her hair was the flower of the day. The groom wore a tucked shirt which
had been hand embroidered by the bride.
SWEDEN: Imaginary trolls, once thought to bring misfortune to the young couple, were kept
away by the bride, as well as her bridesmaids, carrying bouquets of pungent herbs and stinking
weeds. Today, those stinking herbs and weeds have been replaced by the lovely bouquets
carried on the arms of brides throughout the world.
SWITZERLAND: Following the ceremony, a junior bridesmaid would lead the procession to the
reception by passing our colored handkerchiefs to the guests along the way. Each guest would
then in turn give a coin to the bridesmaid for the starting up of the new home.
Old World Customs and Traditions
The wedding is one of life’s primeval and surprisingly unchanged rites of passage. Nearly all of
the customs we observe today are merely echoes of the past. Everything from the veil, rice,
flowers, and old shoes, to bridesmaids and processionals, at one time, bore a very specific and
vitally significant meaning. Today, although the original substance is often lost, we incorporate
old world customs into our weddings because they are traditional and ritualistic.
Always keep in mind, that customs we memorialize today, were once “brand new” ideas, an
obvious truth we often overlook. Although historical accuracy is hard to achieve, because myths
and legends abound and are interspersed with facts, the historical weight attached to old world
wedding customs and traditions are significant. While reading through these pages, consider
ways to use old customs and traditions in your own wedding.
Remember, as you plan for your wedding, to create new family traditions and customs to be
handed down to your children and their children. Just think, maybe someday, your “new
custom” will become as common and exciting as these presented here.
Why Does the Bride Wear a Veil?
The bride’s veil and bouquet are of greater antiquity than her white gown. Her veil, which was
yellow in ancient Greece and red in ancient Rome, usually shrouded her from head to foot, and
has since the earliest of times, denoted the subordination of a woman to man. The thicker the
veil, the more traditional the implication of wearing it.
According to tradition, it is considered bad luck for the bride to be seen by the groom before the
ceremony. As a matter of fact, in the old days of marriage by purchase, the couple rarely saw
each other at all, with courtship being of more recent historical emergence.
The lifting of the veil at the end of the ceremony symbolizes male dominance. If the bride takes
the initiative in lifting it, thereby presenting herself to him, she is showing more independence.
Veils came into vogue in the United States, when Nelly Curtis wore a veil at her wedding to
George Washington’s aid, Major Lawrence Lewis. Major Lewis saw his bride to be standing
behind a filmy curtain and commented to her how beautiful she appeared. She then decided to
veil herself for their ceremony.
Why a Wedding Ring?
The circular shape of the wedding ring has symbolized undying, unending love since the days
of the early Egyptians. A primitive bride wore a ring of hemp or rushes, which had to be
replaced often. Durable iron was used by the Romans to symbolize the permanence of
marriage. Today’s favorite is of course, gold, with its lasting qualities of beauty and purity.
Why is the Ring Worn on the Third Finger, Left-hand?
In ancient times, it was believed there was a vein in the third finger of the left hand that ran
directly to the heart. Thus, the ring being placed on that finger denoted the strong connection of
a heartfelt love and commitment to one another. Although during times of modern autopsy, this
long held belief was found not to be so, the tradition continued to this day.
Medieval bridegrooms placed the ring on three of the bride’s fingers, in turn, to symbolize God
the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. The ring then remained on the third finger and
has become the customary ring finger for English-speaking cultures. In some European
countries, the ring is worn on the left hand before marriage, and is moved to the right hand
during the ceremony. However, in most European countries the ring is still worn on the bride’s
left hand. A Greek Orthodox bride wears her ring on her left hand before marriage, and moves it
to her right hand after the ceremony.
Why an Engagement Ring?
In the early days of “Marriage by Purchase,” the betrothal ring served a twofold purpose. This
twofold purpose included partial payment for the bride and was a symbol of the groom’s
honorable intentions. The diamond was found first in Medieval Italy, and because of its
hardness, was chosen to stand for enduring love.
Giving the Bride Away?
In times when women were granted few privileges and even fewer personal rights, the bride
was literally given away to the groom by the father, usually in exchange for monetary gain.
Today, it is seen as symbolic of the blessings and support of her union as a promise of
continued trust and affection. Often when the question is asked by a clergy during the
ceremony, “Who gives this woman to be married to this man,” the father’s response is, “Her
mother and I.”
Why Old Shoes and Rice?
The throwing of rice on the couple has always been symbolic of wishing prosperity and good
luck. In the Orient, throwing rice means, “May you always have a full pantry.” Wheat and other
grains are sometimes thrown in addition to rice, thereby also wishing prosperity and lack of
want. Each shower bestows “Good will Traditions” of wealth upon the newlyweds. To this day,
rice remains a token of a life of “plenty.”
Why Carry the Bride Across the Threshold?
During the days of “Marriage by Capture,” the bride was certainly not going to go peacefully into
the bridegroom’s abode; thus, she was dragged or carried across the threshold. In even earlier
times, it was believed that family demons followed the woman and to keep her family demons
from going into the groom’s home, she was carried across the threshold upon her entering for
the first time. After that, the demons could not enter as she would come in and go out of the
The Tradition of the Bridal Shower?
Tradition says that the first bridal shower was given to a poor couple in Holland who was
denied the bridal dowry because of the groom’s lowly miller status. The miller’s friends
showered the bride with gifts to help them set up housekeeping. Also see our section on “Pre-
Wedding Parties and Events”
Why a Wedding Cake?
Beginning in early Roman times, the cake has been a special part of the wedding celebration. A
thin loaf was broken over the bride’s head at the close of the ceremony to symbolize fertility.
The wheat from which it was made, symbolized fertility and the guests eagerly picked up the
crumbs as good luck charms. During the Middle Ages, it became traditional for the couple to
kiss over a small cluster of cakes. Later, a clever baker decided to amass all these small
cakes together, covering them with frosting. Thus, the modern tiered cake was born. Also visit
our section on “Choosing your Wedding Cake.”
Why Something Blue?
Brides of ancient Israel wore blue ribbons on the border of their wedding cloths to denote, love,
modesty and fidelity. These are ideals still associated today with that color. Blue also denotes
the purity of the Virgin Mary and is the most popular of all colors. Also see, “Why the Blue Satin
Why Does the Bride Carry Flowers?
For centuries, flowers have stood for a variety of emotions and values. Roses for love, lilies for
virtue and so on. In ancient marriages, the brides carried herbs beneath their veils to symbolize
fidelity. Greek brides carried ivy as a symbol of never-ending love. Orange blossoms, (the
world renowned wedding flower) were chosen by the Spaniards to represent happiness and
fulfillment, because the orange tree flowers and bears fruit at the same time. During even
earlier times of “primitive marriage,” when the fear of demons was most prevalent, the brides
carried stinking garlands of herbs and spices for the purpose of frightening off evil spirits.
Today, brides carry flowers in the color scheme of their wedding, bringing beauty and elegance
as well as old world customs to their special day. Have you considered spelling out the name
of your groom in the flowers of your bouquets?
Why Does the Bride Wear White?
The color white has been a symbol of joyous celebration since early Roman times. At the
beginning to the twentieth century, white stood for purity as well. Today, it holds it original
meaning of happiness and joy.
Why a Trousseau?
The word trousseau came from the French word, trousseau, which meant bundle. The
trousseau originated as a bundle of clothing and personal possessions the bride carried with
her to her new home. This was later expanded upon into a generous dowry. Today, the
trousseau includes all of the new items for the household, as well as for the bride herself.
Why a Matchmaker?
For centuries, the matchmaker enjoyed the honored, if occasionally ridiculed position of
ensuring ethnic identity and compatibility. Groups that wanted this assurance regularly
employed the services of a matchmaker, whose commission was a certain percentage of the
dowries. Today, the modern version of the matchmaker is found as easily as turning on your
computer. Computer programs can allegedly match individual backgrounds and traits so
accurately that two people brought together for a date can be assured of “common interests” for
the very least. In any event, it is only the dating that can be arranged, not marriage. So
matchmaking of a sort has not disappeared; it has merely changed its appearance and
emphasis, as is the case with any custom that expresses enduring human needs.
Why the Blue Satin Garter?
Why this “Something Blue?” In ancient Israel, brides wore a blue ribbon to signify “fidelity.” The
garter-throwing itself derive from a bawdy ritual called “flinging the stocking.” In Britain, the
guests would playfully invade the bridal chamber. The ushers grabbed the bride’s stockings;
the maids; the grooms. They took turns sitting at the foot of the bed flinging the stockings over
the heads of the couple. Whosever’s stocking landed on the bride’s or the groom’s nose would
be the next to wed.
Today, many brides will wear two garters. The one she wishes to keep as a memento of her
wedding day, possibly to be displayed on her groom’s rear view mirror, and another, to be
retrieved and tossed by the groom to all the young unmarried men attending the event. The
“toss garter” is likely to be in the color of the wedding, and not as elaborate as the more
decorative garters kept by the bride. Be sure to visit our site of “Exquisite Wedding
Why Do the Attendants Dress Alike?
Who hasn’t noticed that the maids, ushers, and entire bridal party dress very much like the bride
and groom? It was once common for the bride, her groom and all their friends to walk together
to the church on the morning of the wedding. Afraid that someone, maybe a rejected suitor,
would spot the happy couple and put a curse on them, the groom’s friends wore clothes almost
identical to his, and the women costumed themselves like the bride. These disguises tricked
evil wishers into letting the real bride and groom live happily ever after. Of course, today we
dress our attendants alike for the beauty and pageantry of the event.
Why the Honeymoon?
In ancient times, many of the first marriages were by capture, not choice. When early man felt it
was time to take a bride, he would often carry off an unwilling woman to a secret place where
here relatives wouldn’t find them. While the moon went through all its phases, (about 30 days)
they hid from the searchers and drank a brew made from honey. Hence, we get the word,
Why a Bride’s Handkerchief?
Early farmers thought a bride’s wedding day tears were lucky and brought rains for their crops.
Later, a crying bride meant that she’d never shed another tear about her marriage. Today, we
carry a handkerchief to dab away the tears of happiness and joy. How special to keep your
wedding hanky and pass it down from mother to daughter capturing all the love and emotion of
such a special event from one generation to another.
Engagement Customs and Traditions
Who Was the Matchmaker?
In countries where marriages are arranged, “go-betweens” play a time honored and respected
role. In China, a matchmaker must determine if astrological signs are compatible. In Uganda,
the bride’s elder brother and paternal uncle speak to the prospective groom and barter for the
best “price” to be paid to the family. (Also see Old World Customs and Traditions.”
What Were “Love Tokens”
What a charming custom the Welsh and Pennsylvania Dutch couples had of giving one another
hand crafted gifts, useful for their future home. Such things as cake molds, butter prints, carved
spoon which were covered with symbols and announcements of their love for one another.
Today’s love tokens could include a song or poem written by the groom to his bride, or a hand
embroidered handkerchief for the groom. Whatever your special craft, whether it be tole
painting, crocheting, wood carving, or any number of other ideas, just remember, the idea
behind the gift is to give something of yourself, created with loving thoughts to the one you love.
What Was a Betrothal Ring?
The betrothal ring, has for centuries symbolized the promise of a future together, sealed with
the giving and accepting of a ring. The diamond engagement ring as we know it has been
around since 1477, but other rings have been used throughout the centuries to mark
engagements. Rings featuring gem stones were popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. Often,
the first letter of the stones within the setting spelled out the name of the giver or a word, such
as “dearest” (diamond, emerald, amethyst, ruby, epidote, sapphire, turquoise). There was also
a ring known as the “Gimmal Ring”. This three part ring had two clasped hands on it. During
the engagement, one part was worn by the bride, one by the groom, and the third by a witness.
It was reunited as the brides wedding ring, on the day of their marriage. Diamonds are the first
choice among brides today for an engagement ring, because of their beauty and durability.
What Was Flouncing?
Flouncing was a special party held for an engaged couple to meet with friends of both families.
This “flouncing” established a formal contract. If either changed his mind about the marriage,
the other could lay claim to half of his, or her, property. Following a flouncing, the couple could
no longer be seen with, or be found talking to, other suitors. In China, the betrothal was looked
upon as a family obligation. If an engaged man died before the wedding, his intended bride
was treated as his widow.
What was the Custom of Collecting?
In Finland, the bride-to-be was considered “snobbish” if she did not go door-to-door to receive
her gifts in a pillowcase. Accompanying her, an elderly married man, carrying an umbrella (for
shelter), came along and was given a drink at each door. Today, an umbrella is used as a
decoration symbolizing “protection”. This custom can be included very beautifully in your
wedding by having your maids carry “parasols” to match your wedding colors.
What is a Dowry?
When families arranged marriages, they were trying their best to guarantee their offspring a
pleasant and comfortable life. The bride was expected to bring a “dowry” of money, jewels,
animals, or something of substantial value to the marriage. This substantial value was
provided by the family of the bride and portrayed her perceived worth. On the other hand, the
groom paid a “brides price” to her family and promised to faithfully support the bride. Also see,
“The Origin of the Dowry, Betrothal Ring and Elopement.”