Have you ever wondered what wedding traditions are all about?

Ever pondered the one about swimming with dolphins? Or the tent ceremony with oxygen masks at the top of Mount Everest? Oops, sorry, that’s must be only my family.

Have you wondered what the cultural roots and beliefs that have shaped marriages over the generations might be? Here at Hens Party Ideas Adelaide we’ve done a little research that we’d like to share with you.

Marriage by Capture – the role of best men

The original role of best men was to help the groom kidnap his bride from her family. Now it’s more than delivering the alcohol soaked, hung-over demi-corpse to the wedding, but I digress. His best men were like a small army. Their job was to fight off the angry relatives of the bride while the groom zoomed away with her (on a horse, not motorbike that is). This was especially the case when the family of the bride did not approve of the groom. Perhaps all this had its origin with the Germanic Goths, a group not renowned for gentility, more renowned for their brutality. Men used to marry women from within their own community. But when women were in short supply locally men would need to search for and capture a bride from a neighbouring tribe, or in modern parlance, move from the mining town to the city. They would not be able to do this on their own, that’s why they needed their army of best men to help them.

The best man’s job went beyond safeguarding the bride’s ring. If the bride was stolen from a neighbouring community, they’d demand at least three hens in compensation… just joking, sorry. To continue, it was highly likely that the bride’s family would use force to attempt to recapture her; three hens was just not going to cut it, even pretty ones. So the best man needed to stay by the groom’s side throughout the ceremony to ward off the bride’s family.

Archaeologists have discovered clubs, knives and spears beneath the altars in churches that tribesmen like the Huns, the Goths, the Visigoths and the Vandals used to frequent. In more recent times assorted weaponry were used as devices to persuade a reluctant groom, so my ex-husband assures me; I did wonder why he was on a chain at the altar. I actually thought it was to match my spiked collar. Anyway these weapons were used by the best manto protect the groom from being attacked by the bride’s family in an attempt to recapture the bride, and or, get the ransom hens.

Positioning the Bride

Tradition has it that the bride stands to the left of the groom. This is not a political statement. The groom could thereby protect his captured bride from her aggressive family and could keep his right hand free for defence. Herein lie the origins of the term ‘sweeping the bride off her feet’; she was literally swept off her feet given that she was abducted. A few generations back a proper bride was advised to appear hesitant to ‘give herself’ to her new husband. This could be linked back to the days of marriage by capture. The bride did not go peacefully with the bridegroom. She needed to be dragged and carried across the threshold to her bridal chamber.

The Honeymoon

Perhaps the honeymoon also stems from this capture scenario. Some historians think it is similar to a cooling off period for the bride’s family. The groom hoped that when they returned from the honeymoon he would be forgiven for abducting his bride from her family and taking the hens along for the ride too.

Teutonic people commenced this practice of the honeymoon. Teutonic weddings were held under a full moon and after the wedding both bride and groom would drink honey wine for 30 days which was equivalent to one full moon cycle. This moon cycle was the month and hence the term honeymoon.

The role of Bridesmaids and Maids of Honour

In former times when weddings were grand village occasions a bride needed a senior maid of honour to attend to her around-the-clock for several days before the marriage, this was the beginning of bridezilla. She was at the bride’s beck and call. She was also responsible for the bridal wreath, helping the bride to get dressed (many a layer to prevent the lice from popping out during the key part of the ceremony) and decorating everything for the wedding feast. She was like a personal servant, but without the pay. Bridesmaids wore dresses similar to the bride’s gown. Tradition has it that this would protect the bride against evil. If jealous suitors or evil spirits wanted to snap away the bride they couldn’t, as they wouldn’t be able to tell the bride from her bridesmaids.

Wedding flowers

During the Middle Ages women carried aromatic bouquets of herbs, garlic and grains. Their purpose was to drive away the evil spirits whilst the bride walked down the aisle. Vampires were seldom a problem either. It was believed that if a bride carried sage, which was the herb of wisdom, she would become wise. If she carried dill, which was the herb of lust, she would become lusty. Ivy was also included in wedding bouquets; it meant fidelity. I don’t know if any herb protected against gullibility, they could sure have used one. Later these were replaced with flowers in the bridal bouquet. Flowers symbolised everlasting love and fertility. Flowers are also a symbol of joy and promise along the lines of the koan: ‘the earth laughs in flowers, a flower is love looking for a word’.

The wedding

The surprising thing is how little our approach to weddings has changed over time. They are still considered a rite of passage, almost all customs we observe today are echoes from the past. In former times the flowers, the old shoes, the rice and the veil had a meaning. We still incorporate these customs albeit in a diluted and disguised form today.

The bride’s shoes used to be taken from her before the wedding. Her father would give them to the groom. Why? Foot-fetishism? No, this symbolised the father transferring his authority over his daughter to her husband. When he held the bride’s shoes it meant that he now had possession of her, she could not run away from him. This helps explain why shoes are tied to the back of the getaway car.

The veil was a symbol of a bride’s innocence, modesty and virginity. In some countries the veil is worn to hide the bride’s face from the groom. He doesn’t even get a chance to peek at her before the wedding. In some cases that is just as well. Of course as a fervent supporter of women’s liberation I have to add that in most cases would be better to put a veil over the groom’s face, hehehe. It is only after they are married that the groom is allowed to lift the veil and see his wife’s face.
In former times the wedding cake wasn’t eaten, it was thrown at the bride. This tossing of the cake evolved into rice tossing in the Middle Ages.

The history of weddings

Before and during the Middle Ages a wedding was a family affair. Neither witnesses nor clergy were necessary. All it took to create a marriage was for both partners to agree to take each other as man and wife.

In Italy for example a marriage was divided up into 3 sections. The first section was when the family of the groom and bride drew up the wedding documents. The bride didn’t even need to be there for that. The 2nd part was that the betrothal. It was legally binding and probably didn’t involve consummation. The couple would merely exchange gifts, like a ring or a piece of fruit, hold hands and kiss each other. The vows were short and sweet: along the lines of- Will you marry me? Yes I will. The 3rd bit was the taking of the bride to the groom’s house. This could happen several years after the wedding. If a priest was involved his only job was to bless the couple. It only became official church policy in the 15th century that a 3rd party conducted the wedding, as opposed to the couple managing things themselves.

It was during the late Middle Ages that the actual wedding ceremony was no longer at the bride’s home but inside the church. First there was a procession from the bride’s house to the church. Vows were then exchanged outside the church and it and it was for mass that everyone moved inside. After mass everyone went back to the bride’s house for a feast.

Tying the Knot

Ever wondered where the term ‘let’s tie the knot’ comes from? The origins of this lie in the Renaissance ceremony of ‘handfasting’. The groom’s right would hold the bride’s right-hand and the bride’s left-hand would hold the groom’s left-hand. When they joined their hands like this it would look like a knot or an infinity symbol. When couples joined their hands in this manner in front of witnesses it made them officially married for year and a day which was 13 moon cycles. Thereafter they could either ‘tie the knot’ just for another year and a day, or ‘as long as love shall last’ or permanently…unto death do us part. As far as our researchers could discover there was no ‘after death’ option available in those times.

People thought that the best time for a wedding was at the time of the new moon. The new moon symbolised new beginnings. A new moon was the start of a new cycle, and people believed the moon god was smiling down upon them from the night sky. His smile would get wider as the dyas progressed.

Engagement Rings

During the Middle Ages the groom would often need to pay for his bride. Precious stones like diamonds would prove his intention to marry. It wasn’t a quick trip to Tiffanies on North Terrace in those times. It’s acquisition normally involved stealth and stealing. The engagement ring would be worn on the 4th finger of the left hand as it was believed that the vein in this finger went directly to the heart. Current anatomical knowledge begs to differ.

Bridal Showers

Bridal showers had their origins in the Netherlands. If a bride’s father did not approve of the groom he would not bestow the necessary dowry. This meant that the bride’s friends needed to ‘shower’ her with gifts, thereby giving her a dowry and enabling her to marry the man of her choice. The tradition of dowries has not prevailed however the practice of giving gifts remains. And a brilliant pratise it is. So brilliant that it’s now been institutionalised with the gift registry at David Jones .

Well that’s it for now, as unfortunately our researchers have turned to more pressing matters like Global Warming – how could they we ask??? Perhaps you have something to add to our scholarly article. We would love to hear from you: email your topical info to us at our contact page.


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