Written by Martin Neeves – Reportage Wedding Photographer Nuneaton
Depending what area of the country, culture or religion you herald from, weddings are steeped in traditions, myths and rituals. Some appear to have some reason based in the past for their usage, whilst others seem quite illogical. Over the many years that I have been photographing weddings I have come across a great number.
Some traditions have grown up over a long period of time. Some myths appear to have been generated by superstition. Weirdly there is no scientific or factual grounding for many of these rituals, although some do have some reasoning in history. This led me to think about these more where these traditions, myths and rituals about weddings came from.
If the groom sees the Bride before the Wedding it is bad luck. It is bad luck for the groom to see the bride’s dress before the day of the wedding. It will bring luck if he does not glance at the dress as the bride walks down the aisle. Surprisingly there is some reason in this in history. In times when there were arranged marriages, often as business deals, then the pair were kept apart. The groom and bride did not meet before the wedding so that the groom could not find out if the bride was less attractive than he desired and called the whole thing off. This is also given as the reason that a bride would wear a veil. Such romance!
The Bride should stand to the left Groom during the Ceremony. This goes back to mediaeval times when the groom had to have his his sword arm free to defend her and fight off any man who may wish to take his future wife. In fact the reality was that it was not expected that he should protect the bride with his sword. The best man had that role – incidentally he is called the best man because he is assumed to be the “best swordsman”. When the couple were facing the altar, the best man faced the guests ready to use his sword to defend last minute protests from the bride's family.
You must wear a white dress. This appears to have originated from the idea that white is a virginal and pure colour. Patently a dress does not make you a virgin and today it is not uncommon for brides to choose a variety of colours. On the subject of colours, one is “if you marry in blue then your lover is true. Marry in pink and your fortunes will sink, so the myths get very mixed up. And furthermore, many wedding dresses in China, India, Pakistan and Vietnam are red, a traditional colour of good luck. It is interesting that until the 1940s most brides did not wear wedding dresses, but their “best dress” – sometimes called the Sunday best.
Something old, something blue something borrowed. There is some historical reasoning for this. It comes from the time when people could not afford a “one-use” dress. There are records of some villages have a common wedding outfit that was lent to the bride on the day of the wedding. The blue element actually comes as a counter to the tradition to wear a white wedding dress. Traditional wedding dresses were Blue because it was the colour of purity, but it was a colour not easily produced by dyes unless you had a lot of money. Blue was also the colour associated with the “Virgin Mary”. So that is where the “something blue” came from.
There is a more modern interpretation that wearing "something old" represents the bride's past. "Something new" symbolizes the couple's happy future. The "something borrowed" is from someone who is happily married so that person's good fortune rubs off on her. "Something blue" denotes fidelity and love
You should have a one-year engagement. Now why is one year the prefect engagement? No idea, everyone is different and many people live together for long periods now before marrying so a year seems quite irrelevant.
You wear a wedding veil for protection. They were worn to ward off evil spirits; this was according to Greek and Roman tradition. The veil will keep wicked spirits, ghosts away.
If you drop the rings you’ll die. Apparently, whoever drops the ring will be the one to die first. There is a counter myth that dropping the rings is good luck because it “shakes out the evil spirits”.
Be the first to buy something. This apparently means that the first to buy something will hold the upper hand in the marriage. This set up the “tradition” that the bridesmaids took something small to the wedding to “sell” to the bride.
If a hungry cat eats out of your shoe you will have good luck. This seems a real wacky superstition that holds that if a cat eat out of your left shoe a week before the wedding you will have good luck. So your shoes will then smell of Felix?
People should throw shoes at you. This is a Tudor custom where the men at the wedding throw shoes at a newly married couple for good luck. This has been overtaken by tying shoes to the car at the end of the wedding – not sure if a pair of size 12s round the ears would be particularly lucky.
It is bad luck for the bride to wear pearls. This myth holds that wearing pearls brings future tears and heartache. But there is a counter myth that pearls take the place of the bride’s real tears and her wedding will be tear-free. Yer takes yer pick and yer takes yer chance methinks.
Signing your married name before the wedding is bad luck. Apparently this tempts fate – this is also tied up in the myth that a bride should not wear ALL her wedding outfit before the wedding – bad luck it appears.
The bride should not marry a man with a surname that starts with the same letter. This came from Victorian times for no other reason than they had the rhyme: "To change the name and not the letter; is to change for the worst and not the better."
Wear the ring on the 4th finger of the left hand. The rationale for wearing the engagement and wedding rings on the 4th finger of the left hand was because it was believed that a vein in that finger led directly to the heart.
The Bride should be carried over the Threshold. This dates back toMedieval Europe where it was believed that the bride was vulnerable to evil spirits through the soles of her feet. To avoid bringing any evil spirits into the new married home, the groom carried the bride. Another factor in Medieval Europe was that it was seen to be scandalous for a woman to enthusiastic about losing her virginity. So if she was carried over the threshold by the groom she avoided looking too eager about losing her virginity. Some countries in Europe believed that if a bride tripped over the threshold of a new home that it would bring bad luck to her home and marriage.
Bells being rung at the wedding. The tradition of ringing wedding bells was supposed to ward off evil spirits. Some thought that it represents a “harmonious life”
Breaking glass or plates. In many cultures it is believed that the smashing of glasses or a plate brings luck. It also foretells that the more broken pieces there are, then the longer the marriage will last. Hence the very enthusiastic throwing of the fragile article so it smashes into as many pieces as possible.
Whilst some wedding traditions, myths and rituals have some roots in history, some are just pure superstitions, often based on pagan or religious thinking. My view is that it would be sad to lose many of these traditions because they do add to the special atmosphere of the magical wedding day. But at the same time I would not want brides and grooms to have too much belief in the efficacy of them. Much better, in my humble opinion, to work hard at the marriage and do things for love.
I hope this helps you to better understand the traditions, rituals and myths surrounding weddings. If you want someone who will make your wedding a legend, why not contact me at Martin Neeves Photography or call me on 01455 271 849 or on 07973 638 591.