A few days from now, my husband and I will celebrate thirty-five years of marriage to one another. Add to that another four plus years of dating, and I will have been exclusively partnered to the same person for more than half my life. What a mind-blowing thought. I wonder if the recently deceased Queen Elizabeth II of England who also vowed to be “loyal and faithful to her people “’till death do us part” and reigned for seventy years, appreciated any more than this then 23-year-old just how long a lifetime might be.
I’m not complaining mind you. Quite the opposite. Having been happily committed for some time now (snoring and perpetual tardiness aside), it makes me wonder, rather, how the remarkable act of choosing one person above all others to be with until the end of days, came about. So, I looked it up (you can Google anything in case you didn’t know) and learned that the origin of marriage dates back 23,000 years when hunter-gatherers first became farmers and women who stayed home tending their children. For a man, the prospect of ensuring the survival of one woman and a few offspring versus seeing to the security of an entire tribe must have seemed far more feasible. Therefore, it seems marriage was a strategic move born of necessity, downsizing for the greater good, if you will. If that’s not romance, I don’t know what is!
All kidding aside, discovering the geneses of modern-day traditions has long been a fascination of mine. Last Spring, I attended a bridal shower for the future daughter-in-law of a good friend of mine. Following a delicious meal and lots of Sangrias, rousing rounds of wedding-themed games capped off the lovely event. One competitive challenge really struck my fancy. Guests were asked to match a list of wedding traditions to their proper beginnings. A few were familiar to me, but others surprised, and all were interesting to learn. So, in the spirit of this wedding season, I’d like to share a little of my newfound nuptial trivia with you.
Back in the day, it seems marriage wasn’t viewed so much as a happy occasion like today, but more of a practical and often economical contract. And, as in most business matters, the parties involved were ever watchful for anything or anyone attempting to derail or prevent the transaction from moving forward. The Ancient Greeks and Romans were particularly fearful of intervention from evil spirits, including the Devil himself.
Thus, tradition dictated that a bride should always wear a veil to conceal her features from sinful viewers as she processed through a group of bridesmaids who protectively lined her path. These standing sentries also doubled as decoys. Wearing the same dress as the bride, their role was to confuse and disperse any malicious spirits lurking nearby. In addition to the veil and bridesmaid clones, early brides also carried fragrant bouquets to ward off any who might dare to interfere with her wedding day. Bunches of aromatic herbs, garlic and grains were the popular choice of the day, before superstitions waned, giving way to sweet smelling florals. Thank goodness!
Not to be left out, the rituals of grooms and their groomsmen are equally as colorful, starting with the Stag party. First celebrated by ancient Spartan soldiers, the event was a raucous and rowdy good-bye to the groom’s bachelor days. But the practice of having groomsmen as part of the wedding stems from an even more scandalous and ancient tradition of kidnapping the bride. Before a couple could marry, the groom would enlist his friends and warrior companions to help him fight off other warriors and hide the couple from the bride’s family. The groom’s main companion and warrior was the equivalent of the modern day “best man.”
Have you ever received a wedding invitation with the word “honour” spelled in British fashion with a “u”? This formal spelling style is used to let recipients and guests know that the wedding ceremony will be held in a church or other place of worship. And while many weddings are held on a weekend, Friday, Saturday or Sunday, in ancient times Wednesday was considered the best day to marry—it’s not clear to me why—while Monday marriages were for wealth and Tuesday, for health.
The wedding ring, a circle without beginning or end, symbolizes eternity and an eternal bond. But it was the romantic Egyptians who declared the fourth finger of the left hand our “ring finger,” believing the vein connecting to the heart ran through it. Engagement rings entered the scene of matrimonial conventions much later but like the wedding band, they have significant meaning as well. As the hardest gems on Earth, diamonds are also considered eternal, a sentiment that has earned them the top spot on the list of engagement stones. The least popular? Pearls, which bear an unfortunate resemblance to tears.
Lastly, what would this discussion of wedding rituals be without a deeper look into the ceremonial practice of carrying the bride over the threshold. Started by you guessed it, the Ancient Romans, they believed it was unladylike for a bride to willingly leave her father’s home. Instead, the groom would take her by force and carry her over the threshold to his home. Lifting her up also prevented the evil spirits waiting for a final crack at cursing the couple, to enter through the soles of her feet. Not sure how the groom was immune to such attacks, but it was a different time I suppose.
Well, that concludes today’s lesson on the origins of popular wedding traditions. I hope you enjoyed it. Did you learn anything new? On our wedding anniversary, I plan to regale my husband with these fun facts as well, or maybe I’ll just have him read this post. We have time, after all, a lifetime.