Thursday 15 April 2021

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Wedding traditions explained

From wearing white and throwing the bouquet, to that daunting first dance as man and wife, SoBristolWeddings explores the history behind 16 wedding traditions that remain prevalent among modern brides-and-grooms-to-be.

Whether it’s a totally traditional ceremony or a modern marriage, there are numerous customs which remain a staple throughout the majority of wedding celebrations.

From showering the newlyweds with confetti, posing for a cutting-the-cake photo to sitting down to a wedding breakfast, SoBristolWeddings explains the history behind 16 traditions which are commonplace today.

A bride wearing white

Walking down the aisle dressed in a pure white wedding dress is a largely upheld tradition among brides, and one which can be traced back nearly 200 years to the Victorian era.

While brides previously donned their finest dress for their wedding day, it is believed that Queen Victoria began the trend for wearing white, by wearing the colour for her ceremony in 1840.

To search for the perfect gown ahead of the special day, see SoBristolWeddings’ selection of Bristol wedding dress suppliers.

Wearing a veil

A photo posted by @fionawalshphotography on

The tradition for wearing a veil has a number of proposed origins, from protection against evil spirits to hiding the bride’s face in an arranged marriage, in case the groom doesn’t like what he sees.

Perhaps the most common idea is that the white veil symbolises the bride’s purity before marriage. And when the moment comes for the groom to lift the veil, some say that he is claiming possession of his new wife.

Not seeing each other before the ceremony

It remains a prevalent suspicion that seeing the bride before the ceremony signals bad luck, and it’s one which can be traced back in time – when it wasn’t only bad luck to see the blushing bride in her dress, but to see her at all.

Believed to be as a result of arranged marriages, the groom was not meant to see his bride before the ceremony, in case he didn’t want to marry her as a result. Thus, while the tradition remains, here’s hoping that nowadays, the groom knows what to expect to meet at the altar and definitely wouldn’t turn her away.

Bride standing on the left

A photo posted by Woz Grime (@hjonesphoto2015) on

Dating back to the old days, it is thought that the bride would stand to the left at the altar so that the groom could hold his sword with his free right arm, lest he need to protect her.

While this might appear a somewhat dramatic and cynical custom, it is one which tends to be tradition during modern ceremonies – even if the groom no longer keeps a sword close to his chest.

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue

A rhyme familiar to everyone and especially blushing brides, this traditional English ditty is thought to date back to the 19th century, and is believed to bring good luck to those who wear the listed items.

Suspicion dictates that each ‘something’ represents a different aspect of a bride’s life – such as purity, optimism, and prosperity – with the bride needing to wear all four for a fulfilled and happy marriage.

Having bridesmaids

Offering moral support on the special day, and deigned with the important task of planning the hen-do, bridesmaids play a pivotal role in a wedding ceremony. And while some say the tradition dates back to a necessity for witnesses during the ceremony, there’s another, altogether more sinister explanation.

Many believe that bridesmaids were initially involved with the service to protect to bride from evil spirits, or anyone who might disapprove of the marriage. Meant to dress similarly to the bride, her nearest and dearest friends were used as a decoy, to direct harm away from the wife-to-be.

Having a best man

Standing to the right of the groom on his wedding day, the best man has an important role and involves the daunting prospect of a speech. The timeless tradition, however, has rather dark origins which make today’s role appear easy.

Rather than deemed with the task of planning a wild stag do, it is thought that best men were originally present to help kidnap the bride from her village, and consequently protect the happy couple – in particular the bride – and stand guard with a sword to defend them, in case anyone should wish to kidnap her back.

Bride carrying flowers

Offering a pretty touch to any wedding, the bride ordinarily carries a beautiful bouquet while she walks down the aisle, for which there is a more important reason than merely looking good.

While there are numerous suggestions as to the birth of this tradition, many trace it back hundreds of years to when a bouquet was used to mask the smell of body odour. Other theories, however, claim that the bouquet actually symbolised fertility for the blushing bride.

For flowery inspiration, see Bristol's wedding flower suppliers.

Throwing confetti

A photo posted by Albert Palmer (@bertpalmer) on

Showering the newlyweds with confetti, which could be in the form of coloured paper or dried flower petals, has largely replaced the older tradition of throwing rice at the newly married couple.

And while the current tradition may appear more favourable, rice is more significant, with the grain symbolising fertility of the couple. However due to safety issues – and to avoid injuring the happy couple – delicate confetti is commonly the material of choice.

Giving almonds as wedding favours

While wedding favour options may be endless, confused couples can avoid getting overwhelmed by sticking to tradition, and giving their guests some sweet sugar-coated almonds.

With the tradition dating back years, custom dictates giving five almonds, which are thought to symbolise health, wealth, long life, happiness, and fertility.

Wedding breakfast

While sitting down for a formal meal might not be in itself surprising, the name wedding breakfast may be, with the meal most often taking place at lunchtime or later. However the traditional title has a historic significance for weddings.

It is thought that back in the 16th century, couples would fast before their religious ceremony, which was held after mass, resulting in the need to dine directly afterwards.

See SoBristolWeddings’ selection of Bristol wedding caterers.

Cutting of the wedding cake

Whether it be fruit-flavoured, chocolate, or rich red velvet, the wedding cake not only provides a beautiful centrepiece at marital celebrations, but the cutting of the cake provides a pivotal moment and iconic photo opportunity.

Thought to symbolise the married couples’ cemented union and their shared future which lies ahead, the integral custom is one still performed during the majority of wedding celebrations, and captured on camera as a lasting memory.

For deliciously good wedding cake inspiration, see SoBristolWeddings’ selection of Bristol suppliers.

First dance

A photo posted by Sam Gibson (@samgibsonphoto) on

Perhaps the most dreaded moment of the day, the newly married couple are expected to take to the floor and showcase their dance skills – or lack thereof – for their guests, in keeping with tradition.

Thought to symbolise the joining of man and wife as a couple, the custom is largely upheld in society, whether it be a romantic slow sway, choreographed number, or an energetic boogie.

Find a dance school to perfect those moves, with SoBristolWeddings’ selection of First Dance Teachers.

Throwing the bouquet

A moment which can create havoc among wannabe wives, the throwing of the bouquet is commonly thought to signal which female guest will be the next woman walking down the aisle.

In fact, this symbol of marital good luck was originally believed to have an altogether different significance – to create a distraction for the bride. It is thought that in the past, the bride’s female guests would rip sections from her gown for good luck, and the tossing of the bouquet was a way for the bride to escape with her dress intact.

Find the perfect floral arrangement for carrying down the aisle with SoBristolWeddings’ Bristol wedding florist suppliers.

Carrying the bride over the threshold

The post-ceremony tradition of carrying the newly-married wife over the threshold is one which couples may, or may not wish to uphold. With a number of explanations for the ritual, evil spirits are once again blamed as the instigator.

The common superstition was that such spirits lurked around doorways, and thus to protect the bride from being affected, her husband must carry her through. Meanwhile others believe the tradition showed a bride’s reluctance to leave her father’s house, and she therefore had to be carried away.


A photo posted by Kuoni Travel (@kuonitravel) on

Perfect for preventing post-wedding day blues, honeymoons remain a firm tradition in modern society, offering the perfect excuse for a luxurious and romantic getaway.

This sweet tradition is widely believed to be linked literally to honey; back in the day, a honeymoon was a time when newlyweds would drink mead – an alcoholic drink with honey in it – during the first lunar month of their marriage.

County couples can plan their perfect honeymoon with Bristol’s specialist travel agents.

By Kathryn Godfrey

© SoBristolWeddings
Thursday 11 February 2016

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