What do Some Wedding Traditions Actually Mean?

Ahh…wedding traditions, wedding celebrations are so full of them, right? From couples exchanging rings at wedding ceremonies to brides carrying a bouquet and guests getting wedding favours etc. Do you ever wonder what some of our wedding traditions mean or where they came from?

As we constantly look for ways to put new spins on old traditions, it can be easy to lose sight of what some of these wedding traditions mean and practice them out of routine or with the view that ‘it’s something we’ve always done’. Personally, I like to understand the origin of things and why we do what we do, (I credit it to my curious mind!) so, I’ve penned this post so we can explore some of the wedding traditions in detail.

Weddings whether at home or abroad are all about individuality, and being bespoke to you so understanding some of the history / meaning of the many wedding traditions out there will help you to make an informed choice and decide which ones to keep and which to discard for your wedding. (After all, there are no rules that says you must do what everyone else does or follow traditions because it has been there for years, right?). It’s all to play for with what you want.

Popular wedding traditions and what they mean

bride with her bridesmaids part of wedding traditions

Bridesmaids (and groomsmen)

Why does the bride choose bridesmaids? In ancient Roman times, a couple was legally required to have at least 10 attendants to witness the marriage contract. In some cultures, bridesmaids were used to ‘hide’ the bride among similarly dressed young women in the hope of confusing evil spirits who might try to cause trouble for the newlyweds. Hence, the concept of bridesmaids has stayed with us and evolved to this day.  It’s a similar reason for the groom with his groomsmen.

bride wearing a veil part of wedding traditions we practice today

Wedding Veil

Why does the bride wear a wedding veil? For much the same reason as brides in ancient times had bridesmaids. By concealing her face, a bride camouflaged herself so that evil spirits couldn’t tell which maiden was the bride. The white veil is also a symbol of modesty. Personally, I like the modesty part. I love the idea of wearing a veil and the groom lifting it off the bride’s face for the first kiss. Its as if to say, finally, our forever can begin (a bit mushy I know but hey…blame the romantic in me!)

bride and groom after wedding ceremony

Groom standing on the right side of the bride

Why does the groom stand on the right hand side of the bride? In medieval times (emphasis on medieval! as I know times have changed so much since then), most men armed themselves with weapons at all times. To lay aside one’s sword for the wedding ceremony might expose the bridal couple to danger from any number of hostile sources. Standing at the bride’s right side, left the groom’s right (sword) hand free to protect them from those who might want to harm them (e.g. rejected suitors) Mmm…I wonder. That shouldn’t be the case in the 21st century surely?)

bride and groom exchanging wedding rings part of wedding tradition

Wedding Rings

Why wear a wedding ring and on a certain finger? The circular shape of  wedding rings symbolises a continuum; interpreted as a symbol of eternal, unending love. Wedding rings are placed on the third finger of the left hand when couples exchange vows because it was believed that the vein in that finger led directly to the heart. (Ah…sweet! So you can carry your beloved with you wherever you go, romantic or what?)

bride and groom about to kiss after wedding ceremony

You may kiss the bride

Why is the wedding ceremony sealed with a kiss? (‘You may kiss the bride’) The kiss represented an exchange of spirits, uniting the couple in both body and spirit. Some cultures consider the kiss as a legal bond, the action that seals the marriage contract. (I must say, this is one of my personal favourites and would certainly keep!)

bride holding wedding bouquet outside hotel wedding venue surrey

Why does the bride carry a bouquet?

In ancient Rome, the practice included carrying bunches of fragrant herbs and flowers on the wedding day to ward off evil spirits. Greeks carried ivy as a symbol of unending love. However, a bouquet of fresh flowers is a symbol of fidelity, new beginnings and hope. All of which are great values to hold on to and fabulous foundation to build your marriage on.

hand painted two tiered wedding cake

Why have a wedding cake?

The wedding cake dates back to ancient Rome. Back then, the groom used to break a loaf of bread over the bride’s head as a symbol of fertility. Wedding guests back then would often scramble to pick up the bread crumbs in a bid to tap into some of that luck. As time went on, the wedding cake replaced the bread loaf and so today the wedding cake symbolises fertility within the marriage and good luck for the couple.

beautiful bespoke wedding favours given to wedding guests

Wedding Favours

Wedding favours first came from french aristocrats. They used to give small gifts of sugared almonds or sweet treats in little boxes to their wedding guests. Sugar back then was a rare treat as they believed it to have medicinal powers. and what better way to convey their wealth, influence and appreciation than by giving the ultimate luxurious gift – sugar. (Who would have thought that sugar held such weight back then?!)

In later years, wedding favours were considered a sign of good fortune and by giving it out to guests, it’s a way for couples to spread their joy and good fortune with those that came to celebrate with them. This has now ultimately evolved into the wedding favours we now know them to be.

individual place setting for wedding breakfast at the burhill

Let’s address the Somethings

And we wouldn’t finish discussing wedding traditions without addressing the somethings…! Although primarily an American tradition, they are gradually finding their way into other parts of the world…

  • Something old and something new symbolise continuity while making the transition to a new way of life.
  • By borrowing something (something borrowed), from a happily married woman, her good fortune was to rub off on the bride.
  • The colour blue (something blue) is associated with purity and modesty. In ancient Israel, blue was the border colour of the bride’s dress to denote constancy and fidelity.
  • The penny in the shoe symbolises good fortune and protection against want.

There you have it, some of the famous wedding traditions that we still practice today. What other wedding traditions you know of and which ones are practiced where you are? Do share and comment below.

And, if you need help with planning your wedding, then get in touch, I’d love to help!

Cynthia x

what does our wedding traditions mean

Image Credits: Bigg Ayo Photography | Hannah Larkin Photography | Notton House Photography | Rupa Photography | Tell Your Story Photography | Nicola Rowley Photography

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