Wedding traditions and where they come from

Wedding traditions

The story behind the traditions…

When you’re planning for your wedding, you probably find yourself automatically planning for things such as wedding rings, a white dress, bridesmaids or groomsmen. But do you know the story behind those traditions, and what the meaning of them is? Here’s a look at some of the most popular wedding traditions and where they came from.

Wearing a White Dress

Wedding dress shops are full of beautiful white dresses which are often seen as symbolising purity. Did you know that the trend of wearing white actually only dates back to the 1800s when Queen Victoria chose to wear a white dress when she married Prince Albert? In fact, brides would usually simply wear their best dress: the most popular colour choice was actually red, and Victoria bucked the trend by wearing white.

Story behind traditions1

Bridesmaids and Groomsmen 

This is a tradition which quite possibly dates all the way back to Ancient Rome. Roman law dictated that 10 witnesses be present at every wedding. Aside from witnessing, the purpose of bridesmaids and groomsmen was to ward off evil spirits. They would dress identically to the bride and groom in an attempt to confuse these vengeful spirits and protect the newlyweds.

In Anglo-Saxon times, the groomsmen were actually bodyguards for the bride, to make sure she made it to the wedding with her dowry intact. They were known as the ‘Bride’s Knights’. In more sinister circumstances, they may also have been used to kidnap the bride if her family were opposed to the wedding!

Luckily, as we moved on to the Victorian era, the superstitions surrounding spirits died down! Bridesmaids and groomsmen were no longer required to dress in the same fashion. They started to become used more similarly to the reasons we have them now; to tend to the bride and groom on their wedding day.

Carrying over the threshold

To continue the theme of spirits, in ancient times, the bride was carried over the threshold of their new home to protect her from any evil lurking in the doorway or inside the house. Other reasons come from Roman and Medieval times; the bride being carried so there could be no appearance of appearing too eager to leave her father’s house.

Wedding Rings

The earliest wedding rings are believed to have originated in Ancient Egypt, 6000 years ago! Exchanged between spouses, the circle shape of the ring symbolises eternity, signifying the never-ending love between the husband and wife. In Roman tradition, the rings were worn on the fourth finger of the left hand because they believed there was a special vein found in this finger that directly connected to the heart. There isn’t, but it’s a very romantic notion! 

Story behind traditions


The throwing of confetti is another tradition you’re likely to come across at most weddings and dates back to around 1840. Traditionally in England, rice or grains were thrown, to symbolise bestowing fertility upon the couple, but gradually this has evolved to the usage of flower petals and paper confetti; probably a lot more comfortable if you’re the bride or groom! 

Taking the husband’s name

Wives taking their husband’s names began less by tradition, but actually by law. In the 16th century a woman was made to take the husband’s name, and it signified her becoming his ‘property’. Thankfully in the UK, women are no longer viewed as the property of men, and this is no longer compulsory. Women have the choice to take their husband’s name, retain their own, or the couple even have the option to join names or choose a new one! You can read more about the history of changing your name and the options available to you in the UK.

‘A sixpence in your shoe…’

We’ve probably all heard the traditional rhyme ‘something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue’. Wearing ‘something old’ was to signify the bride’s connection to her family and her past, whereas the ‘something new’ recognised the bride’s new start in beginning her own family. Traditionally, the ‘something borrowed’ would be from a couple with a happy marriage, so the same happiness would be passed on to the newlyweds. ‘something blue’ was worn to symbolise the intended fidelity and loyalty between the husband and wife. Occasionally left out of the rhyme is the closing ‘a sixpence in your shoe’ which was simply a token of good luck for the bride.

Story behind traditions3

Not everyone will want to use all, or even any of these wedding traditions. If you’re looking for some more unique and less traditional ways to celebrate your wedding, you could think about how using a wedding celebrant can help you personalise your wedding with plenty of special and different ideas.

Jennifer Claire is the Founder of The Celebrant Directory and lives and breathes all things ceremony! After officiating big days for 10 years, she now focuses on giving you the tips you need to create your perfect celebration.

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