Okay, maybe you shouldn’t skip all western wedding traditions (or any of them). BUT I’m a huge advocate for doing what you want at your wedding and understanding the origins and more modern connotations of wedding traditions instead of following them without question.
These are just a few wedding traditions that made me stop and think during my own wedding planning process. First of all, I personally still did a lot of these, even after learning their quirky or sometimes sketchy origins, so don’t think I’m actually telling you to skip these. Just use this information to make an informed decision; don’t just do wedding traditions for the sake of doing them!
If you don’t feel like actually reading this blog, then here’s a summary: about 70% of American wedding traditions started because of the patriarchy, 20% started because of the ghosts, and at least 8% of the remaining 10% started from some combination of ghosts, practicality, and/or the patriarchy.
Disclaimer: Nearly all of these traditions are based in western Christianity and heteronormativity. This is absolutely not a reflection of our views on marriage; it is simply a reflection of the traditions I have seen in my own life. We love weddings of all faiths, non-faiths, and cultures, between all adult humans.
I had always heard that wearing white on your wedding day is a symbol of purity (aka virginity), and that honestly made me feel weird. Obviously I didn’t like the idea of people associating my attire choices with my sex life (because ew? Why do my wedding guests even care?). As it turns out, the reason most brides wear white on their wedding day has absolutely nothing to do with purity. It has to do with Queen Victoria being a trend setting icon. In 1840, she wore white to her wedding, which wasn’t common prior to that considering how rich you’d have to be to keep a white dress clean. Other wealthy brides followed suit and eventually the purity connotation became attached.
Origin: kind of the patriarchy, but it was mostly just a flex
If you’ve attended a handful of Christian/western weddings with a bride and a groom, you may have noticed that the bride usually stands on the left. Imagine: it’s the year 1200. You’ve just been kidnapped and now you’re standing at the altar about to be forced into marriage with a near stranger. Your family somehow tracks you down and then prepares to battle the man at the altar with you. Naturally, you’re standing on the left, all so his right hand can be free to grab his sword and battle back. Yup. That’s the origin. It’s almost comical after you forget the whole “kidnapping and forced marriage” part. So yeah, go ahead and stand on whichever side you prefer.
Origin: the patriarchy
Remember our scenario from the year 1200? Well the only thing better than Stranger Groom having easy access to his sword is having someone there to fight for him. In comes the best man! Instead of Stranger Groom battling your father to marry you, his best friend can do it for him instead. The Middle Ages were wild, y’all.
Origin: the patriarchy
There are actually several theories/possible reasons why bridesmaids became a thing. My personal favorite is that bridesmaids dressed the same as the bride in an effort to confuse spirits who wanted to harm the bride in some way. Another idea is that bridesmaids originated from the biblical story of Jacob, Leah, and Rachel. Leah and Rachel both brought literal maids with them to their weddings to Jacob. This is more practical than patriarchy. But if you’ve read the Bible (or if you’re a Margaret Atwood fan), you know what happens later between Jacob, Rachel, and her maid… so uh… I feel like the patriarchy at least gets an honorable mention here.
Origin: ghosts OR practicality (with a hint of the patriarchy)
This one is pretty self explanatory and doesn’t take a whole lot of thought to track down the origin. Traditionally, the father of the bride walks her down the aisle and then “gives her away” to her soon-to-be husband. Usually, the officiant will even ask the question “who gives this woman away?” when the bride gets to the altar. This goes back to when brides were exchanged for a bride price – though bride prices and dowries still exist in some cultures. If this isn’t exactly your vibe, you have several options!
Anyone (or no one) can walk down the aisle with you. I opted to have both of my parents walk me down the aisle, but you could walk with a sibling, grandparent(s), mentor, or even solo. You could ask your officiant to skip the “giving away” question entirely. Or you could have a more creative answer, like “I give myself away.” You could even change the question entirely to be more modern and creative.
Origin: the patriarchy
You would think that something as sweet and simple as cutting cake would have sweet origins, but apparently not. Originally, the Romans would break a bun or loaf of bread over the couple’s head to wish them good luck and fertility. Happy wedding day! Here are some crumbs in your hair! Now go make some babies. As odd as the origins are, I’m a sucker for a sweet cake cutting moment. While we’re here though, can we please end the tradition of shoving cake in the face of someone who just had their hair and makeup professionally done?
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