You have likely attended a wedding or two and have seen some traditions, but have you ever wondered where they came from?
Why does the bride require something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue?
Why does the groom toss the brides garter into a crowd of men?
Let me explain......
Getting Down On 1 Knee
The exact origin of this tradition is unknown, but there are lots of ideas floating around as to how it came about. The act of getting down on one knee is called genuflection, and in the Middle Ages, men would bend down in front of the women they adored. Kneeling in front of someone is a sign of respect, loyalty and obedience. Fast forward to today, and most people still get down on one knee to propose. It represents a certain vulnerability and a deep emotional connection, showing that you’re willing to commit the rest of your life to giving your other half what they need and want. You’re almost surrendering to your love. Romantic!
In Gaelic-speaking communities, a còrdadh (agreement) would be made between the bride and groom a few weeks before the wedding. This would take place in the house of the bride’s father. Friends of the bride and groom would also be in attendance and a series of ‘false brides’ would be brought in, often with humorous results, especially when they included married or elderly women. Food, drink and laughter would be in plentiful supply. At the event, a friend of the groom pretended that he was looking for a wife or a servant for a certain man. The bride’s friends were each brought out and the groom rejected them all as unsuitable, until the bride herself appeared.
The Speerin is quite a challenging tradition, where the groom must go through a series of tasks and trials to impress their would-be father-in-law before gaining his approval.
The Soot Foot & Blackening
Another good luck custom undertaken prior to the wedding was feet-washing. Friends of the bride would wash her feet in a tender manner in a symbolic act of cleansing. Treatment of the groom was much rougher. His feet were covered in soot and feathers. Soot represented hearth and home and was thought to be lucky. Over time, this tradition evolved to include the application of other substances, such as boot polish, tar, treacle, eggs and flour. Scottish brides and grooms are captured by their friends before their ceremony and covered in ‘hard-to-remove’ substances before being paraded around their town or village.
The Giving Away
This is another tradition which dates to the days when marriage was more of a business arrangement. Brides would quite literally be handed over to “a new owner”, usually in exchange for money or dowry. Nowadays, it is totally up to the bride who gives them away. Traditionally it can be a special moment to share with your dad, but these days mum a sibling or friend can also assist with the task.
The Rèiteach, or betrothal ceremony, would take place a week or two before the wedding. This was an informal gathering where the father of the bride-to-be was asked to give consent for his daughter to marry. In some areas, a friend of the groom would ask for the bride’s hand in marriage on behalf on the groom, but the bride would be referred to not as herself, but usually something related to the bride’s family’s trade. If she was from a crofting family, she might be referred to as a lamb. The groom’s friend would promise to take care of the lamb and look after it well. This would all be done in a very good-natured way. After the bride’s father consented to the union, food would be served, and this would be followed by singing and dancing until the early hours of the next morning.
The Night Before
This tradition dates to the days of arranged marriages, when marriage was more of a business arrangement than something done for love. The couple weren’t allowed to see each other before the ceremony for fear they’d pull out of the marriage! Today, it’s simply seen as unlucky to see your other half on the morning of your wedding – but since you’re not partaking in a business deal, we’re pretty sure you shouldn’t be worried! Most people just choose not to see their spouse to build up excitement and give them a surprise when they walk down the aisle looking so beautiful!
The Wedding Bells
Ringing of bells during and after a wedding stems from an Irish tradition that the sound of bells would ward off evil spirits and ensure a happy family life. In Scotland the same is said of the Bagpipes, it’s incredibly traditional to be piped into your wedding and then dramatically piped to the reception afterwards and if there was ever a way to scare off an evil spirit, well the drones is a contender
The White Wedding Dress
While fashions have changed throughout the years, bridal gowns often reflect traditions and customs of times past…It wasn’t until Queen Victoria wore a white gown on her wedding day in 1840 that the white wedding dress, we know today became popular.
The Wedding Veil
Arranged marriages are often cited when discussing the origin of the wedding veil. When daughters were considered a commodity to their family, a marriage was a way of sealing agreements between families and increasing assets. A Bride and Groom would likely meet for the first time on their wedding day, at the altar. The veil was used to obscure the bride’s features, only being lifted after the marriage ceremony was completed. This was to keep the groom from backing out from the deal if he didn’t like what he saw. Some historians say that Ancient Romans were the first to incorporate the veil into the wedding ceremony, believing the bride may attract evil spirits on her important day. The veil was used to cover the bride’s face in order to protect her from evil spirits who were jealous of her happiness and seeking to disrupt the union. In the modern day the veil has come to signify the bride’s virtue. Oh, and after your wedding, don’t let your friend try on your veil! It’s supposed to mean she’ll run off with your husband, and we can’t be having that!
The Brides Bouquet
The custom of flower bouquets has its origin in ancient times. Women carried aromatic bunches of garlic, herbs and spices to ward off evil spirits. It was also believed to be preventive measure in contracting the plague. In modern days it is generally accepted that the bride chooses a flower arrangement that she likes or matches her wedding theme. Traditionally, the bride also throws her bouquet, and this is a still a very popular feature of weddings today. It stems from a French 14th century tradition, where the groom would throw the bride’s garter into the crowd. It is said that whoever catches the bride’s bouquet will be next to be married.
The Lucky Charms
A Scottish wedding tradition is to implement a few lucky charms, such as entering the wedding venue with the right foot forward or adding a sprig of white heather into the bride’s bouquet. Also, a sprig of white heather is worn in the groom's buttonhole for good luck.
The tradition of bridesmaids has a similar past rooted in superstition. In the past, a bride’s attendants dressed like the bride to confuse and distract evil spirits trying to spoil the bride’s happiness.
The Best Man
The “best” in best man once referred to the quality of a man’s swordsmanship. When weddings were used as a business transaction rather than a union of love, the groom needed a good swordsman to help either retrieve a run-away bride or fend off a bride’s angry family that may not approve of the union.
The Wedding Stance
The bride typically stands to the left of the groom during the wedding ceremony so that the groom can protect her with his left arm and use his sword with the right. Traditionally, the groom would need to fight anyone who was trying to steal his wife – mostly members of her own family, since it was common for them to think she’d be “stolen”.
The ‘Something’ Gesture
Something Old: Represents the ties to the bride’s family and her past.
Something New: Represents a life to come with her husband.
Something Borrowed: An item from someone who is in (or who had) a successful marriage to pass on the “good luck.”
Something Blue: Stands for faithfulness, loyalty and purity.
The Ring Pillow
The ring bearer’s pillow symbolizes the promises of the dreams you have while sleeping, coming true. A small child is typically asked to carry the pillow which symbolizes innocence, the future and new beginnings.
The Wedding Cake
The wedding cake has been a component of weddings since medieval times. Originally cakes were made of wheat which was a symbol of fertility and prosperity. As a relic of once performed fertility rites, these ‘wedding cakes’ would have been thrown at the bride. The once simple wedding cake has evolved into a multi-tiered extravaganza. The colour of the cake (historically) is typically white, symbolizing purity. The joint task of the Bride and Groom cutting the cake was meant to symbolize their first joint task in married life. The gesture of feeding cake to each other is a symbol of the commitment the bride and groom are making. It’s also a go-to for wedding jokes (usually served up in the speeches). “Our wedding was so emotional, even the cake was in tiers!” “Grandma used to dress to kill; now she just bakes that way!”
Engagement bands began in ancient Egypt with the circle symbolizing a never-ending cycle and the space inside it as a gateway. The addition of a diamond was made popular by Sicilians who believed the stone was forged by the fires of love. Why the fourth finger on the left hand? The placement of the ring on the fourth finger of the left-hand stems from Ancient Greece. It was believed that the “ring” finger contained a vein which leads straight to the heart. This vein was known as the ‘vena amoris’ or the vein of love.
The Confetti Throw
Traditionally, wheat or rice was thrown at the newly married couple to encourage fertility, but it was the Victorians who first used shredded paper.
The Upturned Horseshoe
Upward-facing-horseshoes as bringers of good luck transcend many cultures. Scottish brides often incorporate them into their bouquets or jewellery due to this superstition.
A popular superstition involves sugar-covered almonds. The bride and groom hand them out to guests in order to bring good luck to the marriage in four ways: the white of the sugar brings purity, the ovular shape represents fertility and promises babies, the hardness bring resilience to the marriage, and finally the sugar promises a sweet union.
The Garter Throw
Throwing of the bride’s garter. This tradition originated in France. Guests would try to obtain a piece of the bride’s dress for good luck, which often left the bride nervous and tense throughout the entire ceremony in anticipation of her dress being ripped to shreds by an eager mob of wedding guests. To pacify the crowd and ease the bride’s mind, the groom began tossing out a piece of the bride’s wedding attire to distract the guests as the newlyweds made a quick escape from the reception.
The wedding scramble, sometimes known as the scammle or scatter, was a common occurrence in many parts of Scotland. The best man or bridegroom would shower children with coppers and silver as the bridal party left after the marriage ceremony. On occasion, the father of the bride would also shower children with money as he and the bride-to-be left home to travel to the wedding. Weddings could therefore a very lucrative affair for the local children, who would spend their spoils on sweets and fizzy drinks. In some areas the children would shout ‘Poor oot ye dirty brute, ye canna spare a ha’penny’ in order to encourage the best man or groom to fulfil their duty. The custom was believed to bring good fortune to the married couple.
The Noisy Wedding Exit
I love the classic movie scene in which the wedding car rolls away, newlyweds waving happily, with painted windows announcing “Just Married” and bouncing tins tied to the bumper. Interestingly I learned that tying cans to the car was a celebration of the couple’s first physical union! There was a time when wedding guests were far more invested in their friends losing their virginity after their wedding. Historically, guests would accompany the newlyweds into the bedroom to “help” them undress and cheer them on. This tradition gave way to the "shivaree" in the 18th century, a practice of following the newlyweds home while banging pots and pans. Long after the couple fled inside and closed the door, the crowd remained, celebrating, shouting encouragement, and making as much commotion as possible. Over time the tradition changed and today it takes on the form of car bumper tins…so drive as you might, guests will have decorated your vehicle with a clattering cacophony…ensuring everyone you pass can participate in the badgering!
The Threshold Carry
This custom of carrying a bride over the threshold of their new home came from Medieval Europe with the belief that the bride was vulnerable to evil spirits through her feet. To prevent evil spirits from entering the house which may be lingering at the threshold, the groom would carry her into their new home.
Some traditions are a bit more unusual than others…
Ensure a good future by throwing coins over the heads of the bride and groom – (Apparently not just for the football pitch, who knew!)
If a cat sneezes on the eve of the wedding, it's a sign of good luck – (I have no idea why & who is going to follow the cat around?)
A groom should rub elbows with his groomsman for good luck – (You might look a little odd if we don’t explain it.)
One can save crumbs from the wedding cake to ensure the marriage lasts in the future – (Just nope!)
It is good luck to throw shoes overhead the newly-weds - (That one’s just asking for trouble!)
Finding a spider on the wedding dress is said to be good luck – (Entirely depends on the size if you ask me.)
If you are a bridesmaid who stumbles walking to the altar, you will never be wed – (Methinks somebody had an overbearing wedding planner!)
A sapphire in a wedding ring will bring happiness to the marriage – (Absolutely yes, 100% agree)
If the younger of two sisters marries before the older, the older sister must dance barefoot at the wedding or she will never marry – (Somebody’s going to have a lot of fun with this one!)
Like in several other countries and cultures, rain on the wedding day is considered a good luck omen – (I guess we’re used to an abundance of luck in Scotland!)
The biggest rule is that there are no rules ✓
Mix up the traditions as you see fit and put a modern spin on things ✓
Make the gesture your own ✓