"Here comes the bride, dressed all in white; la-la-la-la lovely-la-la-la-la sight." Everyone knows the melody and the first line, but it turns out there are so many versions of the "Wedding March" that most people can only manage to fill in the missing words with the "la-las." It is that time of year again when spring has made itself known and our thoughts are about what is just around the corner. Finally, after the long winter, there is some sunshine to thaw our bones. We can hardly wait to feel the warm soil between our fingers when planting our gardens, see the first bright flowers, and hear the happy sounds of birds again. Traditionally, spring also brings final plans for upcoming weddings, with later spring and summer months being the most popular time to tie the knot. For this reason, if not actually in a wedding, there is still a good chance of attending one soon. Full of traditions and symbolism, we automatically expect such things as exchanging of rings, lighting candles, bridal veils, receptions with cake, and honeymoons. Nearly all wedding practices have some connection to the past with the original meanings often blurred, but nevertheless continue today.
Undoubtedly, a good part of the wedding is planned by the woman as she carries on well-known traditions with obvious meanings. Others, although common, might seem odd to the modern woman with origins from medieval times. The wedding band of course represents unending love because of its circular shape. Many early cultures also believed that the vein of the third finger of the left hand also ran directly to the heart. The white gown represents purity and can be a color of celebration in western culture, but it only came into fashion when Queen Victoria wed in the mid-1800s.
Before that, brides wore other colors or just their best dress. White became the most popular fashion after her wedding and has remained so since that time.
Top photo, and photo above, courtesy of Jeff Wawro.
Beyond the ring and dress, most other traditions have curious and not so apparent reasons, at least by today's standards. The wedding party with the best man and bridesmaids is just one example among others, which are noted in several sources such as brideandgroom.com and in a prior column, "Exploring wedding tradition origins." As hard as it is to believe today, when a man could not find a woman to marry within his own community and there was a short supply, he could capture a bride from a neighboring town. The bridegroom needed to bring along a male friend to help him with this task. In the marriage ceremony itself, this best man would also stay by the groom's side to safeguard any attempts to recapture the bride. The bride was also always to the left of the groom so that his right hand was free to use for defense. It has also been said that the purpose of the best man and bridesmaids dressing similar to the bride and groom helped confuse anyone who might attempt to disrupt the wedding, including evil spirits.
Bridal veils are simply beautiful and make any woman a vision of loveliness. In some cultures it may represent modesty, but in the days of prearranged marriages the bride and groom may not have even met before the wedding. Just in case the bride was not attractive to the groom, he would not see her until after he said, "I do." The same scenario would help explain why it is bad luck to see the bride on the day of the wedding. It would give the groom reason to back out of the wedding.
Although it seems archaic, there are a few different stories about the origins of the honeymoon, one of which goes along with the same theme of a forced or captured marriage. The couple stayed away for at least one month or moon cycle, enough time for the bride to become pregnant, making the marriage more tolerable to her family. Of course, giving the bride away comes from the days when a daughter was considered property and ownership was being transferred to the groom.
Planning for wedding flowers today takes quite a bit of the budget and is another example of a tradition that has evolved over time. Certain flowers are selected for color or other sentimental reasons, but in the early days, brides carried various herbs such as garlic, ivy and heather to ward off evil spirits. Throwing rice is a wish for fertility, but so was the wheat carried by flower girls. Not requiring much money, unlike the flowers, is the tradition of the bride wearing something old, new, borrowed and blue. From an old English rhyme, something old stands as a link to the past and continuity of family; something borrowed may stem from the belief that happiness rubs off and it is therefore good luck to borrow something from a happy person. Something new symbolizes success in the future and something blue represents loyalty and fidelity. The last line of the rhyme of a "silver sixpence in the shoe" is for future wealth and fortune.
As spring and summer come, many will be tying the knot. Most likely from the days of early Europe, couples pledged to each other by joining hands called "hand-fasting." In some places it was customary to tie the bride and groom's wrists together as a symbol of their contract. For the happy couple today, this is a pledge and covenant to love and honor one another in thought, word and deed. Those religious know that they are united by God's plan and as in Corinthians, are complete with each other in the Lord. For those humming the "Wedding March," the la-la-la's can be replaced with the following version of the traditional song as found on hymns.me.
"Here comes the bride dressed all in light, radiant and lovely she shines in his sight.
Gently she glides graceful as a dove, meeting her bridegroom, her eyes full of love.
Love have they waited, long have they planned, life goes before them opening her hand.
Asking God's blessing as they begin, life with new meaning, life shared as one.
Entering God's union, bowed before His throne, promise each other to have and to hold."
Make it a good week, Mary
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