Friday, August 21, 2009

In the 1964 musical, “Fiddler on the Roof,” Tevye, the father of five daughters, strives to maintain his family and stay true to the religious traditions of his Jewish heritage. It is early in the first Act when he exclaims that: “Without our traditions our lives would be as shaky as…as a fiddler on the roof!”

Indeed, traditions enrich our lives and it can be said that today’s weddings are where customs, rites and rituals are especially significant. From a bride wearing white to the ring being worn on the ring finger of the left hand, these traditions are passed down from generation to generation, and represent aspects of our heritage. In order to fully appreciate their significance, it’s important to have a sense of their origins and meanings.

The Wedding Ring

Ancient Egyptian pharaohs believed the circle, an unending symbol, represented eternity. According to Edith Gilbert, author of “The Complete Wedding Planner,” the wedding ring dates back to the 9th century, when rings were used to confirm marriage settlements.

In early Western history, brides were bought and sold. The rings were used as the groom’s payment to the bride’s family. As time passed, the ring came to symbolize the love and commitment shared between two individuals.

Gilbert further explains the ring is worn on the second finger (counting from the left) of the left hand because that finger was believed to connect directly to the heart by the so-called “vein of love.” Science has since proved that no such vein exists, yet the tradition continues.

Later, diamond rings were worn by brides in medieval Italy. Today, the diamond is still the gem of choice because it is the most durable stone in existence.

The Bride’s Dress

Up until the 18th century, brides wore a variety of colors for their wedding, with blue being particularly popular. But, during the 19th century, soft, light colors became more fashionable because they represented delicacy and fragility, which were thought to be ideal characteristics of women during that time period.

Queen Victoria is credited with starting the trend of wearing a white wedding dress in 1840 when she married Prince Albert. It is said that the photographs of the event were widely published and led many brides to choose the queen’s choice of color for their wedding affair as well.

Nancy Piccione, author of “Your Wedding,” adds that ancient Greeks believed the color white symbolized purity and joy. Still others add that white represents celebration and remains a central color in modern day weddings.

The Veil

History tells us that the Romans placed veils over brides to hide their identity from evil spirits. It was believed that veils would confuse demons that were said to be jealous of the bride’s happiness.

Carol Wallace, author of “All Dressed in White,” says veils were also used in arranged marriages to conceal the bride. The groom would raise her veil at the end of the ceremony, and see his wife’s face for the first time.

Today, the veil’s significance has changed to represent a woman’s innocence, modesty and purity. The veil is considered part of the custom of separating the bride and the groom before the wedding ceremony for good luck.

The Bride’s Bouquet

While the modern day bride may clutch the bouquet tightly to conceal nervously shaking hands as she walks down the aisle, Piccione says this tradition has its origin in ancient Rome, where brides carried herbs under their veils for good luck. Later, bridal herbs and flowers began to represent fertility for the couple.

Howard Kirschenbaum adds in “The Wedding Book” that throwing the bouquet became a common tradition in the U.S. in the late 1800s. During this time, the bride would have one bouquet for each bridesmaid, and then bind them together. She would then hide a ring within the collection of flowers. At the end of the ceremony, she would throw the bouquet and the couple would quietly exit while guests tried to find the ring among the bouquets. Today, this is the bride’s way of wishing luck to the single women in her wedding. The lucky woman who catches the bouquet is said to be the next to marry.

“Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a lucky sixpence in your shoe.”

Although the origins of this English poem are not known, it is thought to have been written in the Victorian era. Each aspect of the poem represents a good luck token for the bride.

The ‘something old’ represents a connection with the bride’s past and her family heritage. The ‘something new’ portrays the bride’s idealism and optimism for her future.

The ‘something borrowed’ is often borrowed from another married couple, and is their way of passing their luck onto the newlyweds. And, the ‘something blue’ represents purity, as well as permanency of marriage.

It is often the last line of the poem that is forgotten by modern day brides.

The sixpence is a British coin worth six pennies and represents financial security and prosperity for the couple. Today, some brides will uphold this tradition by placing a dime in their left shoe for the wedding.

The Wedding Party

It is believed that the idea of bridesmaids originated in order to help protect the seemingly vulnerable bride from the harm of evil spirits. Meanwhile, the role of groomsmen was to help capture the desired bride for the groom. Traditionally, the bridesmaids and groomsmen dressed in more formal attire than other guests so that evil spirits would confuse them for the bride and groom.

Gilbert adds that bachelor parties originated in Sparta, where the groom invited his friends to supper the evening before the wedding. This dinner was referred to as the “men’s mess.”

The Honeymoon

As noted by Piccione and Kirschenbaum, the word “honeymoon” derived from a special wine brewed from honey and yeast. The ancient Teutons drank this wine for the first month after marriage.

The idea of the honeymoon originated when grooms used to capture their desired bride, and then hide them after the ceremony until her family would stop searching for her. Today, the honeymoon has a much more positive connotation, and implies a period of escape and intimacy for the newlyweds as they begin their new life together.

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