Five Wedding Traditions and Their Wacky Origins

Weddings are steeped in tradition and ritual. Practically everything that happens from the bachelor party on has something to do with hundreds of years of accrued tradition. We carry flowers and toss garters without thinking of why we do it–it’s just what you do at weddings. But if you dig down a little, the origins for some of these traditions are wilder than you might imagine for example:

The garter toss is a substitute for ripping the bride’s clothes off

In the 14th century, the end of the wedding ceremony was an ordeal for the bride. It was considered lucky to get a piece of the wedding dress, so the guests would mob the poor girl and tear the dress to shreds to get their lucky bit of cloth. By the end of it, more often than not you’d have a sobbing bride and a thoroughly wrecked dress. The bride began symbolically tossing a garter at the crowd to satisfy them, which evolved into the modern tradition.

The honeymoon used to involve drinking mead for thirty days.

Here’s a tradition that should have stuck around: after a traditional Norse wedding, the new couple would shut themselves away from the world for a full thirty days, or the time it takes for the moon to go through a complete cycle. Their friends and relatives would bring them a cup of honey wine to share every day, so the honeymoon was literally about honey and the moon. So if you’re not into a tropical resort after your wedding, try just locking the doors to anyone not bringing a cup of mead.

The wedding party was evil spirit decoys

Back in the day, the bridesmaids were dressed identically to the bride, and the groomsmen were dressed just like the groom. The idea was to keep evil spirits who might curse the wedding day from being able to fixate on just the happy couple. After belief in evil spirits went away somewhat, the bridesmaids were dressed in white dresses like the bride, but with shorter gowns and veils. It wasn’t until commercial fabric dyeing really took off that the hideous jewel-tones we associate with bridesmaid dresses really took hold.

Multi-tiered cakes were obstacles for the married couple’s kiss

In medieval England, the wedding reception had a bit of physical comedy for the bride and groom: guests stacked cakes on top of each other, and the couple had to kiss over the top of the cakes. Presumably this went on until one or both of them staggered and fell right into the stack. Those stacked cakes gradually came to be symbolized by a single multi-tiered cake, and instead of kissing over it, the couples took to squishing it into each other’s face and even lighting it up using wedding sparklers for a more dramatic effect. So…progress?


The wedding bouquet was a bundle of herbs

The tradition of brides carrying a bundle of flowers began as a bundle of herbs–rosemary, dill, or lavender. It’s speculated that the practice was a holdover from the days of the plague; fresh aromas were in short supply. Over time, the bouquet evolved to be as pretty looking as it was sweet-smelling.

Should you choose to break with some of the wedding traditions when you’re planning your wedding, you’re bound to get some backlash from the older members of both the bride and groom’s families. If you do, just ask if they’d rather have you walk down the aisle holding a bunch of dill, then have your clothes ripped off after the ceremony, then disappear for a month to drink mead. That ought to help them see that wedding traditions are only what you make of them.