Weddings have existed in some form for centuries, although the weddings in the past were not like the grand occasions we’re used to today. However, nearly every part of today’s weddings, from the initial engagement to the couple’s honeymoon, has a rich, interesting history. Religious beliefs, ancestry, and cultural roots have shaped our Western marriage traditions, and here’s a look at the history behind some of the popular marriage traditions that are still followed in the Western world today.
Engagement and Wedding Rings
Wedding rings were a tradition long before the engagement ring. At one point, wedding rings were thought to protect against evil spirits. Rome brought about the tradition of the wedding rings in a ceremony to symbolize everlasting commitment and love. It wasn’t until later that Pope Nicholas I stated that engagement rings should be a requirement statement of marriage intent.
Why are these rings placed on the “ring finger?” While the “ring finger” has varied through time, today’s tradition of placing the engagement and wedding rings on the third finger comes from the Greeks. They believed that this finger was connected to the heart by “the vein of love,” which is why they used this finger for the engagement and wedding rings.
The Wedding Dress
In the 1800s, most weddings were very simple, and since most brides only had a single best dress, they generally were married in that dress.
It was very common at the time for brides to be married in dark colors, including black, since the best dress could also be worn to a funeral.
It wasn’t until 1840 when Queen Victoria of Great Britain wore a white wedding dress to marry Prince Albert. She chose a beautiful, satin, white wedding gown for her wedding. After she wore the white dress, women across England and in America began to choose the white wedding gown.
In the past, a special wedding dress was only a luxury for the richest, but after Queen Victoria’s wedding, it became more common for brides of all classes to choose a white wedding dress. While wedding dresses are available in many colors today, white is still the most common color chosen by women for their wedding gowns.
The Wedding Veil
The wedding veil has a long history, started with the Romans who believed that flame-colored veils would scare away evil spirits. In some cultures, the groom never saw the bride before the wedding and the veil was used to make sure he didn’t see the bride’s face until after the vows. During Victorian times, the wedding veil turned into a status symbol. The quality, length, and weight of the veil would show the status of the bride, which is why royal brides had such long trains and veils. Some religions also look at the veil as a sign of the bride’s purity and humility. The veil is still a popular part of the wedding ensemble for most brides, although some brides choose to skip the veil, particularly brides who have been married before.
The Bridal Kiss
The bridal kiss doesn’t have the romantic history that most couples imagine. It goes back to the early days of Middle Eastern civilization when a kiss was used to formally seal contracts and agreements, The kiss continued to be used to seal contracts in Ancient Rome as well, and today the kiss is still customary at the end of a wedding to “seal” the couple’s wedding vows.
While today’s couples have many options for their wedding, as well as the chance to choose whom they will marry, many of the Western marriage traditions still have their roots in wedding traditions of the past. Whether you wear a veil or you have a ring ceremony, you’re living out traditions that have centuries of history behind them.