Many ancient civilizations were rooted on religion and customs. The custom of marriage has always been a universal institution because a marriage ensured the continuation of the family line and provided social stability. It is said that the first union between a man and a woman took place in Mesopotamia at 2350 BC.
Although the customs of the ancient civilizations may seem strange in today’s modern times, the bridal party of the ancient world is no different from those today. Many modern marriages begin with great promise and last for a lifetime. The practices, customs and beliefs which begin such unions are as important as the individuals involved. Here is a look at the top 10 love and wedding customs:
Special Jewelry: Wedding Rings/Bands
Did you know that the Puritans banned wedding rings because they thought they were “vain” jewelry or relics of property? Traditionally the engagement ring is worn on the third finger on the left hand. In some parts of Europe, it is worn on the fourth finger of the right hand. The ancient Egyptians and Romans believed that a vital vein, called the “vena amori” in Latin, ran from the third finger to the heart. The tradition of wedding rings evolved to symbolize the eternal connection between a bride and a groom. Ancient Roman jewelry traditions meant that the groom never wore a wedding ring. Rings were not exchanged at the wedding ceremony. As an engagement ring, a Roman groom would give his wife-to-be an iron ring as her wedding ring.
Wedding Gowns & Dresses
While it is said that wearing the white wedding gown originated in Britain, both ancient Greeks and Italians wore a simple white dress during marriage ceremonies. The white wedding dress first became popular with Victorian era elites after Queen Victoria wore a white lace dress at her wedding in 1840. Prior to 1840, the brides only wore their best dresses to the wedding ceremonies.
The dress of a Catholic bride from Shkodër was capered from the transparent white, shiny, soft, which spread all over the body, and was intended to suggest tranquility and a warm purity. This concept of tradition was achieved through the white of the base material and the gold thread over.
Veil & Giving the Bride Away
The ancient Romans and Greeks believed brides needed to wear veils in order to protect them from evil spirits. Early Greek and Roman brides wore red or yellow veils to represent fire and ward off demons. When marriages were arranged by family members, the newlyweds very rarely were allowed to see one another. Family members exchanging a dowry were afraid that if the groom didn’t like the appearance of the bride’s face, he might refuse to marry her. This is why the Father of the Bride “gave the Bride away” to the Groom at the actual wedding ceremony. Only after lifting her veil just prior to the ceremony did the Groom see the Bride’s face for the first time.
Early brides and bridesmaids wore similar dresses in order to confuse evil spirits in the ancient Roman times. Bridesmaids were instructed to dress exactly like the bride so that the spirit would be confused and bring luck to the marriage.
The wedding cake tradition can be traced to ancient Rome. The final formal act of the wedding ceremony was the couple ‘breaking bread’ together. The wedding guests were asked to break a loaf of bread over the bride’s head for fertility. The wedding couple would feed to each other the unleavened bread (cake in modern times) and this action symbolized their commitment to the relationship.
Famous Wedding Phrases
Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue
The time-honored tradition “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue,” dates back from an Old English rhyme that ends with ‘and a Sixpence in your shoe’ in the late 19th century.
Something old represents continuity; something new offers optimism for the future; something borrowed symbolizes borrowed happiness; something blue stands for purity, love, and fidelity; and a sixpence in your shoe is a wish for good fortune and prosperity, although this remains largely a Irish & British custom.
Tying the Knots
For many cultures around the world –such as the Celtic, Hindu and Egyptians the hands of the bride and groom are tied together as a demonstration of the couple’s commitment to each other and their newly accomplished bonds. The Legend of St. Katherine, circa 1225, used the Middle English ‘cnotte’, that is, ‘knot’, to mean ‘the tie or bond of wedlock; the marriage or wedding knot’: “Swa ye cnotte is icnut bituhhen unc tweien.”
June Weddings for the Goddess of Childbirth
The Roman goddess Juno rules over childbirth and marriage, hence the reason for June weddings. Juno, in Roman religion, chief goddess and female counterpart of Jupiter, was connected with all aspects of the life of women, most particularly married life.
“Honeymoon” has origins that date back to the 5th century, when cultures represented calendar time with moon cycles. A newlywed couple drank mead during their first moon of marriage. In the Western tradition, the honeymoon lasts for about a month. This does not mean the couple is on vacation for a month, but refers to the first lunar month after the wedding.
After Wedding Traditions
Carrying the Bride over the Threshold
When a groom used to steal his bride from her tribe, he was forced to carry her kicking and screaming. This act of thievery has evolved into a more romantic gesture, welcoming the bride into her new home. Other variations on this superstition’s origin exist. In Medieval Europe, people believed that the brides were especially susceptible to evil spirits through the soles of their feet, and many of those evil spirits supposedly liked to hang out on the threshold of homes. The groom carried the bride across the threshold to make sure that she didn’t get attacked by any of these spirits (or carry one into their new home).
According to this tradition, by carrying the bride over the threshold, the groom puts a protective space between the bride and the ground and the floor; thus, protecting her from evil spirits around.
White seeds or confetti is sometimes thrown at the newlyweds as they leave the ceremony to symbolize fertility. Some individuals, churches or communities choose birdseed due to a false but widely believed myth that birds eating the rice will burst. The French threw wheat, Sicilians threw salt, and Early Greeks threw nuts & dates.
The wedding guests in the ancient times would tear off part off the bride’s gown as tokens of good luck leading to the tradition of the bride throwing both her garter and her bouquet. The unmarried girls gather, and the bride, having her back turned to them, throws her bouquet: whoever catches it, is supposed to be the next one who gets married. Wedding bouquets were originally made of such strong herbs as thyme and garlic, which were meant to frighten away evil spirits, and to cover the stench emitting from people who had not bathed recently!
In Greece, the continued tradition for the wedding favors is for them to receive the offering of sugar-coated almonds (“koufeta”) by single girls, as a symbol of the stable relationship of the newlyweds. A similar tradition is also seen in Turkey; the centuries-old tradition of almond candies wrapped in a piece of tulle or coriander to bless a recently married couple is given away to the wedding guests.
In Southern Italy, as the guests leave, they hand envelopes of money to the bride and groom, who return the gift with a wedding favor or bomboniere, a small token of appreciation.
In the 17th Century, one or two of the bride-favors were always blue. They were knots of colored ribbons loosely stitched on to the wedding gown, which were plucked off by the guests at the wedding feast, and worn as luck-bringers in the young men’s hats.