August 17, 2016 Samantha

Traditional Wedding Customs

Because America is such a melting pot, a lot of the traditional wedding customs that are practiced in this country are a blend of many cultures and time periods that have been changed and adapted over the years. Marriage traditions are a key part of weddings for a lot of couples; representing one’s heritage, ancestry, or ethnicity can be a special and unique touch to a ceremony or reception. If you desire to incorporate a wedding tradition and wonder exactly how it began, allow your Denver wedding and event planner Blue Linden to highlight and reveal the history behind some popular western wedding practices to make your choice even more meaningful.

A bridal shower is typically an all-girl gathering thrown by the maid-of-honor and bridesmaids or close friends and family of the bride. Drinks, snack foods, games, and presents are on the to-do list. But where did this wedding tradition originate? Rooted in Holland, the event would take place when the father of the bride disapproved of the groom and refused to provide a dowry. In a show of solidarity, the bride’s friends would “shower” her with gifts to act as that dowry to please her future husband.

During the olden days of bridal kidnapping, a group of friends would assist the groom in stealing his bride-to-be away from her family, the men acting as a barrier between the bride’s angry family and the running groom and his captive. An older maid would be assigned to the woman to tend to her needs, and a group of younger women would help decorate for the wedding “reception.” The best man would follow the groom down the aisle and stand beside him as an added defense against anyone who’d try to harm the bride. Usually the male and female attendants would dress similar to the bride and groom, a superstition to ward against evil spirits or competing admirers, decoys to confuse those who would try to step in and steal away one of the lovebirds. Over the years, at least in most traditional western civilizations, these practices disappeared, but wanting a group of friends to participate in the big day didn’t. Hence, the wedding party was formed, the roles of the participants changing with the times to give way to the traditional wedding customs that we know today.

Today’s bridal bouquets are filled with meaningful, gorgeous, and extravagant flowers. Typically each bridesmaid will carry a smaller bouquet and the groomsmen are adorned with boutonnieres, all tied together with a similar floral theme. This wasn’t always the case, however; olden marriage traditions would dictate a bride carrying aromatics like garlic, herbs, and grains, once again in an effort to ward off evil spirits.

Modesty and mystery folded into a thin, typically sheer layer of tulle is today’s representation of another popular wedding tradition, the veil. In most historical circumstances, the veil was a symbol of virginity and innocence, but oftentimes held additional significance as well. In Middle Eastern and Asian cultures, it wasn’t sheer and was meant to completely cover the bride’s face until after the marriage (typically the groom had yet to even be in the same room as his bride until their wedding day). In Roman times it also served to ward off bad juju.

Of traditional wedding customs, one of the oldest surviving is the garter toss. Having lost its original meaning due to violation of privacy (that having been proof of marriage consummation to the attendees by a witness), it was adapted to having the groom toss it out to the crowd after business was taken care of and eventually turned into a pre-bedroom promise of what was to come.

and a sixpence in her shoe. This Old English rhyme still holds its place in marriage traditions today, and maintains very similar symbolism, though bride’s may not even know what those items are meant to represent.

Old: link to the bride’s ancestry
New: good fortune in new life
Borrowed: reminder that friends and family will stand by her
Blue: loyalty and purity
Sixpence: wish for wealth

Cake has always been a wedding tradition, but it hasn’t always been represented the way it is now. In the beginning, it was customary to throw the cake at the bride and have her cut a loaf of bread as a boost to fertility. Throwing was eventually changed to eating by early Romans; they decided to incorporate sweetness into small cakes which were served throughout the event. In the middle ages, the guests brought small biscuit-like cakes with them to the celebration, which were piled in front of the bride and groom; they had to kiss over the pile to guarantee prosperity in their marriage, and leftover cakes were distributed to the poor. Later, in the British Isles, chefs and bakers began organizing the “piles” of “cakes” and set-up what we commonly know as tiered cakes. The pomp and circumstance gradually increased over the years and morphed into the wedding cakes of today.

Marriage traditions revolving around favors began in 16th century Europe, where nobility handed out expensive and rare cubes or small boxes of sugar to show their standing to the attendees. That changed into sugar-coated almonds (five wishes for the new husband and wife: health, wealth, happiness, children, and a long life). Then in the Victorian era, the favors evolved again, and have been ever-changing since.


What do you think about the history behind some traditional wedding customs? Are you planning on incorporating a special wedding tradition into your big day? Do you any other interesting history about common marriage traditions? Share your thoughts and ideas with us by using the social media buttons below – we’re always ready to hear from you!

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About the Author


Sami (to those she knows and loves) holds a BA in English and freelance writes on anything that tickles her fancy, but she holds a special place in her soul for Blue Linden and its owner/operator Wanda. When Samantha is not writing to her little heart’s content, she’s reading (or knitting) like a mad woman, lovin’ on her furbaby Lucy, and soaking up every moment with her as husband as they travel the world together.

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