Modern weddings are steeped in symbolism and tradition.
Symbolism is everywhere. Whether it’s the exchanging of wedding rings within the ceremony or having a wedding cake .
These traditional age old customs have been handed down from generation to generation and still play a significant role in the wedding ceremony and the whole day itself.
Modern forward thinking couples are keen to personalise their big day but are still drawn to these age old customs and symbolism.
I’ve been looking into the origins and meanings of the symbolism and customs and how couples are adapting them for modern weddings.
Symbolism of bride wearing white
Brides wearing white has stayed in fashion since the days of Queen Victoria.
Her choice of a white dress was frowned upon by English aristocrats. However this clearly did not put the queen off as she chose to dress all her bridesmaids in white as well.
She further thwarted tradition by wearing a wreath instead of a crown in her hair and ditching the fur trimmed velvet robes.
Bridal fashions have of course changed significantly since but Victoria is the one credited with starting the tradition of wearing a white dress, which, in her time was not traditional at all.
Many many subsequent brides have wanted to be married in white with its symbolism of purity and innocence.
Although still considered the most popular colour choice nowadays some modern brides are veering away from white. I’m delighted.
Those who follow me on Instagram will know I am a great fan of a pastel coloured wedding dress. Frankly I think anything should go and a bride should wear what she wants.
Symbolism and origins of groomsmen and bridesmaids
In my research I have found a couple of theories on the origins of groomsmen and bridesmaids.
The first dates back to the Middle Ages. Brides were stolen by the groomsmen from other tribes or clans and brought forcibly for the groom to marry.
Or the groom enlisted the groomsmen’s help to defend his bride from a kidnapping. Indeed the ‘best’ in best man once referred to the quality of his swordsmanship.
The other theory dates all the way back to ancient Rome. The groomsmen and bridesmaids matched the bride and groom in what they wore and were present to protect the couple from evil spirits.
The thinking was that if they were dressed the same the vile demons would be unable to target the bride and groom specifically.
In our modern weddings bridesmaids and groomsmen are ultimately there for support and companionship and are the most highly honoured wedding guests.
Whilst their responsibilities may have changed over time they have always been an important part of a wedding ceremony acting as protectors and supporters of the union of the bride and groom.
Symbolism of the wedding ring
The first wedding rings can be traced back to the ancient Egyptians who exchanged rings from braided reeds and hemp.
These modest rings were placed, like now, on the fourth finger of the left hand as they believed that there was a ‘vein of love’ that ran from this finger directly to the heart.
Wedding rings went through various guises culminating in the plain gold wedding bands adopted by the church in the middle ages and still widely used today. The gold is said to represent purity of intent.
However it was only a hundred or so years ago that only brides would traditionally wear wedding rings. The two world wars put paid to that.
Soldiers heading to battle wanted to wear something permanent on their hand to remind them that there was someone waiting for them at home.
As a result it’s become normal practice for both partners now to wear wedding rings.
They are still however placed on the fourth finger of the left hand.
The circle shape of wedding rings has also been the same from the beginning symbolising that the love is eternal.
A circle has no beginning or end. The outside of the ring symbolises infinite never-ending love and the centre opening is a path to the future.
So there is a bit of background about the origins and symbolism of wedding rings. It is however important to remember that every couple is different. Every marriage is different. Every bond of true love is different.
The symbolisation that you choose for yourselves is all that really matters and modern couples are reflecting that in what they say when exchanging rings.
Symbolism of Flowers
Casting way back women carried ‘bouquets’ of aromatic bunches of garlic, herbs and spices to ward off evil spirits or even the plague.
But as time has time has gone on flowers have come to be seen more as a symbol of passion, love, fertility and the joining of two people both in the act of love and the journey into marriage.
The ribbons around flowers were believed to bring good luck and the knots at the end of each ribbon were known as ‘lover’s knots’ symbolising unity and wholeness.
And not forgetting the buttonholes aka ‘boutonnieres’ worn by the groom and groomsmen that are said to be very lucky.
At modern weddings couples think about choosing specific flowers that carry a unique history and special meaning to them. And definitely recall the traditions and customs of yesteryear as it is a great way to brainstorm modern wedding theme ideas.
Head over to another of my blogs in which I share the secrets behind the most popular wedding flowers.
Symbolism of tossing the bouquet
As for the tossing of the bouquet this dates back hundreds of years. Taking something from the bride was considered good luck.
Guests would rip and pull things from her gown. In order for the bride to make her exit with minimal attacks. It is said that she would throw her bouquet to distract wedding guests as she made her exit.
Nowadays catching the bouquet is a symbol of good luck and supposedly you will be the next to get married.
Symbolism of the wedding cake
The wedding cake is said to symbolise good fortune and fertility and has been a tradition and component of weddings since the Roman times.
In those days they were likely to have been made of wheat and the cake was either thrown at or crumbled over the bride’s head. A relic of once performed fertility rites. Fortunately things have moved on somewhat!
Wedding cakes still symbolise good fortune and fertility and are also said to bring good luck to everyone who eats it.
It should be made with an abundance of good quality ingredients for its longevity hence why fruit cakes were so popular to symbolize a long lasting, rich and happy marriage.
There are many other symbolic traditions surrounding the wedding cake. The bride can choose to put aside a slice of cake to ensure that her husband remains faithful.
A tier of the cake can also be put aside for later use at a christening or naming ceremony. This ensures future children.
Unmarried women at the wedding should take a piece of cake home with them and place it under their pillows. Tradition says this may produce dreams in which they see their own future partners.
Nowadays it seems that the once simple white wedding cake symbolising purity with all its various traditions has evolved into a multi-tiered extravaganza with a multitude of flavours and styles.
Some of the edible sculptures now created by the luxury wedding cake designers for modern weddings would not look out of place in an art gallery.
So as you can see nearly every aspect of a wedding has some sort of significance behind it. Whether we recognize them or not there is not doubting they are evident in so many elements of a wedding that we are so familiar.
I have mentioned only a few of the most popular wedding traditions but I hope that has helped give you some perspective.