By Robbin Montero
"Ancient rings were forged of iron, to last forever like marriage."
Gold wedding rings, tiered cakes with icing, and the long, white gown-all are traditions we associate with modern weddings. However, these traditions have roots in practical, romantic and odd ancient customs.
For example, the sweet, iced wedding cakes served today spring from more humble, flat "grooms-cakes" made by a family member. As young unmarried girls left the reception, they took a piece of grooms-cake displayed on the table and wrapped in a piece of bridal veil. The single lady then placed the cake under her pillow at night and dreamed of her future groom!
Other wedding cake traditions centered on fertility. In one, the actual wedding pound cake was broken up and sprinkled over the couple to assure their fertility. Today we throw rice or birdseed. The stacking of wedding cakes began as a ritual in which the bride and groom would see how many cakes they could reach over for a kiss. The number of stacked cakes predicted the number of children they would have. A 13th century Frenchman began icing stacked cakes, starting the style of wedding cakes we know today and look upon merely as delicious good luck symbols.
Have you ever wondered about the origin of the phrase "tying the knot"? In ancient tribal days, a girl was wrapped in a sheet with a knot tied in the front, signifying to the groom and his family that she was a virgin. The groom had the privilege of untying the knot on their wedding night.
Weddings are pivotal in all cultures. In some primitive tribes the bride and bridesmaids dress identically. Because superstition played a role in shaping the ceremony and celebrations, dressing the women in the wedding party alike was thought to confuse evil spirits. (In more recent, but still superstitious times, the ringing of church bells and the release of doves also helped ward off evil and blue was the color that signified purity.)
A tribal best man's duties were somewhat unusual. When women were scarce, it was the job of a tribe's best warrior to steal potential brides from neighboring tribes. The groom-to-be and the warrior would sneak off under cover of darkness. The warrior would then club the chosen bride over the head and literally abduct her! The event turned into a swashbuckling drama, as the "best man" would then adeptly fight off angry relatives, should the girl awaken prematurely and cry out. Later in Europe, unhappy relatives had a practical role in shaping customs. The best man, in a warrior-like role, stood to the right of the groom, sword in hand, to stop intruding clan members.
Flower girls and ring bearers are newer additions to wedding parties. A flower girl first appeared in the middle ages, bearing wheat to symbolize fertility. The ring bearer was added mainly for symmetry.
Especially in this country, girls dream of wearing a flowing white wedding gown from an early age, thanks to Anne of Brittany. She donned a white gown to marry King Louis VII of France in 1499. Prior to this, women just wore the best dress they owned. American brides also carry on the quaint custom of wearing "something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue" to bring them luck.
The most enduring symbol of marriage, the circular wedding ring symbolizes eternal love and devotion. Ancient rings were forged of iron, to last forever like marriage. Today's gold and platinum rings are still placed on the third finger of the left hand. This is a holdover from an old belief that a vein ran directly from the heart to the ring finger. To this day some brides still believe it is bad luck to remove their wedding ring for any reason.
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, California Wine Country wedding planning expert and owner of A Dream Wedding. Robbin is the premier wedding planner in the Northern California Wine Country, transforming any vision into the perfectly designed wedding creation. Robbin and her weddings have been featured in The Knot, Brides, Elite Magazine, Your Wedding Day and Vine Napa/Sonoma magazines, and ImportantOccasions.com. Travel & Leisure magazine calls Robbin, "The expert wedding planner in the California Wine Country." For more information visit
© Robbin Montero This article cannot be reprinted without Robbin Montero's expressed written permission. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com.