Wedding Traditions - The Bride

Leap Year Proposals
The right of a woman to propose on February 29 of each leap year originated centuries ago...a time when the leap year day had no recognition in English law (the day being "leapt over" and ignored, hence the term "leap year"). Thus, since the day was considered to bear no legal status, it was reasonable to assume that traditions also bore no legal status. Consequently, women who were concerned that they might be doomed to spinsterhood would take advantage of this anomaly and propose to the man they wished to marry. It was also thought at one time that since the leap year day corrected the discrepancy between the calendar year of 365 days and the time taken for the Earth to complete one orbit of the Sun (365 days and 6 hours), it was the perfect opportunity for women to correct a tradition which was one-sided and unjust.

Tie The Knot/Ties That Bind
The expression "to tie the knot" originated in Roman times when the bride wore a girdle which was tied into knots...which knots the groom had the pleasure of untying. This phrase may also refer to the tying of the knot in Handfasting Ceremonies, which were often performed without the benefit of a clergy. Throughout the world, there are many cultures that recognize the idea of marriage as "ties that bind." In some African nations, long grasses are braided and used to tie the hands of the bride and groom as a symbol of their union. In the Hindu Vedic wedding ceremony, delicate twine is employed to bind one of the bride's hands to one the groom's hands. In Mexico, the practice of placing a ceremonial rope loosely around the necks of the bride and groom is commonly used to "bind" them together

Associated with today's Hope Chest, it was formerly a tradition for the groom's family to pay a price to the bride's family for the woman. In return, the bride's family would provide the couple with a dowry of various items for the new home. As a bride planned for her future marriage, she would supplement this dowry with her own items that she had either collected or made (embroidered linens, for example). All items would be kept in a special Hope Chest built by the bride's father for the purpose of housing the dowry. The dowry is also sometimes referred to as the bride's "trousseau," which comes from the French word "trousse," meaning "bundle." Indeed, the trousseau originated as a bundle of clothing and personal possessions which the bride carried with her to her new home and which included all of the new items for the household, as well as for the bride herself.


Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue, and a Sixpence in Your Shoe

"Something old" represents the bride's link to her family and the past. The bride may choose to wear a piece of family jewellry or her mother or grandmother's wedding gown.

"Something new" represents hope for good fortune and success in the future. The bride often chooses the wedding gown to represent the new item.

"Something borrowed" usually comes from a happily married woman and is thought to lend some of her good fortune and joy to the new bride.

"A Silver Sixpence in Her Shoe" is varyingly said to wish the bride a wealth of happiness and joy, or to have originally been a love token from the groom. Today, it is often the Father-of-the-Bride who places a coin into her left shoe, before they leave for the ceremony. In the American adaptation, this line is frequently dropped or "a silver sixpence" is replaced by "a shiny new penny."


Betrothal Ring
In the early days of "marriage by purchase," the betrothal ring served a dual purpose, including partial payment for the bride and a symbol of the groom's honourable intentions. This later evolved into the engagement ring of modern times. The custom of fashioning the ring to contain a diamond originated in Medieval Italy and was once a lavish gift presented by Italian men to their sweethearts with the belief that a diamond is created only within the "flames of love."

The bridal shower originated with the intent to strengthen ties between the bride and her friends. During this gathering, the friends of the bride would offer her moral support and aid in the marriage preparations. The idea of a bridal shower with gifts is relatively new, apparently originating sometime in 1890s. One form of a bridal shower is to place small gifts inside a parasol and open it over the future bride's head. Thus, she would be "showered" with presents. It is believed that the first bridal shower was given to a poor couple in Holland who were denied the bridal dowry because of the groom's lowly status as a miller. Thus, the groom's friends "showered" the bride with gifts in order to aid the couple in setting up housekeeping.

Giving Away the Bride
The tradition of the father giving away his daughter has its roots in the days of arranged marriages. Daughters in those times were considered their father's property. It was the father's right to give his child to the groom, usually for a price. Today a father giving away his daughter is a symbol of his blessing of the marriage

Bride On Groom's Left
Since grooms in early Anglo-Saxon England often had to defend their brides during the wedding ceremony, the lady would stand to the left of her future husband so that his sword arm would be free. It was also customary for the groom to hold onto his bride with the left hand. Thus, by association, the bride's family and guests sit on the left side of the church.

Wedding Bouquet
Flowers are incorporated into the wedding ceremony as a symbol of fertility. The first bouquets consisted of herbs and, later, orange blossoms.


Wearing White
White has been a symbol of celebration since the Roman other words, for approximately 2,000 years. In Nineteenth Century Victorian times, white was considered a sign of affluence, it being assumed that a woman would only be able to wear a white dress one time...twice at most...before it became soiled. At the beginning of the Twentieth Century, white became synonymous with purity. Today, white once again is more representative of celebration and joy on the wedding day rather than purity and it is socially acceptable for women who are remarrying to wear any shade...from bright white to ecru to champagne. (See "Gown" for additional information.)

Bridal Wedding Gloves

The wearing of bridal wedding gloves dates as far back as the 18th century when ladies of high standing and well mannered women wore them not only for weddings, but as an every day necessity which formed part of their outfits. Traditionally, bridal wedding gloves were very much part of the brides wedding outfit, adding grace and sophistication

The white wedding dress was made popular by Anne of Brittany in 1499. Prior to that time and, in general, until the 1900s, a woman usually simply wore the best dress she had in her wardrobe. In ancient times, the traditional colour of bridal gowns would be red or some other bright colour. However, green was avoided in the choice of a bridal gown since it was considered unlucky. It was also was considered that a woman who wore green on her wedding day was one of loose morals...her dress would be grass-stained from rolling around in the fields. The choice of a white wedding gown increased in popularity when this colour was chosen by Queen Victoria for her own ceremonies and thus, broke the tradition of royals marrying in silver. A common misconception, however, is that the white wedding dress is indicative of the purity of the bride-to-be. White has never truly been accorded as a symbol of chastity, being regarded more as a symbol of joy. (See "Wearing White" for additional information.) Traditionally, the bride should never make her own dress and the final stitch should not be completed until she is departing for the church. In addition, it is considered unlucky for the bride to try on the entire outfit prior to the day (somewhat akin to the bride "counting her chickens"). For the same reason, a bride should never practice signing her new name until it is legally hers. In times gone by, wedding linen was always marked with the bride's maiden rather than married initials. In early Saxon times and even through the Eighteenth Century, the poorer bride attended her wedding dressed in a plain white robe. By nature of a public statement, this indicated that she brought nothing with her to the marriage and, therefore, her husband would not be responsible for her debts.

Originally, the bridal veil was associated with youth and virginity, enabling the bride to remain modest. Wearing of the bridal veil is one of the oldest marriage customs. In ancient Greece, the colour of the veil was yellow and in Ancient Rome, it was red, usually shrouding the bride from head to foot. Some sources consider this to have symbolized the subordination of woman to man and it is said that the thicker the modern day veil, then the more traditional the implication of wearing it. Since many marriages in former times were arranged, with the couple simply being informed that they were to marry, it was also customary that the groom rarely got to see the bride beforehand...seeing her face for the first time only when he lifted the veil after the wedding ceremony. The veil was once also used by brides as a means to ward off evil spirits, not to mention the jealous stare of an ill-wisher. It is also believed that lifting the veil may represent the bride's freedom from parental protection, originating from the canopy suspended over the bride in Anglo-Saxon times which was removed once the marriage ceremony was complete. Even in the modern world, in Muslim countries in the Middle East, Africa and Eastern Europe, a young man is bound by constraints of religious modesty to conduct his entire courtship while his bride-to-be remains veiled, not being permitted to see her face until after the wedding ceremony. The bridal veil itself may have been introduced into Europe by returning Crusaders. The veil became fashionable in the United States when Nelly Curtis wore one at her wedding to George Washington's aide, Major Lawrence Lewis. Perceiving his future bride standing behind a filmy curtain, Major Lewis commented to her how beautiful she appeared...she then decided to veil herself for the wedding ceremony.

The bride carrying a handkerchief down the aisle is not a particularly popular wedding custom, but is considered to be a good omen. Early farmers believed that the tears of a bride on her wedding day were lucky and brought rain for the crops. A similar good luck association involved the tears of a child during the wedding ceremony. In later years, it was thought that a bride who cried at her wedding would never shed another tear throughout her marriage.

Horseshoes have long been regarded as a symbol of good luck. The Romans believed that the "U" shape afforded protection from evil. Some sources also state that the shape is representative of the Moon and is a fertility symbol. Its silver colour was also once believed to keep away witches. The luckiest horseshoe to give to a bride comes from the near hind foot of a grey mare. To be most effective, it is said that the horseshoe should be hung by ribbons which are attached to the shoulders. A horseshoe should never be turned upside down or all the good luck of the marriage is likely to fall out.

The tradition of ending the wedding ceremony with a kiss originates from Ancient Roman days when a kiss was a legal bond which sealed contracts and thus, the betrothal. Christianity incorporated the betrothal ceremony into the marriage ritual. It was also once believed that when the couple kissed, part of each of their souls was left behind in the other when their breath was exchanged. By occurring at the end of the ceremony, the kiss announces a new life status.

Also known as the "Dorothy Bag," "Dolly Bag" or "Dilly Bag," the wedding purse originally contained confetti (or other symbols of fertility) and was carried by the bridesmaids. Today, the wedding purse is used chiefly as a convenient accessory to carry some of the bride's personal effects.

Tossing the Bouquet
Tossing the bouquet is a tradition that stems from England. Women used to try to rip pieces of the bride's dress and flowers in order to obtain some of her good luck. To escape from the crowd the bride would toss her bouquet and run away. Today the bouquet is tossed to single women with the belief that whoever catches it will be the next to marry.

Garter Toss
This is one of the oldest surviving wedding traditions. Originally, a man would present his beloved with a garter and her acceptance denoted a guaranteed faithfulness. In the Fourteenth Century, it was customary for the bride to toss her garter to the men in the bridal party. However, it was not usual for the men (who had often consumed more alcohol than was good for them) to become impatient and attempt to take the garter from the bride ahead of time. This is believed to be one of the reasons behind today's tossing of the bouquet...since it was less trouble for the bride to throw her flowers rather than her garter. The garter toss was originally known as "flinging the stocking," an ancient and bawdy ritual, particularly popular in Britain, during which guests would invade the bridal chamber. The ushers, seated at the foot of the bed, would seize the stockings of the bride, the bridesmaids and the groom, taking turns to "fling" the stockings over the heads of the couple.

It is good luck for the fully-attired bride to glance in her mirror just once prior to leaving for her wedding...but it is bad luck for the bride to look in the mirror after she has left the bedroom to commence the journey to the ceremony. The bride should throw away every pin when removing her dress and veil...not to do so encourages bad luck. It is bad luck for the groom to see the bride in her wedding gown prior to the marriage ceremony and such bad luck increases if the groom happens to glance at the dress while the bride is walking down the aisle. It is good luck for the bride to throw her wedding bouquet backward over her shoulder toward the guests when she leaves for her honeymoon. The first of the couple to make a purchase after the wedding is said to be the domineering partner and many modern day brides ensure that they make the first purchase by arranging to buy a small item (such as a pin) from the chief bridesmaid immediately after the ceremony when the bride is changing into her traveling costume. It is considered to be unlucky for a woman to marry a man whose surname begins with the same letter as her own. To ensure good luck, the groom should give a coin to the first person he sees on his journey to the wedding ceremony.


The bride was once carried across the threshold so that she might be protected from any evil spirits lurking beneath the threshold. Since it was also necessary for the bride to avoid tripping or falling (signs of bad luck), transportation by the groom of his new bride in this manner ensured the safety and happiness of the couple's new life together. If however, the bride chooses to cross the threshold without being carried, then she should step in with her right foot...not her order to ensure good luck. Tradition also dictates that a bride should enter her new home by the main door.


Wedding Plans