As anyone who has ever planned or attended a wedding knows, there are many elements that people include without thinking twice about them. Unless a wedding is completely bucking tradition, things like bridesmaids' dresses and bouquets are standard parts of the affair that help create a romantic scene. Romance, though, wasn't exactly the reason why these nice little wedding staples came into being.
For many, many years, love was not necessarily the basis of marriage, which means that a crap ton of wedding traditions have ulterior motives. Here are 16 examples of wedding traditions that sound much less cute when you know the story behind them (unless you think evil spirits sound nice).
1. The wedding ring.
The tradition of the ring came about for a few reasons. At one point, wedding rings were made of things like grass, with the purpose of warding off bad spirits. Obviously, grass doesn't last long, thus prompting a switch to more permanent materials that doubled as symbol of love/ownership. Mostly ownership. Much like today, rings were a status symbol even back in Ancient Egypt.
2. The engagement ring.
In the 13th century, Pope Innocent III (what a name) decreed that his people must observe a period of waiting between betrothal and marriage, which led to women sporting engagement rings so men would know they were unavailable and to stop hitting on them (as if that ever worked).
3. Left hand, third finger.
The third finger on the left hand is the finger people check to see if that cute guy at the bar is single all because of an Egyptian belief that the finger had a vein running straight to the heart. In Medieval times, people thought of the third finger as following in the Holy Trinity (thumb=Father, index finger=Son, middle finger=Holy Ghost).
4. The word "bride."
The term bride comes from the Proto-Germanic "bruthiz," which means a married woman. Breaking it down further, the root "bru" boils down to "to cook, brew, make broth." Marriage is literally rooted in sexism, associating women with cooking.
5. The job of groomsmen.
In less civil days long before modern inventions like Tinder, marriage by kidnapping was a thing. In fact, this is one potential source of the wedding ring, in that the ring may have begun as an imitation of chains and fetters.
That's too depressing, so just acknowledge the fact that groomsmen used to serve as quasi-knights. They'd help kidnap a bride and defend her from other suitors/people who wanted her back, like her family. The best man was, of course, the best man at stabbing suitors.
6. Bride: left, groom: right.
In a follow-up to that whole "I kidnapped you, let's get married" thing, grooms started standing to the right of brides in order to leave their right hands free. Because right hands were sword hands, and swords are good for fending off suitors.
7. Bouquets and boutonnieres (those flowers on suit jackets).
Bouquets are a now a necessary part of weddings because they're pretty and flowers are helpful for masking the scent of fear sweat. Back in the day, brides and those in the wedding party held things like garlic and herbs in an effort to ward off evil spirits.
It wasn't until the 19th century that brides were more keen on carrying actual flowers, which to this day are still meant to symbolize various things like fertility and love. Tossing the bouquet grew from the good luck connected to the herbs/flowers. Over time, good luck came to mean getting married next, which is oddly regressive.
8. Something old, something new.
The old rhyme demanding that a bride wear something old, new, borrowed, and blue comes from an English rhyme that included all of the above in addition to sporting a sixpence in her shoe. The blue relates to virtue, a symbol deriving from the Virgin Mary. The other four aspects promote continuity and future good luck. Another, more fun explanation is that the new and old combat evil spirits (so many uninvited evil spirits want to crash weddings), while the borrowed object protects against infertility.
9. The wedding party's outfits.
Developing from the role of witnesses in Roman times, groomsmen and bridesmaids dress like the bride and groom to confuse evil spirits. Those darn evil spirits are always trying to get in the way. The thinking was that the similar costumes would confuse anyone who might want to curse the lucky couple.
10. Avoiding each other before the wedding ceremony.
There are a few notions behind this superstition. Let's go from least to most interesting. One idea is that brides didn't see their fiancés that often before marriage (because arranged marriages). Forgoing a peek at the bride made it harder to decide you hate that person and don't want to marry them. Plus, unveiling the bride's face at the very last second is dramatic.
Marriage is also a symbol of a new life, so a bride seeing the groom mixes the old and new, which taints the purity of the bride. Even the bride taking at look at herself is somewhat taboo, thus showing that everything about this superstition is silly because what bride doesn't want to look at herself?
11. The bridal veil.
Bridal veils are so functional. For some cultures, like in Ancient Rome, veils were later used as burial shrouds. In other places, they had the obvious use of hiding a bride's face in an arranged marriage. Veils are also good for hiding a bride from, yup, evil spirits.
12. The wedding cake.
Dating back to the good old Roman times, wedding cakes were about more than the sugar high. Wheat and barley symbolized fertility. To send the couple on their merry way of procreating, guests would crumble up cake and toss it on the bride's head, thereby totally ruining her hair. The couple would also eat some too, so it wasn't all a waste.
13. Tossing the garter.
When marriage was more heavily tied to the idea of property ownership, making sure a lady was pure before banging her husband was important. So, checking a woman's stockings post-mating was a good way of making sure the deed was done.
Then there was a separate tradition of wedding guests tearing off a piece of the bride's outfit for good luck for themselves, which makes sense because if she's gotten hitched, a bride has made it past many evil spirits. Over time, these activities turned into a bride throwing her garter.
14. Carrying the bride into the home.
Evil spirits. Turns out being carried over an entrance is a great way to avoid those pesky spirits.
15. Shoes hanging off the getaway vehicle.
As any person who has rocked a nice pair of heels knows, shoes are power. In ancient times, shoes were widely seen as representing power, and a symbolic passing of the bride's shoes to her new husband by her father represented a shift in ownership. Later, in Tudor times, people started throwing shoes at the couple for good luck.
Since that was a crappy tradition, it evolved so that shoes were tied to the backs of the car that the couple left the reception in. Bonus: shoes make noise, which evil spirits don't like. That also explains the popularity of cans on the back of cars. And loud noises are fun at parties.
16. The honeymoon.
Evil spirits. Actually, no, honeymoons relate to that other thing marriages were all about: kidnapping. Honeymoons were a great time to get to know that lady you just kidnapped, and stash her away from anyone trying to find her.
Even if you didn't steal your bride, honeymoons were—and still are—a chance to get drunk and loosen up sexually in order to make some babies.