We kind of love the tradition of weddings. After decades of being exposed to grand, glamorous weddings in films, books and television we build an idea in our heads about what the ideal wedding will look like, down to the walking down the aisle, exchanging rings and throwing the bouquet.
What we don’t often think about is why some of the more innocent little gestures in the ceremony are there. Where some of them come from is downright bonkers.
Bridesmaids used to be expected to fight
Before bridesmaid was a by-word for feigning enthusiasm about a bad dress to keep your best friend happy, bridesmaids had a tougher gig. They dressed identically to the bride to confuse evil spirits, and in the Roman era were happy to jump in and deal with any rival lovers trying to stop the wedding or pinch the bride’s dowry on the way to ceremony.
Stag nights started off in Sparta
The original raucous boys-only party the day before the wedding comes from the Spartans, although they would water down the wine a bit to avoid being completely useless on the day of the wedding.
Brides used to get covered in cake
Only, the cake was bread. The groom would eat a morsel of the bread then break it over the bride’s head. Over time iced cakes became symbols of luxury and cutting the cake replaced the ancient Roman tradition.
Oh, and the best man was expected to fight too
Ever wondered why they’re called the best man? It wasn’t because of their sparkling personalities. The fittest, strongest men were recruited to kidnap brides, deliver them to the wedding and, if called upon, fight off any rivals or enraged fathers.
The white wedding dress was an act of rebellion
Before the irrepressible Queen Victoria bucked the trend with a bright white lacy number, brides usually wore red, or just their favourite dress. The white was originally meant to represent wealth, although over time this was twisted into purity.
The honeymoon was very different
Remember all that kidnapping and fighting from earlier? Not only was the honeymoon a chance for the husband and bride to spend some time in isolation and intimacy, it was a chance for the newlyweds to hide from any angry fathers or jealous rivals.
Rings were a symbol of ownership
Before it was common for couples to exchange rings, wedding rings were a symbol of ownership and made up part of a dowry.
Tossing bouquets and garters were meant to distract a mob
In the 14th century it was common for a baying crowd of guests to try and grab bits of the wedding dress for good luck, meaning a bride might not escape the ceremony with her modesty intact. Throwing bits of clothing to the guests to fight over allowed her precious seconds to escape.
Brides were quite literally given away
Today a father walking the bride down the aisle to give her away is a more symbolic gesture to honour a bride’s father, but it originated in treating brides as property to be given away to settle debts or build alliances between families.
So even if your wedding goes a bit awry, just remember it could be worse. As in kidnapped by someone who showers you in breadcrumbs while a strange man fights your boyfriend. Or your dad selling you like a used car to get more influence in parliament.