Sunday, December 6, 2015

History of the Wedding Contracts

While stories of star-struck lovers getting married make for good tales, historically marriage had little to do with love. In ancient times, marriage was more like a business deal. According to Stephanie Coontz, the author of Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage, "It was a way of getting in-laws, of making alliances and expanding the family labor force."

First Recorded Marriage Contracts

Marriage is an ancient institution with the first recorded evidence of marriage contracts and ceremonies dating back 4,000 years in Mesopotamia. It was an institution that primarily regulated property rights and political privileges and contracts reflected that. In that ancient world marriage primarily served to preserve power. 

Kings and others of the ruling class married off daughters to build alliances, acquire land, and produce legitimate heirs. These deals were basically business mergers, the forging of military coalitions, or the finalizing of peace treaties. It was seen as a way to build strategic alliances between families. Those getting married often had no say in the matter even in marriages between the lower class. In those cases, the purpose of marriage was to choose a marriage partner with a good work ethic, strength, skills and robust health – and to produce heirs. If they had adjoining plots of land that was a real bonus.

Marriage Played Role Banks and Markets Fill Today

For most of history love played no part in marriage because it was considered too serious a matter to be based on such a frail emotion. In ancient Mesopotamia arranged marriages were the standard. Often the bride and groom had never even met. In some cases bridal auctions were held and women were sold to the highest bidder. Economically, marriage filled the role that banks and markets do today. It organized and transferred property and gave individuals access to new workers for the family business.

This is also where the dowry came into play. Until the late eighteenth century, the marriage dowry was the largest amount of cash or movable goods a man would acquire in his lifetime. As a result, men were often more interested in the dowry than the bride.

The "widow's third" was a part of the marriage contract that guaranteed European women that upon their husband's death she would be provided for.
Babylonian Bridal Auction

I'm not saying love was never part of marriage in ancient times, it just wasn't the norm and was definitely not necessary. Until the late 18th century, parents had the right to arrange their children's marriages and could dissolve a marriage if it happened without their permission.

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Photo credits: wikipedia, amazon, wikipedia

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Jumping the Broom

Jumping the broom is an historical ritual with Celtic roots. Like many traditions, exactly how and where it started is brought into question. Some say it started with the Romani Gypsy people living in Wales and others say it originated with the Welsh people themselves. Today variations of this ritual are practiced by Welsh, Celtics and Druids as well as the nomadic Romani. In fact, the earliest mention of this tradition is tied to the Romani and dates back to the 18th century. Today, common-law broomstick weddings are still practiced in some parts of Wales as a centuries-old custom called priodas coes ysgub.

Along with this heritage, some say jumping the broom comes from an African marriage ritual which was practiced in the U.S. during the days of slavery when blacks weren't allowed to marry. However, others attribute this as a practice taken from the whites. Either way, secret ceremonies were held as black couples committed themselves to each other by stepping over a broomstick in front of family and friends.

Now the tradition is practiced as a folk tradition in various parts of the world from Eastern Europe to the Americas.

A Besom Broom Used for Broom Jumping

The type of broom used in these ceremonies was besom brooms constructed by tying twigs or straw together against a strong rod or stick. Back in the 18th century, brooms were found just inside the door to every home with bristles up to ward off evil spirits and to protect the home and all who lived there. Sometimes it was hung over the door with the bristles facing opening of the door for good luck. It was considered one of the first lines of defense for the homemaker.

Today, jumping the broom is thought to represent the couple entering a new life together, and sweeping away their single lives including former problems and concerns.

Jumping the Broom Variations

While we can dispute where and how jumping the broom started, I'd rather focus on variations of the practice as wedding planners have started to include the custom today. Jumping the broom can take place at the church, the reception, the couples' new home, and is often included in neo-pagan unions, too.

  • Place the broom at an angle by the rear door of the church. 
  • Groom jumps first, followed by the bride.
  • Broom laid on floor and couple jumps over it hand-in-hand as high as they can.
  • Broom laid in the entryway to the new home with bride and groom taking turns jumping over it. (Another variation of this one is for the groom to carry his bride over the broom into their new home.)

Another old custom involves the couple jumping over a crossed broom and sword held by the best man and the maid of honor. This practice represents cutting of ties to parents and the ties being swept away as the couple crosses a new threshold to start a new life together.

Some who want to eliminate the broom because of its Wiccan associations may choose to step over a sword instead of a broom.

Photo credits: wikipedia, wikimedia

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

German Bridal Cup Tradition

The legend of the Nurnberg Bridal Cup is centuries old. It is said to have started in Nurnberg, Germany, where a wealthy nobleman lived with his daughter, the Mistress Kunigunde. She fell in love with a young goldsmith who was an ambitious sort. The wealthy nobleman didn't approve of the relationship and he and his daughter were at odds, for her heart was set on the goldsmith and no other for her husband. As a result, one by one she refused many rich suitors who asked for her hand in marriage.

The daughter's behavior enraged her father and so he had the young goldsmith thrown into the darkest dungeon. His daughter cried and cried, but he would not be swayed by her tears. To the nobleman's dismay, imprisoning the young goldsmith in the dark dungeon did not stay her love for the young man. Her broken heart started to show in her pale pallor which grew worse day by day.

Finally, at his wits end, the nobleman reluctantly came up with a proposal. He said, "If your goldsmith can make a chalice from which two people can drink at the same time without spilling a single drop, I will free him and you shall become his bride."

Of course when he thought up the challenge, he thought it an impossible task, but the young goldsmith was motivated by love. He mustered all his skill and crafted a masterpiece. He sculpted a young maiden with a smile as beautiful as that of Mistress Kunigunde. The skirt worn by this damsel was hollow and served as one cup. The second was a bucket which the girl carried over head with extended arms. It was crafted to swivel and so two people could drink from the cup without spilling a drop.

The goldsmith met the challenge. He and the nobleman's daughter were joined in marriage and were said to drink from the romantic bridal cup. Today the bridal cup remains a prized wedding tradition with the cup a symbol of good luck, love and faithfulness.

Photo credits: Amazon

Sunday, October 25, 2015

History of Flower Girls

Today, flower girls are a pretty standard (but precious) part of most wedding parties. Some brides choose to have one flower girl, while others may have several. They are an adorable wedding tradition, but have you ever wondered about the history of flower girls? Like many wedding traditions the origins are not 100 percent certain. Some sources say the origin of flower girls goes back centuries to Ancient Rome while others suggest the tradition got its start in Britain.

Ancient Rome Flower Girls Didn't Carry Flowers

The tie to ancient Rome goes back to young attendants who carried sheaves of wheat and herbs to ensure blessings of prosperity and fertility to the married couple. By the Medieval times, it was bouquets of garlic which were believed to ward off evil spirits.

Elizabethan Era Flower Girls

It was during the Elizabethan Era that the tradition of scattering flower petals came into practice.  At that time, brides followed a path of petals from their house to the church. To create this path, flower girls followed musicians in a wedding procession and carried a gold-plated rosemary branch and a silver cup adorned with ribbons and filled with flower petals and rosemary sprigs. This cup was known as the bride's cup, and the petals were considered a symbol of fertility and thought to give the couple good luck.

Victorian Era Flower Girls

In the Victorian era flower girl looked more like the flower girls of today. They were young and innocent and dressed in a simple white dress which was sometimes adorned with a colored sash made of satin or silk. She carried a gorgeously decorated basket filled fresh blooms or wore a floral hoop on her head. The circular shape of the hoop was symbolic of true love which has no end -- the same meaning bestowed on wedding rings.

In Western Europe, the tradition of including children as attendants in weddings also included a ring bearer and often included other attendants in the wedding party, too. Many royal and society weddings still follow this tradition today with two or more flower girls.

Friday, October 9, 2015

History of Wedding Cake Toppers

If I say wedding cake topper, what do you picture? It might be a miniature bride and groom, wedding bells or some other similar ornamentation with a wedding theme. While the history of wedding cakes dates back to the Roman Empire, it was nothing like wedding cakes as we know them today. Instead they were unsweetened loaves of bread which were crumbled over the bride for good luck. And wedding cake toppers as we know them haven't been around all that long either. They became a growing trend with middle class and affluent American families before the American Civil War. By the 1890s, they were quite common.

Those original wedding cake toppers weren't anything extravagant. Cakes were decorated with things like flowers, bells, or other small objects related to the bride and groom. Often these toppers were handmade by a family member or a professional wedding cake baker using frosting, icing, or non-edible materials like plaster of Paris.

Wedding Cake Toppers Popular After World War I

Decorative cake toppers grew more popular after World War I. It was in the Roaring 20s that High Society in the U.S. adopted the custom of using figurines of the bride and groom atop the wedding cake. Popularity of this tradition grew quickly after Emily Post, American etiquette expert, mentioned them in her 1922 best seller that said, "wedding cake is an essential of every wedding reception," and went on to comment on the placement of the bride and groom figurines in the description of a beautifully decorated cake. In the early 1900s wedding cake toppers were made from glass, paper, or wood until they started being commercially made.

First Commercially Made Wedding Cake Toppers

Along with this, American retailers like Sears & Roebuck started to market and sell cake toppers showcasing a bride and groom. By 1924 you could find an assortment of two-inch tall bride and groom toppers made from wax and featuring differences like groom without a hat or wearing a top hat. The bride could be purchased without a veil or wearing a cloth veil. By 1927, the Sears catalog had an entire page devoted to wedding cake ornaments.

With their growing popularity, wedding cake toppers started to be mass produced commercially in the U.S., Europe and Asia. They were available in the usual bride and groom side-by-side pose along with a selection of alternative poses. And during or following the War, the groom was sometimes depicted wearing a military uniform. Along with this, groom figurines could also be purchased a wearing police or fireman uniform, too.

Aside from bride and groom figurines, today we have toppers like cupids, hearts, love birds and sometimes even a framed picture of the couple. The tradition of adding a decorative ornament topper to the wedding cake has been joined with the tradition of removing and saving the memento as well as freezing the top layer of the cake to be eaten by the bride and groom on their first anniversary.

Photo credits: Vintage Wedding Cake Topper, Fancy Flowers, futuremrsbeede

Friday, October 2, 2015

Historical Roles of Best Man and Bridesmaids

Most wedding traditions we practice today stem from unexpected origins. For instance, the wedding party of today is nothing like a couple hundred centuries ago when the original role of the "best man" wasn't to throw a bachelor party, hold on to the ring, give a speech or make the wedding toast. His duty was actually to serve as armed backup for the groom just in case he was forced to kidnap his intended bride from disapproving parents. Even the word "best" didn't necessarily mean best friend. It meant he was best with a sword in case it was needed.

Best man was chosen because he was "best" with a sword.

History of Best Man

Bride kidnapping
Origins of the best man tradition is thought to be Germanic Goth stemming from a time when men were expected to take a bride from within the community. With an inadequate supply of local women, eligible bachelors were forced to seek out and capture a bride from a neighboring community. This practice is linked to the reason the bride stands to the left of the groom during the wedding ceremony to this day. You see, the groom had to keep his right hand free for defense.

Original Duties of the Best Man

  • The best man stood guard beside the groom until the wedding vows were exchanged.
  • After the wedding, he stood outside the newlyweds' bed chamber door as a guard of sorts and stood watch in case anyone decided to attack.
  • He was also in place in the event that the bride decided she wanted to run.

History of Bridesmaids

As for bridesmaids, historically they wore dresses similar to that of the bride, so that as the group approached the church it would be difficult for any evil spirits or former beaus to spot the bride. Evil spirits were also the reason the bride wore a veil to hide from those spirits waiting to steal away her happiness. But having the bridesmaids dress similarly to the bride made it more difficult for possible kidnappers or those planning to throw rocks. 

Bridesmaids wore dresses similar to the bride.
The same held true for the men. They wore matching suits to save the groom from curses, rocks or kidnapping, too.

As for the Maid of Honor, she was responsible for making all the wedding decorations and putting them up herself.

Photo credits: wikimedia, wikimedia, wikimedia

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

History of the Wedding Toast

Have you ever wondered about the origins of the wedding toast? Before we look at that specifically, it helps to understand the history of toasting. One tradition says it goes back to the 6th century B.C. when people toasted to a friend's health to assure them the wine wasn't poisoned as glasses clinked and wine splashed from one glass to the other. While this bit of history has been verbally handed down, there is no real evidence to support it that I know of.

Toasting: Where Did It Start?

The origins of toasting can however, be traced back to most ancient societies in the form of raising their cup as a drink offering to their god(s), but there is also evidence that the ancient Greeks drank to each other's health which can be seen in The Odyssey when Ulysses drank to Achilles health.
Some used toasting as an excuse to drink excessive amounts of alcohol.

The ancient Romans also practiced toasting to health and it became such an important part of their culture that at one time the Senate passed a decree that everyone was required to drink to the Emperor Augustus at every meal. We see this tradition again in literature in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire when it depicts a feast where Attila the Hun practices at least three toasts for every course.

Why It's Called Making a Toast

The actual term "toast" originated back in the 16th century, with one of the first written accounts using the word found in Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor when the character Falstaff says "Go fetch me a quart of sack; put a toast in't." You guessed it. They actually put a piece of toasted bread in the wine, and that is how we came to label this practice a "toast." It was thought the toasted bread would help soak up some of the acidity, and it was also a way to make a piece of stale bread edible. So over the next centuries the term toasting gradually incorporated traditional libations and the honoring of people. The person being honored often received the saturated piece of toast. 


By the 17th and 18th centuries the practice was so popular that Toastmasters came on the scene to ensure that the toasting didn't become too excessive and that everyone got their turn, because some people felt the need to toast every person in a room as an excuse to drink large amounts of alcohol! Today's toasting etiquette has changed the toasting practice to sipping rather than guzzling.

Origins of the Wedding Toast

This brings us to the origins of the wedding toast and ancient times when neighbors were at war with one another. Many times the wars ended in a truce that brought the leaders' children together in marriage. At the banquet celebration, the bride's father drank from the communal wine pitcher first (again to show it wasn't poisoned). And this is where the tradition of the wedding toast began.

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Personalized Wedding Toast Champagne Flutes

Photo credits: Wikimedia, wikimedia, wikipedia

Monday, September 28, 2015

Bride 11th in Family to Wear 1895 Heirloom Dress

Today we have all kinds of ways to preserve our wedding dress for future generations, but what about those who plan to wear an heirloom wedding dress? They're not always in the best shape so what can you do? Recently, Abigail Kingston,30, planned to wear an heirloom dress that's been in her family for 120 years. It was first worn by the bride's great-great-grandmother, and since has been passed from one family member to another 10 previous times. It holds extra special sentimental value to Kingston because it was also her mother's wedding dress.

Kingston's first task was to track the dress down. Her mother told her, "The mother-of-the-last-bride has always been the keeper of the dress." They tracked it down, and the fourth bride to wear the dress (1960) shipped the gown. But when it arrived, and Kingston lifted it from the box, she worried that it might be a lost cause.

Over the 120 years since the silk/satin dress was first worn in 1895, it had been worn by brides of different sizes and was last worn in 1991. When Kingston retrieved the dress it was in less than ideal condition. According to the Pennsylvania news site Lehigh Valley Live "The sleeves were disintegrating, the dress was filled with holes and the satin had turned an unattractive brown. And when the tall, thin bride tried on the dress, it was so short it was a crop top."

Kingston turned to bridal designer Deborah LoPresti's salon, who after 200 hours of alterations, changing the color, and adding new sleeves were able to fix the dress in time for Kingston's October wedding.

The dress is beautifully restored, but because of its fragility, the bride has opted to wear a different gown for the outdoor ceremony, but she will be wearing her grandmother's locket and her great-grandmother's ring. She plans to change into the heirloom dress for cocktail hour.

The bride's mother said, "It is a magical wedding dress because she is the 11th bride to wear it, Who would think anything would last that long?"

Photo credit: Golgol Nokk

Saturday, September 26, 2015

10 Wedding Traditions and Superstitions for Good Luck

Threads of superstitions are entwined within many of the wedding traditions in America surrounding weddings. Why else do we say, the groom shouldn't see the bride before the wedding, or wear something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue? Or that rain on your wedding day is thought to bring good luck? It turns out many wedding traditions are tied to good luck or avoiding bad luck. Here's a look at where they come from.

Something Borrowed Something Blue

Why Carry the Bride Over Threshold?

Carrying the bride over the threshold is a popular tradition thought to bring luck to the new couple's union. But it didn't start out that way. This tradition started in ancient Rome where the bride had to show that she didn't want to leave her father's home, and so she was dragged across the threshold into the groom's home. This combined with the ancient belief that evil spirits hovered at the threshold to the new home waiting to curse the couple, started the practice of carrying the bride over the threshold so the spirits couldn't enter her body through the soles of her feet. It was a way to turn a "curse" into a "blessing" or bad luck into good. (Though it does leave one wondering whey they didn't worry about the spirits entering the groom).

Spider on your wedding dress? Don't freak out. It's good luck.

9 More Wedding Traditions for Luck

  1. Other superstitions thought to bring luck included the bride placing a cube of sugar in her glove on her wedding day to sweeten the union. (I wonder if eating sugar on your wedding day could work? I mean just eat some wedding cake, right?)
  2. And if you see a spider on your wedding dress, celebrate! That's supposed to mean good luck! (Uh, yeah, good luck with that. If I see a spider it's never good. I'd rather go with the superstition that a lady bug brings good luck).
  3. According to English tradition and lore, when it comes to luck the best day of the week to get married is Wednesday and the worse day is Saturday. (Maybe that explains the high divorce rate these days! Saturday is now the most popular day to tie the knot).
  4. And on the gross side of traditions, the ancient Romans studied pig entrails to decide the luckiest time to marry.
  5. Throwing oats, grains, dried corn, (for Czech newlyweds it was peas), and eventually why we throw rice or birdseed, was meant to shower the couple with good fortune, prosperity, and fertility.
  6. Egyptian brides are pinched for good luck.
  7. Middle Eastern brides paint their hands and feet with henna (a beautiful tradition) thought to protect from the evil eye.
  8. A Swedish wedding tradition includes coins in shoes. The bride slips a silver coin from her father in one shoe and a gold coin from her mother in the other. This is to ensure she will never have to do without.
  9. In Holland, a pine tree is planted outside the home of the newly married couple as a symbol of luck and fertility.
Many of these wedding are now practiced in America and now you know where they come from. Do you have a wedding tradition you'd like to know more about? If so let me know.

Some links in this post are affiliate links. We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliate sites.

Thanks so much for being part of our success.

Photo credits: pexels, wikimedia

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Gimmel Rings

The origin of gimmel rings (also known as gimmal or puzzle rings) is not certain, but they began to appear in the 1600s with designs like clasped hands incorporated into interlocking rings. If a third ring was added to the puzzle, it often bore a heart which fit into the clasped hands, very similar to Ireland's claddagh ring. However, gimmel rings were most popular in Germany and England in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Lore Behind Gimmel Rings
The lore surrounding the ring is that in ancient times, a Turkish nobleman who loved his wife very much wanted to be sure she remained true to him while he was away. He asked the local jeweler to fashion a puzzle ring that would fall apart if it was removed,. It is said he gave her the ring but wouldn't tell her the solution. For this reason, this puzzle ring is also known as a Turkish wedding band even though the Turkish people don't wear puzzle rings as a wedding ring.

Heart-shaped gemstones were often incorporated in the design and split between two rings so when the two rings were joined they formed a complete heart. Apart, the two rings allowed the bride and groom to each wear a piece of the other's heart, until they were wed. Gemstones were also fashioned in a variety of traditional gemstone cuts, but simpler ring designs were also popular and bore engravings. For instance, Martin Luther wore a gimmel ring in his engagement to Catherine Bora in 1525. It read, "Whom God has joined together, Let no man put asunder."

Gimmel rings created by two interlocking rings provided a ring for bride and one for the groom as a sign that they were betrothed. When they took their vows they fit the two rings together to form a wedding band for the new bride.

Some rings were made up of three interlocking rings. In that case, one was worn by the bride, one by the groom, and the third by a witness – what we'd call a best man today. When a witness was involved, it became more than an engagement. It represented a contract. The witness would be present when the wedding vows were exchanged and then all three rings were joined to form a wedding band for the bride to wear.

Over the last few years, the puzzle ring has re-surged in popularity in North America and is even available as four interlocking bands.

Photo credits: amazon

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Why Do Brides Wear a Veil?

When you stop and think about all the wedding related trappings, have you ever asked why? Many traditions associated with wedding practices and apparel go back to superstitions, and when it comes to the bridal veil it is no different.
Princess Beatrice in her wedding dress, Osborne, 1885

Bridal Veil Tradition

Bridal veil history can be traced back to Rome. This custom of veiling the bride was originally meant to disguise her from evil spirits as she walked down the aisle. Why would evil spirits even care about the bride? It was thought that they would be jealous of her happiness. So the original purpose of the bridal veil was to protect the bride who was thought to be vulnerable to enchantment.

But the original wedding veil wasn't white, it was flame red. Even the color was connected to superstition. According to the belief system of that culture, not only did the veil hid the bride from the evil spirits, but the color of the veil was thought to actually scare them off. This explains why traditionally the bride wears her wedding veil over her face.

Arranged marriage.

Lifting the Wedding Veil

Over time, of course, beliefs changed and new meanings were attached to the veil. Today some brides:

  • Have the groom lift their veil
  • Have their father lift the veil when he gives the bride away
  • Go through the entire ceremony with their face covered until the father lifts the veil so the groom can kiss his new wife. 

In today's wedding tradition, brides can feel free to walk the aisle with their veil drawn back, or not to even wear a veil at all.

Other Reasons Brides Wore a Veil

Some suggest that back in the days of arranged marriages the veil hid the face of the bride from the groom until they were married in case he didn't like how his bride looked. This way everyone would be saved the embarrassment of the groom's disappointment.
Beyond the evil spirit superstitions, veils were also considered a sign of humility and respect for God. However, during Victorian times, it became just the opposite. It became a status symbol, with the weight, length and quality of the veil a sign of the bride's status. Back then, Royal brides had the longest veils. Even in modern times I remember Princess Diana's wedding veil was 24 feet long.

Today, brides walk the aisle without worrying about evil spirits, and grooms already know what their brides look like, so for those who choose to wear them, the bridal veil tradition is more of a finishing touch to the bride's ensemble. However, many cultures never embraced wedding veils.

Some links in this post are affiliate links. We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliate sites.

Thanks so much for being part of our success.
Photo credits: Wikimedia, wikimedia