Wedding Traditions

Wedding “sayings” are steeped in tradition, customs and folklore, based on superstition, symbolism, and religion. The exact origin may be unknown. Today, however, every bride is told, “You must wear something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue.” Here are some of the meanings of “why we do what we do” at engagements, wedding ceremonies and wedding receptions.


Webster describes wedding as: A wedding ceremony with its accompanying festivities: Nuptials.   Engagement: A pledge.  Wedding Reception - Festivities following a wedding ceremony.


“Proposing on one knee” dates back to the day of knighthood and chivalry.

Engagement ring:

“Engagement ring” dates back to Anglo Saxon history, when the gift of a ring became a token of promised love.  The circular band became a symbol of eternal love and unity.  Later the diamond was added as a sign of the strength of never-ending love. 

Asking for the bride's "hand in marriage":

“Asking for the bride’s “hand in marriage” comes from a Roman custom called “joining of hands.”  In a symbolic purchase, the groom gave the bride’s father a coin, and the bride would then be passed from her father’s “hand” to her husband’s. 

Best man:

“Best man” has its origin with the Germanic Goths, when it was customary for a man to marry a woman from within his own community.  When there was a shortage of woman “locally,” eligible bachelors would have to seek out and capture a bride from a neighboring community.  The future bridegroom would select only the “best man” he knew to come along for such an important task. 

Bride standing to the left of the groom:

“Bride stands to the left of the groom” – to protect her, keeping his right hand free for defense, should there be an attempt to capture his bride.

Bridesmaids and ushers:

“Bridesmaids and ushers” date back to Roman law which prescribed that ten witnesses be present at a wedding to fool evil spirits from causing mischief and disharmony.  The bridesmaids and ushers were instructed to dress identical to the bride and groom, in order to confuse evil spirits, as to who was actually getting married.

Bridal gown:

“The Bridal gown” has always been a symbol of purity.  The concept of a white wedding gown dates back to Queen Victoria.  Today’s modern wedding gowns date back to Empress Eugenie, the bride of Napoleon III.  She wore what was to become worldwide style.

Bridal bouquet:

“The Bridal bouquet’s” earliest beginning was fragrant herbs, used to ward off evil spirits.  The bouquet actually started as a garland of fresh herbs worn in the bride’s hair with the Greeks and Romans.  In Victorian times, the flowers in a bride’s bouquet carried messages, because each flower had a special meaning.

Bride tossing her bouquet:

“The Bride tossing her bouquet” is said to have started in the 14th century, when it was considered good luck to get a piece of the bride’s clothing by tearing a piece of the dress. Today, the bride tosses her bouquet to single women at the wedding.

Groom removings the bride's garter:

“The groom removes the bride’s garter” and tosses it to the single men attending the wedding.  The man catching the garter is then to place it on the leg of the woman catching the bouquet- symbolizing that each will be the next to marry.

Groom's Boutonniere:

“The Groom’s Boutonniere” comes from medieval times when a knight wore his lady’s “colors” for all to see.

Flower girl:

“The Flower Girl walks before the bride and tosses petals” dates back to an old English tradition.  It was customary that the entire bridal party walk behind a small girl as she tossed flowers all the way to the church.

Wedding veil:

The Wedding Veil – in ancient times, marriages were pre-arranged by families.  The first time couples saw each other was standing at the altar on their wedding day.  The Veil was used to cover the bride’s face and was not lifted until the very end of the ceremony, only after the groom had already said, “I do.”

Bride & groom not seeing each other on their wedding day:

“The bride & groom must not see each other on their wedding day.” It is considered bad luck if the Groom sees his bride in her wedding dress or before the ceremony.

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue:

“Something Old" symbolizes the connection the bride will have to her family and her past, by wearing a family heirloom or the wedding gown belonging to her mother or grandmother.“Something New” is a sign of good fortune and success in the bride’s new life.

“Something Borrowed” serves to remind the bride that friends and family will be there for her if she needs their support or help. Usually the borrowed item is a piece of jewelry or handkerchief.

“Something Blue” denotes faithfulness and loyalty. The symbolism dates back to biblical times when blue represented purity and constancy. Brides often choose to wear a blue garter in keeping with this tradition.

A silver sixpence in her shoe:

“A Silver Sixpence in her Shoe” represents the wishes of loved ones to the bride, that she will have both financial security and happiness.

KIssing the bride at the end of the wedding ceremony:

“Kissing the bride at the end of the wedding ceremony” was considered legally binding and signified mutual acceptance of the marriage contract. 

Old shoes at the end of the ceremony:

“Old shoes at the end of the ceremony” – the bride’s father would give the groom one of her old shoes and the groom would tap the bride over the head with it, establishing his acceptance of his new responsibility.  Throwing shoes was also thought to bring good luck and fertility to the couple if their carriage was hit.  This may be where the custom of tying old shoes to the back of the newlywed’s car originated.

Throwing rice:

“Throwing rice” was a symbol of fruitfulness and a way to ward off evil spirits.

Wedding reception:

“Wedding Reception” originated in France.  It was based on the old custom called a “charivari.”   Friends would learn where the newlyweds would spend their wedding night and gather outside their window to sing and make as much noise as possible to keep the couple awake.

The clinking of glasses:

“The Clinking of Glasses” creates a bell-like noise, said to repel evil. 

The first dance:

“The First Dance” traditionally marks the beginning of the reception.

Saving a piece of wedding cake:

“Saving a piece of wedding cake” was a sign of wealth for a couple to freeze the top portion of their wedding cake to eat on their first anniversary.

Wearing a tuxedo:

“Wearing a tuxedo” was fashioned after a coat worn by the Prince of Wales, a tobacco heir in the late 1800’s, who wore a tail-less black dinner jacket to a ball, establishing a new tradition.

Wedding guest book:

“The wedding guest book” was considered a legal requirement.  Everyone attending the wedding was considered a witness and was required to sign the marriage document.