Here's a look at the customs, traditions, and etiquette of wedding rituals—then and now.
“Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, and half shut afterwards.”
–Benjamin Franklin (1706-90)
Rules of Engagement
Although engagement rings have been popular through the ages, it wasn't until Archduke Maximilian of Austria presented a diamond to Mary of Burgundy in 1477 that the tradition of offering the most enduring gem on Earth took hold. These days, the majority of brides receive diamond engagement rings.
The Time and the Place
- Ancient Greeks used pig entrails to determine the luckiest day to marry.
- The Japanese traditionally looked to an ancient astrological calendar for propitious days.
- In early U.S. history, Wednesday was the luckiest day for weddings. Friday was avoided as the “hangman's day.”
Sunday used to be a popular wedding day; it was the one day most people were free from work. Puritans in the seventeenth century put a stop to this, believing it was improper to be festive on the Sabbath. Today, Saturdays are busiest, despite this old rhyme:
Monday for health, Tuesday for wealth, Wednesday best of all, Thursday for losses, Friday for crosses, Saturday for no luck at all.
- June is still the most popular month to marry, followed by August, July, May, and September. The goddess Juno was the protector of women in all aspects of life, but especially in marriage and childbearing, so a wedding in Juno's month was considered most auspicious.
- The idea of June weddings also comes from the Celtic calendar. On the Cross-Quarter Day of Beltane, or May Day (May 1), young couples would pair off to court for 3 months and then be wed on the next Cross-Quarter Day (Lammas Day, August 1). Youths being impatient, the waiting period was shortened to mid-June, and the popularity of June weddings was ensured.
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Tradition suggests that the bride's parents pay all wedding expenses. Today, when couples tend to be older, the majority of couples often share the wedding expenses with their parents. A small percent still rely on their parents to fully fund their big event.
The Wedding Party
According to tradition, only an unmarried woman could be a maid of honor, and only the brother, best friend, or father of the groom could be the best man.
The original purpose of the bridesmaid and the best man was to aid in the capture of the bride, get her to church on time, and keep any hostile family members away! Now the bridesmaids usher the guests to their seats, the best man carries the ring, and offers a toast.
Once the flower girl's role was not simply to spread petals down the aisle but, with her shield of virginity, to protect the bride from the Devil. Today, the ring bearer can be a girl, boy, or even a dog!
Being given away is a tradition that evolved from the days when men bought brides from fathers or, even worse, captured them. Today, brides ask either parent or both parents to walk them down the aisle.
The traditional wedding vows have given way to more personal expressions of love. Many couples have dropped the wording “honor and obey” in favor of promising to be each other's best friend.
For a Smooth Send-Off
Rice is the latest in a long list of fertility symbols that have been thrown at newlyweds. Over the centuries, guests have tossed cakes, grain, fruit, sweetmeats, and biscuits.
Nowadays, it's common to shower the couple with rice or the more environmentally-friendly birdseed. Another idea is to toss dried rose petals.
Final Words of Wisdom
We asked married readers of The Old Farmer's Almanac to share their advice for making a marriage work. Here's what some said.
- Be prepared to give more than you think you are receiving, and you will receive more than you know.
- The secret is Communication, Compromise, Cooperation, and Compassion.
- Listen, listen, listen.