The Wedding Series – Superstitions Through the Ages

In Medieval times, to protect their wedding dresses from being ripped
to shreds by lady guests who thought that obtaining a piece of the bride’s ensemble would bring them good luck, brides began tossing their bouquets as a distraction while they ran for it.

Superstition — the belief that by taking a certain action one can bring about good luck or ward off back luck — has existed throughout the millennia, prompting the performance of some strange rituals. Weddings have always been especially rife with superstitions. Some seem charming, but many have dark beginnings. Last week I wrote about the “Old, New, Borrowed and Blue” good fortune symbols based on folklore, and this week I’m happy to present — or expand on — some additional mythology:

Vena Amoris

The ancient Greeks and Romans believed that the vein in the finger we now call the “ring finger,” ran directly to the heart; thus it was called vena amoris — Latin for “vein of love.” Accordingly, the engagement or wedding ring was placed on this finger.

June Wedding

Some believe that the choice of June as the most popular month for weddings originated with the Romans in order to honor their goddess of marriage, pregnancy and childbirth, Juno. But June weddings might have had a more practical purpose in that a summer pregnancy would allow the new wife to help out with the harvest and a spring birth would have the new mother available to help with the next harvest as well! Today, a June wedding could prove practical in terms of taking time off and if children are involved they likely will be out of school.

Never On Saturday

According to British folklore, Saturday is the unluckiest day for a wedding; this belief appears to date back to an old English rhyme: “Monday for wealth, Tuesday for health, Wednesday the best day of all, Thursday for losses, Friday for crosses, Saturday for no luck at all.” I offer this in case any brides-to-be who are reading this want to take immediate steps to switch their Saturday wedding to Wednesday.

No Knives

Ditto for brides and grooms who want to slash cutlery from their registries immediately! This superstition seems to transcend cultures and applies to the gifting of knives in general, not just to wedding couples. It was thought that giving knives to someone would result in the friendship ties being cut or if given as a wedding gift the marriage ties being severed. To get around this curse the recipient could give a penny to the giver to make it a symbolic purchase instead of a gift. Oh, these superstitious folks were clever! And, now you have an out if you want to give or receive the gift of a knife set.

The Bridal Veil

The custom of the bride wearing a veil dates back, once again, to the Romans who reportedly believed that evil spirits were attracted to brides (probably to try to put a dent in their happiness) and a veil would help to disguise the bride and confuse and deter the spirits. In medieval times the veil became a symbol of purity and modesty. It was apparently also useful in an arranged marriage to keep the bride’s looks a secret from the groom until after the marriage and it was too late to back out! (See “‘Back Luck’ To See the Bride before the Wedding Day.”)

Rainy Day

The superstition that rain on your wedding day is good luck — a sign of unity — is a Hindu belief. It has something to do with rain washing away bad memories and ensuring a clean start — which is very nice. It also seems to indicate that the rain will take the place of tears in the marriage and there will be none for the duration — also nice, but which we married folks can debunk. The best way to get around this one is to (1) get a subscription to the Old Farmer’s Almanac and (2) make sure you have a Plan B, especially if you’re hosting an outdoor wedding.

Wedding Bells

This custom can be traced to the Celts — the Irish, Scottish, Welsh, etc. The noise of the bells was thought to ward off those evil spirits again, but also to announce the good news of the wedding. The Irish, especially, loved bells and even gave them as gifts for the newlyweds to display prominently in their homes. When cars were invented, the honking of car horns to announce a wedding became customary. Dating back to the English Tudor period people threw shoes at the wedding carriage, believing it was good luck to hit the carriage; later it became customary to tie the shoes to the carriage. Then came tying tin shoes and tin cans to the wedding car, perhaps also thinking the noise would chase away those spirits. More likely it was just meant to call attention to the blushing bride (and groom).

A Spoonful of Sugar

The Greeks have a more gentile, and a lot quieter superstition than bells. They believe that a cube of sugar given to the bride to sew into her glove or dress will ensure that she has a “sweet life.” This superstition appears on many wedding sites, but this is just the tip of the iceberg regarding Greek wedding traditions! 

Burying the Bourbon

I would love to know more about how this tradition originated. It seems a superstition of the Old South involves burying a bottle of bourbon at the wedding venue one month before the wedding day to ensure that it won’t rain on that day. Turns out that barbeque sauce works just as well, though (or at least supplements the effort), and might even be better lest someone dig up the bourbon, prompting a downpour on the big day! It might be easier to simply buy into the Hindu belief that rainy wedding days are good luck, and have plenty of umbrellas on hand!

“Back Luck” To See the Bride before the Wedding Day

Well, this was actually bad luck for the father of the bride back in the days when arranged marriages were commonplace and women were considered property. Therefore, if daddy’s little girl looked more like one of the stepsisters than Cinderella, he wouldn’t want the groom to see her prior to sealing the deal.

Bouquet and Garter Toss

In a previous entry, I wrote about the origin of bridal bouquets and how they were used to ward off evil spirits (again!). But even worse than those pesky spirits were the living folk who thought that getting a piece of the bride’s ensemble was good luck in ensuring that they, too, would be married soon. Apparently such women had no restraint in ripping the bride’s dress to shreds in the process (perhaps that’s where Disney got the idea for the scene in Cinderella when those deeply disturbed stepsisters tore to shreds Cindy’s dress for the ball). To protect herself from being attacked, the bride would throw her bouquet into the crowd to distract them; while the desperate ladies ripped her bouquet apart the bride would make her getaway.

Equally unromantic was the superstition of the garter toss. Men would follow the bride and groom to their chambers following the wedding and wait outside for the new husband to toss the bride’s garter out the door to prove that the marriage had been consummated; whoever caught the garter, supposedly, would enjoy the same good luck.

Let Them Eat Cake! Or, Alternatively, Sleep With It

This superstition dates back a few hundred years, in which a woman took home from a wedding a piece of the wedding cake and placed it under her pillow as she went to sleep. Whoever she dreamed about that night she would be destined to marry. And all because she slept with a piece of wedding cake! If only it were that easy today! Of course, wedding cake back then was a bit different, it was often a dense fruit cake that held up a bit better being squashed under a pillow than today’s more delicate confections.

Over The Threshold

Remember those evil spirits? You guessed it; in olden times it was believed such spirits would hover over the threshold of the newlyweds’ home in a desperate final attempt to jinx the couple. To thwart them from harming his new bride, the chivalrous husband would carry her over the threshold so the spirits could not reach her.

These are by no means all of the many superstitions that have endured through the years. Feel free to comment on other interesting wedding superstitions that we can have a laugh over — or rush to observe, just in case!

Until next time,

Jeanne

 

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