9 Wedding Traditions, Explained

Weddings are steeped in tradition. Even "untraditional" weddings that are personalized to the wedding couple host common elements like rings, flowers, and, of course, a wedding date.

But where did these traditions begin? What is the history behind this enduring nuptial ritual?

Perhaps you've assumed that many common wedding practices are purely American. While, in fact, you may be surprised to learn that many of the traditions that we see today have their roots in religion, culture and history. (It makes sense, after all: The United States is only 250 years old and people have been getting married for centuries — 2350 B.C. to be exact.) 

Whether you are planning a wedding, interested in a hospitality career in the event industry, or intrigued by the hidden symbolism of marriage ceremonies, here is the interesting origin behind nine widely practiced wedding traditions.

1. Exchanging wedding rings

One of the most popular artifacts in a wedding ceremony is the wedding ring. The wedding ring has ties to ancient Rome and the beginnings of metal, and, as ancient as it sounds in 2021, a ring placed upon a woman’s finger meant ownership by her husband.

2. Wearing wedding rings on the left hand

This tradition is tied directly to one of love’s most notable symbols: the heart. In your left hand, there’s an artery that runs straight to the heart.

Diamond wedding ring

3. Diamond wedding rings

Diamond wedding rings were not popular until Prince Maximillian in 1477 gave his betrothed, Mary of Burgundy, a large diamond engagement ring.

In America, until the growth of the diamond industry, most women received precious stones. Each one had a different meaning: For example, rubies promised to protect their wearer from evil and an opal promised faithfulness. Today many brides are opting for a non-conflict diamond, one not mined with the cruel labor conditions found in diamond mines.

Row of white wedding dresses

4. The white wedding dresses

Queen Victoria of England was the first royal influencer to wear a white wedding dress. Until that time, most royals wore heavy brocades. Queen Victoria who married her true love, Prince Albert in 1840, shocked English society by wearing a white lace gown.

A white wedding dress is still the tradition in most American weddings, but wedding attire does vary among cultures. In Asian cultures, white is a color of mourning and red is considered lucky. This is the color of the Chinese Qipao, the traditional costume worn by Chinese brides. Red packets or envelopes are also the customary gift of money at an Asian wedding. South Asian brides also wear traditional saris of red and gold.

Hands with henna at Indian wedding

5. Preparing for “the big day”

American brides may schedule hair and make-up at a beauty salon; South Asian brides hire henna or mehndi artists. This mehndi painting is done on the hands and feet of the bride. Mehndi painting includes painting the name of the husband on the bride, the first clue of whom the bride was going to marry. Today, a more modern tradition says that a bride may not do any housework until her mehndi painting has worn off.

6. Walking the bride down the aisle

In American weddings, it’s traditional for the father to walk his daughter down the aisle and “give her away.” Actually, the Jewish tradition allows both parents to walk the bride and the groom down the aisle. Many brides and grooms are adopting this tradition and forgoing the traditional procession.

Wedding on beach with focal point arch

7. Ceremonial focal points

During American wedding ceremonies, many brides and grooms get married under canopies, arches, arbors or other such focal points. In the Jewish religion, the canopy that the couple gets married under is called a chuppah. A chuppah can be passed down by family members, borrowed from the Synagogue or rented. With a Rabbi’s permission, a couple can get married anywhere a chuppah is erected. Other cultures use canopies and platforms as well. In the Hindu wedding tradition, couples get married under a mandap, a beautiful canopy erected on a platform.

8. Flowers

Flowers in a wedding go back to Greek and Roman times, where they symbolized virginity. Flowers still play a significant role in weddings today. Most members of a wedding party carry or wear flowers.

In the Eastern Orthodox and Greek religions, a crowning occurs. A crown of flowers is placed on the bride and groom’s head three times during the ceremony, symbolizing “God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.”

In Hindu and Hawaiian weddings, floral leis are placed around the necks of both brides and grooms as the wedding ceremony begins.

Wedding invitations

9. Wedding date

Choosing a date for your wedding usually involves making sure the venue is available. For many Asian couples choosing the right date is imperative. An auspicious date is one that will bring harmony to the wedded couple. A matchmaker is consulted and the couples birthdates and birth signs are taken into consideration before the date is agreed upon.

Most of the wedding traditions we see today are not unique—they have their roots in world history, culture and religion. The next time you witness a couple exchange vows, you’ll surely see many of these same traditions. After all, the old English poem, “Something borrowed something blue, something old and something new” has a ring of truth to it.

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