The path to the wedding was fraught with dangers. Superstition had it that seeing pigs, lizards or funerals was a sign of bad luck. It was also unlucky for the bride to catch sight of herself in a mirror once her journey to the wedding had begun, although it was lucky if she looked in a mirror before she set off. Rain was also regarded as a bad omen and an ancient saying states, ‘Happy is the bride the sun shines on, Blessed is the corpse the rain falls on.’ Country brides feared the sound of a cock crowing after dawn on their wedding morning.
Fortunately for the bride, there were other lucky signs – meeting a chimney sweep, for instance, which possibly relates to the idea that soot and ashes are symbols of fertility, as well as seeing black cats, doves, lambs, spiders, toads, clergymen, doctors and blind men.
There are just as many superstitions associated with the journey from the wedding. The custom of throwing confetti over the newly married bride and groom began in pagan times when grain,
especially corn, was thrown for fertility. The word ‘confetti’ comes from the Italian for sweets and in Italy the couple are showered with sweets as they leave the church.
In some places it was the custom for the bride and groom to negotiate an obstacle. Guests would hold out sticks or flower ropes which the couple had to jump over. Sometimes a stone or wooden bench was placed across the church door during the wedding. In Northumberland this was called a ‘petting’ stone and two young men would lift the bride across. The groom would then follow and give each of the young men a coin. The convention was for the bride to hesitate and show some reluctance. This was all part of the fun, and also meant that the new bride showed the correct level of modesty and was not too eager to leap into her new life. If she was overly reluctant it was said she had ‘taken a pet’ and this expression is still used in the north of England to describe a bad mood.
Shoes have had a symbolic association with weddings from ancient times. Saxon children used to chant, ‘A wedding, a woo, a clog an’ a shoe, a pot full o’ porridge an’ away they go.’ This went along with the practice of wedding guests removing their shoes and throwing them after the just-married couple, known as trashing and still popular in Tudor times, when it was thought lucky if a shoe hit the
poor bride or groom. Another odd custom was for the groom to tap his bride’s head with his shoe to show who was ‘in charge’.
A bride might arrange to buy something from one of her bridesmaids soon after the wedding,
as an old superstition says that the person who makes the first purchase after the ceremony will be the boss in the relationship.
‘Change the name and not the letter, marry for worse and not for better.’ Marrying a man with a surname beginning with the same letter as your own was considered very bad luck.
There are all kinds of superstitions surrounding the bride’s dress and even modern brides take note of some, in particular that it is bad luck for the groom to see the wedding dress before the ceremony.
According to folklore, the complete wedding outfit must not be worn before the day and the veil should not be tried on at the same time as the dress. Some brides would put their veil on for the first
time only as they left for their wedding. Most brides today prefer to make sure that dress and veil look right together beforehand.
It was also said that the bride should not make her dress herself. Some also believed that the dress should not even be finished until the day and purposely left a few stitches to be completed on the
The colour of the wedding dress is also important. Everyone knows that a white dress is a symbol of virginity or purity, but before white dresses were first worn in Elizabethan times, brides simply wore
their best dress, although it was thought wise to avoid certain colours. Green was particularly unlucky as it was the fairies’ colour and the wearer might fall under the spell of the little people. The phrase ‘a green gown’ was used to refer to a ‘loose’ woman whose dress was green from grass stains, from rolling in meadows. The colours yellow, purple and orange were also to be avoided for wedding dresses.
COLOURS FOR MARRIAGE
Marry in white, you have chosen right.
Marry in blue, your lover is true.
Marry in pearl, you’ll live in a whirl.
Marry in brown, you’ll live out of town.
Marry in red and you will wish yourself dead.
Marry in yellow, you are ashamed of your fellow.
Marry in green, you should be ashamed to be seen.
Marry in pink and your fortunes will sink.
Marry in grey you will travel far away.
Marry in black, you will wish yourself back.
Wedding and engagement rings are traditionally worn on the third finger of the left hand. Any other finger is considered unlucky. This possibly dates from the time of the Egyptians and the early Greeks,
who wrongly believed that an artery ran directly from this finger to the heart. The symbol of the unbroken circle of the ring has certainly been a powerful one from ancient times, symbolising
unity for lovers.
Wedding rings were often made from gold which was believed to have magical powers and until quite recently wedding rings were rubbed on warts and styes to charm them away. Taking off your
wedding ring or lending it to some one was thought to be a bad idea because if it was lost your marriage could suffer the same fate. Second-hand rings were also thought to bring bad luck.
SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW
‘Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.’
This tradition dates back to Saxon times. ‘Something old’ stresses the bride’s link with her past and her own family, and she will sometimes wear a piece of her grandmother’s jewellery. ‘Something
new’ represents the future, bringing success and wealth in her new life, and is often the wedding dress. ‘Something borrowed’ links the bride to the present and brings good luck. It should also remind her that old friends and family are still there to support her. Traditionally, the borrowed item should have been worn at another, happy wedding and can be anything, although it is usually a garter
or borrowed jewellery. ‘Something blue’ dates from Saxon times when blue represented purity, and many brides nowadays choose to wear a blue garter.
CARRYING THE BRIDE OVER THE THRESHOLD
In pagan times, evil spirits were thought to lurk everywhere and carrying the bride over the threshold was believed to be a way of avoiding them. Another old superstition warned that tripping at the
doorway would bring bad luck to a marriage.
Not suprisingly, there are various superstitions about a couple’s first wedded night together. In Ireland, it was common practice to tie a hen to the bedpost and in Scotland a lactating woman made up the marriage bed. Both of these customs were to encourage fertility.
F O L K L O R E & T R A D I T I O N S
Until Victorian times it was quite usual for the bride and groom to be publicly accompanied to bed. One custom had bridesmaids and groomsmen standing on each side of the bed. They then threw the
newly married couple’s stockings over their shoulders, and if one of the girls hit the groom or one of the men hit the bride, this signified they would be the next to marry. The modern version of this
tradition is the bride throwing her bouquet. Just as in the past, whoever catches the flowers will supposedly soon marry.
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