British Wedding Customs and Superstitions: Past and Present
The decision to get married is one of the most important decisions in life. Therefore, it is no wonder that there are so many customs and superstitions associated with weddings. A lot of wedding traditions go back to folklore and pre-Christian times and used to protect marrying couples against bad luck and evil spirits.
In the past young people could not just fall in love and decide to get married. First, they needed to obtain their parents' consent. In fact, quite often it was the parents who decided who their children should marry and not the children themselves. When the prospective groom had obtained his father's consent to marry, a formal marriage proposal had to be made. The prospective groom did not propose in person but sent his friends or members of his family to represent his interest to the prospective bride and her family. If they saw a blind man, a monk or a pregnant woman during their journey, it was believed that the proposal would not be accepted as these signs were thought to bring bad luck. If, however, they saw wolves, this was a good omen which would bring good fortune to the marriage. I just wonder what the hungry wolves thought about it!
Now things are not nearly as complicated. However, it is still considered romantic and proper to ask your beloved if he or she would like to marry you and exchange engagement rings. The purpose of getting engaged is to show each other and others that you are no longer free and plan to get married, say, in two year's time. One British couple has been engaged for over 35 years and are still not married!
Choosing the right day for the wedding is the next thing to be considered. Now the most popular day is a Saturday as most people work during the week. As there are only four Saturdays in any month, summer weddings need to be booked a year in advance!
In the past, choosing when to marry was a serious affair. Saturdays were considered unlucky, and so were Fridays, especially Friday the 13th. This famous old rhyme advises a wedding to happen in the first half of the week:Monday for wealth
Tuesday for health
Wednesday the best day of all
Thursday for losses
Friday for crosses (= funerals)
Saturday for no luck at all
However, this is just the beginning of the serious business of wedding planning. Weddings are not cheap, so a careful budget needs to be set. An average wedding in Britain costs £10-12,000. To a large extent, the cost depends on how many guests are invited, which is normally around 150. Traditionally, the bride's family would pay most expenses, except for the alcohol and the honeymoon which would be at the bridegroom's family's expense. Nowadays, things are more flexible and expenses are split according to the two families' incomes.
Buying a suitable outfit for the groom is not difficult - he just needs a black suit and a flower buttonhole. However, dressing the bride is an altogether different matter. The answer is in this old rhyme, which is as relevant today as it was more than a hundred years ago:Something old, something new
Something borrowed, something blue
And a silver sixpence in your shoe
"Something old" is normally an old garter given to the bride by a happily married woman in the hope that her happy marriage will be passed on to the new bride. "Something new" symbolises the newlyweds' happy and prosperous future. "Something borrowed" is often a valuable item lent by the bride's family which needs to be returned to ensure good luck. "Something blue" is normally a blue ribbon in the bride's hair to symbolise fidelity. The placing of a silver sixpence (an old English coin) or a penny in the bride's shoe is to ensure future wealth.
As it is important for the bride and groom to look and feel great on the most important day of their life, they require some help. The bride chooses her sister or a close friend to be her chief bridesmaid. Originally, bridesmaids were young women dressed the same way as the bride in a disguise to confuse evil spirits and protect the bride. The chief bridesmaid, or the Bridesmaid of Honour, helps the bride to choose her dress, get dressed on the day and assists with the actual wedding ceremony. If it is a church wedding, she follows the bride and her father up the aisle and holds the bride's bouquet during the ceremony. The groom also has a helper. The Best Man, who is normally the groom's "best man" friend, plays a major part in any wedding. He helps the groom to get dressed, organises the stag party and generally coordinates the whole event.
The last part of the wedding is the reception. Traditionally, guests are offered a wedding cake. Originally, cakes were flat and round and contained fruit and nuts that symbolised fertility. Now wedding cakes have three tiers. The new shape is believed to have been inspired by the unusual spire of Saint Bride's Church in the City of London. The couple make the first cut together to symbolise their shared future. It is said that if unmarried guests place a piece of wedding cake under their pillow before sleeping, it will increase their chances of finding a partner.
© Mary Moor