Symbolism of Wedding Traditions from around the World
Every Culture, Country and Religious faith has its own unique wedding tradition. The symbolism of Wedding Traditions not only reflect a particular cultural or religious outlook, but also embody a symbolic representation of the meaning of love and marriage. You may want to include one of these customs or an adaptation of it in your wedding because it represents a homage to your own roots or simply because it touches your heart.
Why Wear a Wedding Veil
Wedding day attire has changed in many ways, but one component that has withstood the test of time is the wearing of a wedding veil. Though many brides know it is tradition to wear a bridal veil, many do not understand why. Here is a look at the history behind the veil and why it continues to be worn today.
The veil and the bouquet that a bride carries may predate the wearing of white. Although there is no definitive reason for the wearing of a veil, many surmise it has to do with ancient Greeks and Romans’ fear of evil spirits and demons. In fact, this is where many of the bridal traditions actually come from, including bridesmaids wearing similar dresses in order to serve as decoys for the bride. In an effort to frighten away or disguise the bride from evil spirits, brides-to-be were dressed in brightly coloured fabrics like red and obscured by a veil. But in many cases, the veil prevented the bride from seeing well. That is why her father or another person “gave her away.” He was actually escorting her down the aisle so she wouldn’t bump or trip into anything. The veil also served as a method of shielding the bride’s face from her future husband, especially in the cases of arranged marriages.
Superstition has it that it is bad luck for the groom to see the bride prior to the wedding. A veil hiding her face also ensured that the groom would not see his soon-to-be-betrothed up until the ceremony.
Eventually the meaning behind the veil transformed as weddings evolved into religious ceremonies. The veil came to symbolise modesty and obedience. In many religions it is seen as a symbol of reverence for women to cover their heads. When white wedding dresses were worn to symbolise chastity, the white veil followed suit.
Regardless of the origins, veils continue to be sported by today’s brides, who choose from a few different styles. A flyaway is a short veil that ends at the shoulders, while a sweep veil ends at the floor. Chapel and cathedral veils follow the bride at a significant length (nine and 12 feet, respectively). A blusher is a very short veil that covers just the bride’s face as she enters the ceremony. With a fingertip veil, the veil reaches the bride’s waist and brushes at her fingertips.
The veil should coordinate with the style of the gown, and many wedding attire consultants suggest choosing the gown prior to the headpiece and veil.
The Flower Strewn Path (English)
In the past in England, a bride and her bridesmaids would walk to the church on a path strewn with flowers. This is a lovely, colourful and fragrant tradition that can be carried out in the aisle of your ceremony venue (if allowed – please check with the venue), on the steps outside or in any outdoor venue which you may choose to get married. (Please note, Australian National Parks will not allow any fresh flowers or cuttings due to the possible contamination to our native flora and fauna).
What is symolised here is the wish that the bride’s path through life be like “a bed of roses” – a life of ease and grace. Also the extravagance of “wasting” the flowers by walking on them symbolises the wish that life may be so full and easy that the bride and groom may pass through it as if “tiptoeing on flowers”.
A Wedding Cup (French)
In an old French custom, the bride and groom drink a toast from a two-handled cup. This, of course, stands for the coming together of their two lives, as a cup is often the symbol of the ‘cup of life’. In the French tradition this special cup is called the ‘coupe de mariage’, it is often handed down as an heirloom to the next generation of bride and grooms.
Both in White (Jewish)
You may have already decided to wear white? If you have, it may further your appreciation of your choice to know what this can symbolise. In the Jewish tradition it is believed that when a man marries, his sins are forgive. Like the holiday of Yom Kippur, marriage is thought to bring atonement for all past wrongdoing. Thus, the wedding day is supremely sacred, for the bride and groom who are seen to embark upon married life in a state of utter purity embody, in ritual, the words of the ancient prophet Isaiah: Though you sins be as scarlet, they shall be whiter than snow”. In reflection of this, both the bride and groom may choose to wear white.
Wedding Candles (Greek & German)
In both Greece and Germany, the bride and groom traditionally greet one another with candles festooned with ribbons and flowers. These symbolise, not only the love and delight with which the man and woman are coming together in marriage, but also the illumination they will bring to one another.
A Canopy of Love “Huppah” (Jewish)
In the Jewish wedding, the ceremony takes place under a beautiful silk or velvet canopy, or huppah. This represents the home that the bride and groom are creating and, during the ceremony itself, provides the sacred environment in which the bride and groom take their vows and exchange their rings.
Although you may not want an actual “huppah” per se, you may want to build on this lovely tradition by featuring a beautiful arch or gazebo decorated with flowers, or a colourful tent in which to conduct your ceremony.
The Thrones of Blessing (Netherlands)
In the Netherlands both bride and groom sit on grand chairs, or thrones, under a canopy of green boughs. There, together, they receive the well wishes of family and friends. This custom, symbolising the evergreen freshness and vitality of love, is usually the high point of a pre-wedding gathering. It sends the bride and groom off to their wedding awash in good wishes, blessed and encouraged in their undertaking. Although this is traditionally a pre-wedding tradition, some form of it could be included at the rehearsal dinner or as a part of the reception festivities.
The Two Bouquet Ceremony (Burma)
In Burma both the bride and the groom hold flower bouquets during the recitation of their vows. The symbolism here is that the blessings and obligations of marriage apply to both bride and groom; the promises they make to each other are as precious to the man as they are to the woman. When they have finished their vows, the bride and groom dip their hands in a shared bowl of water to symbolise the water of life.
Breaking a Glass (Jewish)
The traditional Jewish wedding ceremony includes a “Breaking of the Glass”. Here the groom, having been offered a glass on a wooden pallet or wrapped in a cloth napkin, smashes it with his foot.
The breaking of the glass symbolises the fragility of life, the fact that whatever we see before us as whole can be rendered broken at any moment. It calls our attention to the need for care toward one another; for just as a glass can be shattered with a single blow, so the grace of the marriage bond can be destroyed with a single infidelity or repeated large or small acts of emotional irresponsibility.
A Marriage Contract (Jewish)
The ketubah is a written marriage contract that is customarily read out loud at Jewish weddings. Developed more than a thousand years ago, it was intended to protect a woman’s rights in marriage. To that end, it spelled out the financial and legal responsibilities being undertaken by the groom.
Although only the traditional wording is legal under Jewish law, many couples, both Jewish and otherwise have chosen to write their own special versions, stating when and where they were married and detailing the promises they have made to one another. I have seen beautiful examples of such contracts, replete with elegant calligraphy and illustrations; framed and hung, they are a wonderful lasting testament to a couple’s sacred vows.
Confetti of Flowers (India)
In India, where the fragrance of flowers in the form of incense is deeply a part of spiritual life, the groom’s brother traditionally sprinkles flower petals on the bride and groom at the closing of the wedding ceremony. This is as if to say, through the extravagance of spilled flowers: May your life together be filled with comfort and ease; may it be filled with the deliciousness of flowers; may you want for nothing.
Hindu weddings in India and elsewhere also include an initial exchange of flower garlands by bride and groom, a gift of protective amulets tied to the wrists of the couple, and a recitation of family lineage. The couple is then tied together with a sash and they walk around a ceremonial fire seven times to signify their vow to face life’s challenges together. This is a beautiful symbol that you might want to incorporate in some form in your ceremony?