Discover the origins and meanings behind some of the most popular wedding traditions and superstitions…
Discover the origins and meanings behind some of the most popular wedding traditions and superstitions…
Below are some factoids about vintage and ancient wedding traditions.
The reality is you don’t have to include them all, or indeed any of them. Our recommendation is that you adopt what you like, adapt it to your circumstances and then do it well!
Lots of these traditions were for brides and grooms of days gone by. Mix up the traditions as you wish and put a spin on things for a thoroughly modern wedding.
Wedding traditions and superstitions have played a huge part in weddings for hundreds of years, but do you actually know where these wedding traditions come from and what they mean? This is not intended as an etiquette guide, but simply an entertaining read. Enjoy!
Why Do We Get Down on One Knee to Propose?
The exact origin of this tradition is unknown, but there are lots of speculation as to how it came about. The act of getting down on one knee is called genuflection, and in the Middle Ages, men would bend down in front of the women they adored. What’s more, in religion, kneeling in front of someone is a sign of respect, loyalty and obedience.
Today, many people still get down on one knee to propose. It represents a certain vulnerability and a deep emotional connection, showing that you’re willing to commit the rest of your life to giving your other half what they need and want. You’re almost surrendering to your love. Now that’s what we call romantic!
Where Do Hen and Stag Parties Come From?
In Middle English, the word “hen” means female bird, which is why a hen party is exclusively for the women in your life. The term “hen party” dates back to the 1800s when it was used to refer to a gathering of women.
The idea itself is said to come from Ancient Greek wedding traditions, where wedding celebrations were split into three parts with the first being an all-female feasting dinner called the Gamos.
It was only during the mid-1960s that hen parties began to grow in popularity, probably aided by the fact that The Times reported on a male stripper being inappropriate at such a celebration, placing the term in quotation marks.
Stag dos emerged around a similar time and are also traditionally Greek. The first ever stag dos took place in the Ancient Greek city of Sparta (apparently), when feasts were held to toast the groom and mark the end of youth.
What Does “Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed & Something Blue” Mean?
“Something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue” is an age-old Victorian rhyme. Something old represents the link with the bride’s family and the past. Many brides choose to wear a piece of family jewellery or their mother or grandmother’s wedding dress.
Something new represents good fortune and success in the bride’s new life. The wedding dress often symbolises the new item, or perhaps the bride’s shoes.
Something borrowed reminds the bride that her family and friends will be there for her when help is needed. The borrowed object might be something small, such as lace handkerchief or a hair pin.
The something blue symbolises faithfulness and loyalty. The tradition dates back to biblical times when blue represented purity. Often, the bride’s garter has a blue ribbon on it, making that the blue item.
Another tradition is that of a “silver sixpence in your shoe”. This tradition is said to bring the couple wealth and happiness during their life together and was originally a sign that the bride’s father had sent the couple well wishes.
Why Can’t the Couple See Each Other Before They Meet at the Altar?
This tradition dates back to the days of arranged marriages, when marriage was more of a business arrangement than something done for love. The couple weren’t allowed to see each other before the ceremony for fear they’d pull out of the marriage!
Today, it’s simply seen as unlucky to see your other half on the morning of your wedding, but since you’re not partaking in a business deal, we’re confident you shouldn’t be worried! Most people just choose not to see their spouse to build up excitement and give them a surprise when they walk down the aisle looking so wonderful.
Why Does the Bride Get Given Away?
This is another tradition which dates back to the days when marriage was more of a business arrangement. Brides would quite literally be handed over to “a new owner”, usually in exchange for money or dowry.
Nowadays, thankfully, we have the freedom of choice.
Why Does the Bride Stand to the Left of the Groom?
The bride stands to the left of the groom during the wedding ceremony so that the groom can protect her with his left arm and use his sword with the right.
Traditionally, the groom would need to fight anyone who was trying to steal his wife, mostly members of her own family, since it was common for them to think she’d be “stolen”.
Why do we Wear the Ring on the Fourth Finger of the Left Hand?
Many believe the tradition began with the Romans, who thought a vein ran straight from the fourth finger on the left hand to the heart. Others believe it began simply because the left hand is generally least used and so a more practical choice for adornment.
The Egyptians used the middle finger of the left hand, while ancient Gauls and Britons favoured the little finger.
The wedding ring is worn on the ring finger of the right hand in some Orthodox and a small number of Catholic European countries, some Protestant Western European, as well as some Central and South American Catholic countries. In Eastern Europe, these include: Bulgaria, Greece, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, North Macedonia, Russia, Serbia and Ukraine. In Central or Western Europe, these include: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Netherlands (if not Catholic), Norway and Spain (except in the Catalan-speaking regions). In Central or South America, these include: Colombia, Cuba, Peru, Venezuela.
The ring is worn on the right hand until the actual wedding day, when it is moved to the left hand in Turkey, Lebanon, and Syria as well as in Romania and Brazil.
It is supposedly unlucky for a bride to try on her wedding ring before marriage and it is said that whichever of the couple drops the ring in church shall be the first to die. It is also said to be unlucky to remove a wedding ring before seven years of marriage.
Why Is a Wedding Cake Tiered?
It has always been tradition for cake to play a part in a wedding, but originally, guests would bring small cakes and place them in front of the couple. They would then kiss over the pile of cakes to guarantee future prosperity.
The wedding cake, as we know it today, is tiered – graduated cakes stacked on top of each other and this originated at the wedding of Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany in 1882.
The cutting of the cake is a focal point at any reception today, a tradition rooted in history when the first cut was made by the bride to ensure the marriage would be blessed by children.
Why Are Wedding Dresses White?
White has connotations of purity, so that is the main reason why brides would traditionally wear white on their wedding day. White is also closely linked to wealth because, apparently, only the wealthy could afford to wear it. Despite this, the trend landed much later than you might expect.
It was Queen Victoria who was the first to do so, as before her wedding to Prince Albert in 1840, brides would wear the most expensive dress they owned on their wedding day. In her diary, she wrote: “I wore a white satin dress with a deep flounce of Honiton lace, an imitation of an old design, and my jewels were my Turkish diamond necklace and earrings and dear Albert’s beautiful sapphire brooch”.
Why Does the Bride Wear a Veil?
The wedding veil hides the bride’s beauty and wards off evil spirits. Another explanation is that during the times of arranged marriages the bride’s face would be covered until the groom had committed to the marriage.
It was also said that if your friend tried on your veil it meant she’d run off with your husband!
Why Does the Bride Throw Her Bouquet?
Not just carried down the aisle to look pretty, but to mask the bride’s odour! Rumour has it, the scents of fragrant flowers were used to ward off evil spirits as were bouquets made of herbs and garlic.
Traditionally, the bride also throws her bouquet, and this is a still a very popular feature of weddings today. It stems from a French 14th century tradition, where the groom would throw the bride’s garter into the crowd, but this quickly emerged as the more civilised alternative of throwing a bouquet.
It is said that whoever catches the bouquet will be next one to be married.
Why Give Out Favours?
The tradition of giving guests something to remember the day by in the form of favours has been around for hundreds of years.
Today, the tradition has evolved to lots of couples choosing to give each guest five sugar coated almonds to symbolise health, wealth, fertility, happiness and long-life.
Why Do We Throw Confetti?
Traditionally, rice was thrown at the newly married couple to encourage fertility, but it was the Victorians who first used shredded paper.
Today, the use of biodegradable confetti is very popular.
Why Does the Bride Get Carried Over the Threshold?
Carrying the bride over the threshold protects her from any evil spirits that may be lurking in the new home, particularly since the soles of her feet were supposedly to be at the greatest risk of evil.
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