History Of Weddings

By Reina V. Kutner

December 18, 2009 5 min read

Since long before the Book of Genesis in the Bible -- which states, "A man shall leave his father and his mother and cling to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" -- marriage has been a tradition among many peoples of the world. However, the concept of marriage in ancient times is far removed from the romantic implications of modern weddings.

In fact, many marriages in history were used for political or tribal unions. In upper-class families, they often were arranged when the couples were very young. Families would draw up contracts before these marriages, securing property rights. The bride's family sometimes would offer a dowry to the groom's family to secure the marriage. Even in the modern world, there are still several cultures, such as the Indian culture, that have arranged marriages.

Meanwhile, young single girls would arrange trousseaus in anticipation of their weddings, which would include linens, jewelry, lingerie, clothes and other items for her new home in a linen chest. They would be sewn by family members or even the bride herself.

Marriage often would give women new responsibilities. In more traditional Jewish homes, married women would work and provide for their families while their husbands would study ancient texts. In ancient Egypt, women were supposed to gain equal rights to men with marriage, although it wasn't always the case.

Eventually, marriage and weddings became more than just an arrangement. In the Western world, St. Paul compared the relationship between a husband and wife to that of Christ and the church, and it became a sacrament. Popes later insisted that marriage had to be consensual between both partners. In 1563, the Council of Trent declared that marriage would be valid only if in the presence of a priest and two witnesses -- something that has lasted to today's marriage licenses.

The idea of love with marriage came later, with the idea of romantic love really seeing a push in the Victorian era. About that time, men started practicing courting the women they wanted to marry. This was often a very complex process, as young single women were not allowed outside their homes without chaperones.

Wedding history also was changed when Queen Victoria wed in 1840. When she married Prince Albert, she wore a white wedding dress and had 12 bridesmaids and a 300-pound wedding cake. This wedding hinted at the future of weddings as not only a ceremony but also a grand spectacle.

Today weddings have become as varied as the cultures of the world. Many brides will incorporate international traditions in addition to the white wedding gown and reception. Although white is the standard for gowns, many brides are venturing into different colors. Although the economy has reduced the grandeur of many receptions, weddings are a huge industry around the world, particularly with destination weddings becoming a huge trend.

But if you think history is limited to the past, think again. Today many ancient wedding traditions are reflected in your ceremony:

*In most weddings, the bride stands at the groom's left. In ancient times, this was done just in case someone tried to snatch the woman way. That way, the groom's right hand would be free to grab his sword.

*The concept of carrying the bouquet comes from when the ancient Roman brides would carry bouquets of herbs to symbolize fidelity and fertility. It also was used to scare off evil spirits.

*Bridesmaids are dressed similarly to one another today, but it used to be that they also would dress identically to the bride so as to confuse any evil spirits at the wedding.

*The ring on the fourth finger of the left hand? That comes from the Greek belief that a vein directly to the heart resides there.

*Rings also were used in ancient times to signify a marriage, as they were round and symbolized eternity.

*The kiss at the end of a wedding comes from the ancient tradition of sealing a contract with a kiss.

*The wedding cake comes from a Roman tradition. In Rome, wheat cakes were a signifier of fertility.

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