Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue...
Every child knows the sing-songy rhyme about what a bride needs on her wedding day, but have you ever stopped to wonder why a bride needs all that stuff? And why do brides wear white? What about veils? Is your marriage doomed if your intended sees you before the big day? Wedding days are already fraught and emotional, why are there so many superstitions surrounding them? How did they come about?
Many wedding traditions and superstitions, such as wearing white, can be traced back to the 1840 wedding of Queen Victoria to Prince Albert. Contrary to popular belief, the queen chose white because she liked it, not because it represented virginity. The western world took note of the fashionable queen and wearing white is still de rigueur. But wearing a veil goes back much further, to ancient Rome. It was customary for Roman brides to be enveloped from head to toe in orange/red veil called a flammeum. The veil did double duty: first, it was meant to scare off evil spirits and second, it meant the bride couldn't run away. Back then, the wedding day was usually the first time the bride and groom would get to see each other.
Which brings us to our next superstition: is it bad luck to see your beloved before the big day? This superstition dates back to when arranged marriages were still common. Because the marriages were basically business deals between two families, the bride and groom were kept apart until the last possible moment so that neither could back out of the deal. Considering most couples now live together before tying the knot, this superstition doesn't hold much water anymore. But there is something magical about not seeing each other completely done up in your wedding finest until the big moment.
And another superstition has taken its place: it is considered bad luck for a bride to use her married name before the wedding. A bride who does this is tempting fate.
Another thing a bride should never do? Wear pearls because they're shaped like tears. Speaking of tears, a bride should also not make her own wedding gown; each stitch represents a tear she will cry. But a bride should be glad to find a spider on her wedding gown the day of the wedding - according to the British, that's good luck. Also good luck? Getting a cat to each out of your left shoe before the wedding.
And what about the somethings: old, new, borrowed, and blue? The rhyme is another relic of the Victorian era and is supposed to be a list of things a bride will need for a happy marriage. The old something represents a connection to the past, the new is the start of a future together. The something borrowed needs to be chosen carefully; it's supposed to come from a happily married woman so some of her luck will rub off on the bride. And blue has long been a color associated with purity and fidelity. What most people don't realize is there's another line: "And a silver sixpence in her shoe." The sixpence was considered the start of a life of good fortune.
What should a bride avoid, lest she invoke a lifetime of marital misery? Knives. Beyond weddings, knives are considered inappropriate gifts in many different cultures. Knives are used to cut and sever and getting a knife as a gift was thought to end the relationship between giver and the recipient. A knife given to a married couple could jinx the marriage. One wonders if Wusthofs had been around back in the day if this would still be considered true. According to folklore traditions, anyone wishing to avoid the bad luck associated with getting knives as a gift can offer a token price to "buy" them, such as a penny. An enterprising bride could use the sixpence in her shoe!
So how much of this should you believe? Do you need to swaddle yourself in a veil stuffed full of new things, old things, borrowed things, and blue things while filling your left shoe with Meow Mix and walking through spider webs? You're going to have a very busy day - even before you get married. Ultimately, adhere to the traditions and superstitions you like, the ones that make your day even more special and personal.
And when in doubt, ring a lot of bells. The Irish say that scares all the evil spirits away.