The happy couple is beaming down the aisle. They've been declared newly wed, and they are greeted by a chorus of loved ones cheering, people throwing rice and bells ringing. This same scene is played out in churches and wedding venues across the world, and on movie and television screens. But why? From where did this ubiquitous tradition of ringing bells at weddings originate?
*Wedding Bell Origins
In the rural countryside of Ireland and Scotland, the clanging of church bells was an effective way to spread news of a significant event across a long distance, whether it was a church service, funeral, wedding or an appearance of an important person. Bells would be rung at the beginning of the wedding ceremony and at the end, to announce the blessed union.
The ringing of the bells was also a means to ward off evil spirits and grant wishes. In Ireland, bells were rung at the beginning of the ceremony to scare away any lingering ghosts intent on ruining the happiness of the newlyweds. And in Scotland, bells would chime at the conclusion of the service to announce the joyous union. The tradition spread around the globe.
The use of bells doesn't end after the ceremony. In Celtic lands, a small bell is a traditional wedding gift for the happy couple, to be used throughout their married lives. The bells are to be kept in plain sight. If an argument breaks out, ringing the bell reminds the married couple of their wedding day and their vows.
Though the folk stories of chasing off evil spirits have all but disappeared, bells continue to denote love and happiness.
*Modern Takes on Wedding Bells
According to Oxford University demographer John Haskey, who has been analyzing marriage data from the early Victorian era to modern day, there's been a rapid increase in civil services and decrease in religious wedding services in the past few decades. Today, 70 percent of weddings in the United Kingdom are civil marriages, and 85 percent of those weddings are performed in approved premises such as hotels, houses, gardens, vineyards or civic centers. Only around 37 percent of people choose to hold their weddings in churches.
If you're interested in keeping the tradition of wedding bells in your ceremony but are not holding the service in a church, there are still plenty of ways to add in the symbolism. Wedding-bell graphics are very common for save-the-date cards or invites, as well as for decorations in the reception hall or wedding venue. Using a bell as a cake topper, rather than the usual bride and groom figures, works for less traditional weddings. The classic representation of wedding bells -- two bells joined at the top by a bow -- represents the joining of two people through marriage. The bells are typically silver or gold, symbolizing the colors of the 25th and 50th wedding anniversaries, respectively. These are also the most common colors for wedding rings. However, some couples choose to have their bell decorations match their wedding colors instead.
It's becoming more popular to give small bells as wedding favors or place them at table settings. Rather than warding off evil spirits, the tinkling of the small bells encourages the newlyweds to kiss. This acts as a substitute for clinking glasses, reducing the chance of glasses breaking.
Some couples choose to incorporate bells in their wedding through music. Hiring a hand-bell choir is a unique alternative to ringing large church bells. As they are easily transportable, setting up a table in a garden or backyard won't take much time or energy, and the happy sounds of love and joy will ring true.