Wedding Traditions and Superstitions That Still Matter ...by Bill Knell
Over the past fifty plus years that I have been alive I have had many occasions to watch friends and loved ones marry. There are more than a few things I have learned about weddings as a result of all this, but adhering to some of the most common traditions and superstitions associated with weddings are the most important. Why? Because it just so happens that many of those who chose to ignore these seemingly nonsensical and sometimes almost comical steps to get to the alter have often paid a high price for their disrespect of these long standing customs.
The Wedding Dress
We have all heard that it is bad luck for the groom to see bride in her wedding dress before the ceremony. The truth is that a longer standing tradition says that it is bad luck for the bride to wear the complete wedding outfit before the day that she takes her wedding vows. That is why you almost never see a bride trying on a wedding dress with her wedding shoes, veil and so on. A female college friend of mine knew a young girl who decided to ignore that tradition and display her complete wedding outfit to her bridal party for the purpose of having “some photos taken with her friends” the night before her wedding. So she said, most of those present think she was just showing off. The dress seemed unusually tight to some who saw the bride all decked out that night and soon gossiping tongues spread the news quickly.
The next day the groom decided not to show up for the ceremony after my college friend said that she called and told him that his bride looked “fat or pregnant” when she saw the bride in her outfit the night before. My friend was not being mean, but she felt sorry for the groom who had gone out of his way to keep his bride pure (she had claimed to be a virgin) by abstaining from sex with her. He had never seen her in the wedding dress, but even his sister said that she noticed an unusually rapid weight gain in the bride who was not one known to fluctuate in her weight or overeat. There could have been a lot more to the story than that, but I have no doubt that the catalyst for the groom’s cancellation was that phone call from my friend and the call would never had been made if the bride had not been showing off and scoffing at a long-standing tradition.
The Wedding Shoes
Both bride and groom should know that the superstitious among us say it is unlucky to wear any shoes for the ceremony that are not to be used specifically and only for the wedding. They claim that it is also bad luck to wear the shoes before the day of the ceremony, or to ever wear them again after the bride and groom take their vows. The shoes should be ripped apart or burned sometime shortly after the ceremony and never given away to anyone else. This tradition began sometime in the late 1800s and probably came from merchants eager to sell shoes. However, there may be some truth to it.
A friend of mine reports that a neighborhood friend of his who got married about twenty years ago had some very bad luck as a result of ignoring this odd superstition. Ben was a thrifty guy who hated wasting money. Sometime in the year before he was married he had purchased an expensive pair of shoes to wear for weddings, funerals and other special occasions. When my friend went out with him to help choose an outfit for his own wedding, he asked Ben about shoes. Ben told him that he was going to wear his best pair of shoes because they had barely been worn and were like new. After all, even back then a new pair of quality shoes could easily cost over one hundred dollars and Ben felt that money would be better spent elsewhere.
My friend told Ben about the wedding tradition regarding shoes that he had heard about from his mother, father and grandparents. My friend took the advice himself, got married without incident and has remained married ever since. Admittedly, he and his family are very superstitious about things like weddings, but there have been few divorces in his family line and many successful weddings and marriages. Ben wore his “best pair of shoes” on the day of the wedding despite the warning he received from my friend. Amazingly, his bride had her own unique plan for wedding footwear. She decided to wear sneakers for the wedding as a kind of joke as to say that she might be a runaway bride. The joke backfired.
Ben and his family were highly insulted by the presence of the sneakers and an argument began during the wedding reception which continued throughout the honeymoon and for weeks afterward. Things really came to a head when relatives on both sides viewed the wedding photos. The photographer became fixated on the bride’s sneakers and kept taking pictures featuring them. Many of the guests were captured displaying a scowl on their face as they spoke to the bride and stared down at the sneakers. The couple broke up and divorced within three months of their wedding. I say that we should add wearing sneakers to a wedding to the bad luck list for wedding footwear, apparel and choices.
Placing a coin (especially a silver dollar) in one of your wedding shoes is considered extremely good luck. Although this applies mainly to the bride, I suppose that the groom has nothing to lose by trying it as well. This tradition goes back to the “Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue, A Sixpence in your Shoe” wedding superstition from old England. Relatives and close friends would give the bride small tokens of their affection to wear or carry with her on her special day. These items were presented just before the wedding began and were not wedding gifts, just mementos to remind the bride that she has family and friends that care about her and support her decision to marry.
Something Old was usually a token carried by another bride at a previous wedding who has had good luck or a successful and happy marriage. This gift is about sending the previous bride’s good luck and fortune on to the present one. Something New is supposed to impart good luck to the bride giving her hope and confidence for the future. Something Borrowed is said to represent happiness that is imparted to the bride from her family and friends. Any happiness that they have experienced they offer to loan to the bride while she makes her own happy memories. Something Blue is given with the hope that the bride’s marriage will be filled with an honest and pure love, as well as fidelity. A Sixpence (Coin) In Your Shoe is said to impart a financial blessing on the marriage. Few brides dare to ignore this tradition which many consider the most important of all. I know one that did.
She insisted on a marriage ceremony with included just her, the groom and a clergyman. Most of the bride’s family and friends, as well as those of the groom, were against the marriage due to a huge age difference between the bride (who was very young) and the groom (who was thirty five years older). Most of the groom’s family thought she was a gold digger because he had a substantial fortune and his family was well known in the city where they lived. However, the bride also came from money, but it was new money. Sadly, I think her decision to marry this man really had more to do with the fact that she may have wanted to enjoy the status of being married into a family with a major standing in society than real love. Anyway, she decided to punish all the nay sayers who were against the marriage and prove them wrong by insisting that her wedding be held in a public park with no guests. The couple spent the money that a huge wedding would have cost on an elaborate honeymoon.
That bride broke nearly all the rules of tradition and superstition involving weddings. This included the tradition of bringing tokens to her wedding given to her by a friend who thought the age difference thing was no big deal. That friend could not attend the ceremony regardless of whether she was invited or not because she was living in another country at the time, but she hoped that the tokens would bring the couple good luck. And they might have done their job if those items had been brought to the small ceremony by the bride. They were not. Despite what seemed like a marriage filled with bliss during and just after the honeymoon, the couple divorced after just five years citing irreconcilable differences.
The Wedding Rings
It is considered extremely unlucky to go shopping for a wedding ring on a Friday because that is a tradition Sale Day and a highly discounted ring set is considered bad luck overall. It is even more unlucky to wear a wedding ring (other than trying it on) for any length of time before the ceremony. I know of at least a dozen occasions where either the bride or groom wore their ring (for whatever reasons) for hours or days before the wedding and could not for the life of them remove it. This not only caused physical and emotional discomfit, but ultimately ended up in arguments that broke up four of those couples before the day of their weddings. There could have been a million other reasons for those break ups, but why take the chance?
There are other things to watch for when it comes to wedding rings. Too loose and that could mean a husband or wife might stray from the marriage bed because they would forget the full meaning of their wedding vows. Too tight could curse the couple to a marriage full of arguments and fights bringing out the worst in one or both people. Wearing the ring on the left hand is considered very good luck. That tradition goes back centuries to when most work was done with the right hand making it appear more aged or dirty than the left. A plain wedding band is good luck compared to a highly decorated one in some societies, while a ring with religious or cultural icons on it is considered very lucky in nations with people from a Celtic background.
I cannot say that anyone I know has ever broken up over a plain or decorated wedding ring, but more than a few have had major disagreements over the cost and style of wedding bands which may expose a lack of character on the part of the bride, the groom, or both. The biggest superstition surrounding a wedding ring involves dropping it. Superstition says that a bride or groom who drops a wedding ring during the ceremony will be the first to die. This is said to be almost guaranteed if the ring rolls to a stop on a memorial or remembrance stone in the church or chapel. Wow! Be careful not to drop the ring.
Tradition says that the best choice of flowers for the bridal bouquet are either orange blossoms or roses. Orange blossoms are said to represent chastity and fertility, while roses stand for true love. It is also considered extremely good luck for members of the wedding party to wear garlands. This is a very old tradition, but one which has been making a comeback over the past several decades. If the bride tosses her bouquet and it is dropped, the bad luck is not on the bride, but on the person who failed to catch it; so no worries there. It is thought of as good luck to catch the bouquet even if that does not lead to the person catching it being the next to marry. No good or bad stories to share here, but fresh flowers do often help make the wedding and/or reception photos all the more precious when the wedding album is complete. Beware of the presence of wilted flowers which are considered extremely bad luck.
The Wedding Cake and Reception
There are many traditions involving wedding cakes. One of the most popular has been that when a couple agrees to place a statuette of the bride and one of the groom on the cake these should be of equal height. This is said to represent equality in a marriage. However, more often than not, people these days choose not to include likenesses of the bride and groom on their wedding cake. Instead, many are choosing eatable representations of their favorite flowers on the cake presented in various styles and set in all kinds of positions. Another popular trend is for the wedding cake to include the favorite flavors of the bride, while a separate cake is prepared called the Groom’s Cake which is designed to please his taste buds.
It is considered bad luck for anyone except the bride or groom to be the first people to taste the wedding cake. So I guess the tradition of getting a piece of cake shoved into your face will continue for some time to come. The bride usually does that to the groom first, then some grooms reciprocate. Others fear the wrath of ruining that expensive make up job that most brides have professionally applied shortly before most weddings. On multi-tier cakes it is considered very good luck to save the top tier, freeze it and eat it about three months later or after all the wedding photos have been entered into the wedding album. Most couples serve the remainder of the cake to a small circle of family and friends who stop by to view the completed wedding photo album.
Many brides like to include special charms into their bridal shower or wedding cake. This long-standing tradition brings good luck and normally includes gold or silver charms in the shapes of hearts, clover, horseshoes, wedding bells, baby carriages or money purses donated by bridal shower attendees or wedding party members. Sometime in the 1980s it became a new tradition to include one or more French-style Cream Puff Trees (croquembouche) in the bridal shower and wedding reception among with the cake. This amazing creation is made of many individual cream puffs covered in caramel and presented in the shape of a tree. Guests can use a small spoon or fork to remove as many cream puffs as they care to eat and place them on small plates.
Some couples opt to have their wedding cake divided up carefully and plated by serving staff out of sight of the wedding guests after the cake is shown to everyone and the bride and groom take the first piece or pieces. This is a popular way to make sure the cake is carefully and equally divided. However, the bride and groom should always be sure that the first piece or pieces of cake are cut with a silver cake knife and silver server. Those first pieces should be placed on fine china and eaten with silver or high quality forks. This is considered extremely good luck. Having been to a number of wedding receptions, I can tell you that nothing says cheap and nasty like a couple who choose to cut their cake with a regular kitchen knife and serve it with a pie server. The only thing worse is slopping those first pieces of cake on to paper plates. Once the bride and groom are served, cake should always be served to guests on ceramic plates.
Beware of cracked or damaged plates. The presence of cracked or nicked plates is considered extremely bad luck for the bride, groom and wedding guests. I have never personally seen this (or, I should say I am personally unaware of it), but some of my older family members claim that almost anything bad that happens during or after the reception is brought on by the improper presentation of the wedding cake and other food items. I have heard of everything from fist fights to auto accidents and missed flights blamed on bad or improper presentation of the cake and food during the wedding reception. Even bad toasts are extremely unlucky and usually the cause of spats and fights, so never hand a microphone to someone that you know will say something stupid or improper.
The Wedding Vows
People who write their own wedding vows may think this is the best way to express their love, but wait! A newer wedding tradition says that writing your own vows is not the best of ideas and could mean disaster to a newly married couple. This is probably because of all the hippie marriages that took place in the sixties and seventies. People used pet names for each other and authored often long, convoluted and embarrassing vows that made no sense to anyone at the ceremony and sometimes had nothing to do with the couple’s promises to each other. I sat through one of those types of weddings and wished I had not. No one knew what the couple was talking about and they even appeared to confuse each other. This is why people should never do drugs. The couple I spoke of broke up within two years and now hate one another.
A long-standing tradition says that wedding vows should be set by the minister. A more recent tradition states that it is good luck for the vows to be written by the bridesmaid for the bride and best man for the groom when the minister suggests the couple provide their own vows. Superstition says that parents should keep quiet during the ceremony accept for occasions when a father or mother is asked if he or she gives their daughter or son away to marry. Having a stand in for the bride’s father is considered bad luck. I know of at least two weddings where both the parents refused to attend and both marriages later ended in divorce. I am sure there were other causes for those break ups, but why take the chance?
The Parent’s Blessing
Finally, it is extremely good luck for the groom to be given the blessing of the bride’s parents or parent. This goes back to Biblical teaching and tradition, and also happens to be a tradition that I think is essential for a long and happy marriage. That is just my opinion. I guess I have just seen too many couples torn apart by family influences and interferences because someone had something against the groom (or the bride for that matter) to begin with and that remained a matter of contention until it caused an eventual break up and divorce. Only the strongest of couples can stand up to that kind of pressure, so I do not recommend ignoring this tradition. If worse comes to worse try to get on the good side of the family of the bride or groom well before you announce an engagement or wedding date.