Four Shires Magazine

Aug 04th
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Four Shires Wedding Customs

sideways_There are many customs and superstitions associated with weddings. In the past a wedding was seen as a time when people were particularly susceptible to bad luck and evil spirits. Many originated or are modifications of customs, which began many centuries ago.
Some, such as the bride wearing something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, or not being seen by the groom in her wedding dress before the ceremony are known throughout the country and many other parts of the world. Others may be regional or even maintained within families from generation to generation. They are maintained in the belief that they will bring good luck and happiness to the couple at a time when their lives are changing, hopefully for the better.
In the past when the marriage proposal was a more formal procedure, the
prospective groom sent his friends or members of his family to represent his
interests to the prospective bride and her family. If they saw a blind man,
a monk or a pregnant woman during their journey it was thought that the
marriage would be doomed if they continued their journey as these sights
were thought to be bad omens. If, however, they saw nanny goats, pigeons or wolves these were good omens, which would bring good fortune to the marriage.
During Medieval times in Brittany the man proposed by leaving a hawthorn
branch at the door of his beloved on the first of May. By leaving the branch
at the door she accepted his proposal. She made known her refusal by
replacing the hawthorn branch with a cauliflower.
When it came to Surnames It was thought unlucky for a woman to marry a man whose surname began with the same letter as hers. The sentiment was summarised in the following rhyme: ‘To change the name and not the letter
is to change for the worst and not the better’ also the bride should not practice writing her new name before the wedding. This is thought to bring bad luck by tempting fate.
The day itself also has superstitions surrounding it, although most weddings now take place on a Saturday it was considered unlucky in the past. Fridays were also considered unlucky particularly Friday the 13th, for obvious reason. This famous old rhyme advises a wedding in the first half of the week: ‘Monday for wealth, Tuesday for health, Wednesday the best day of all, Thursday for losses, Friday for crosses, Saturday for no luck at all. Advice was also given on which month to marry by the following rhyme ‘Married when the year is new, he'll be loving, kind and true. When February birds do mate, You wed nor dread your fate. If you wed when March winds blow, joy and sorrow both you'll know. Marry in April when you can, Joy for Maiden and for Man. Marry in the month of May, and you'll surely rue the day. Marry when June roses grow, over land and sea you'll go. Those who in July do wed, must labour for their daily bred. Whoever wed in August be, many a change is sure to see. Marry in September's shrine, your living will be rich and fine. If in October you do marry, love will come but riches tarry. If you wed in bleak November, only joys will come, remember. When December snows fall fast, marry and true love will last’.
Something old something new, something borrowed, something blue is a rhyme and a custom that is still practiced by most brides today however this rhyme originated in Victorian times, although some of the customs referred to in it are much older.  The "something old" represents the couple’s friends who will hopefully remain close during the marriage. Traditionally this was an old garter, which given to the bride by a happily married woman in the hope that her happiness in marriage would be passed on to the new bride. "Something new" symbolizes the newlyweds' happy and prosperous future. The "something borrowed" is often lent by the bride's family and is an item much valued by the family. The bride must return the item to ensure good luck. The custom of the bride wearing "something blue" originated in ancient Israel, where the bride wore a blue ribbon in her hair to represent fidelity. Also the placing of a silver sixpence in the bride's shoe was to ensure wealth in the couples married life. Today some brides substitute a penny in their shoe during the ceremony as silver sixpences are less common.
It is thought unlucky for the bride to make her own wedding dress. It is also unlucky for the groom to see the bride in her wedding dress until she arrives at the ceremony. The bride should not wear her entire outfit before the wedding day. Some brides even leave a final stitch on the dress undone until it is time to leave for the ceremony when the outfit is completed. When it comes to choosing the colour of the dress, most brides today marry in white, which symbolizes maidenhood. This tradition started by the rich in sixteenth century. The tradition was given a boost by Queen Victoria who chose to marry in white, instead of silver which was the traditional colour of royal brides. Before the white dress brides wore their best dress. The colour was a matter of preference. The following is a traditional rhyme offering advice on dress colour. ‘Married in White, you have chosen right, Married in Blue, your love will always be true, Married in Pearl, you will live in a whirl Married in Brown, you will live in town, Married in Red, you will wish yourself dead, Married in Yellow, ashamed of your fellow, Married in Green, ashamed to be seen, Married in Pink, your spirit will sink, Married in Grey, you will go far away, Married in Black, you will wish yourself back’ A green dress is thought to be unlucky unless the bride is Irish. The old expression that a woman has a 'green gown' was used to imply promiscuity, the green staining being due to rolling in grassy fields. Traditionally, brides have been thought to be particularly vulnerable to evil spirits and many of the customs and traditions associated with weddings are to provide protection. Roman brides originally wore the veil. It was thought that it would disguise the bride and therefore outwit malevolent spirits. The veil became popular in Britain in the eighteen hundreds. In this country it is associated with modesty and chastity.
Flowers have always been used for decoration at weddings. Some people choose the flowers at the wedding on the basis of their symbolic meaning. For example orange blossom has always been associated with weddings because it signifies purity and chastity. Peonies are avoided by some as they represent shame; azaleas represent temperance: roses symbolise love and snowdrops represent hope. A combination of red and white flowers is avoided by the superstitious because they stand for blood and bandages. However, people from different regions may attach other meanings to the same flower. For example lilies symbolise majesty to some but are thought unlucky by others because of their association with death. The groom often chooses a flower for his buttonhole which also occurs in the bride's bouquet. This is a vestige of the time when a Knight would wear his Lady's colours to display his love.
Confetti is traditionally thrown over the bride and groom when they exit the ceremony but the word confetti is Italian for sweets, which in Italy are thrown over the couple as they emerge from the Church in that same way we use paper confetti. Raisin and nuts may also be used. Before the use of paper confetti the married couple were showered with flowers, petals, rice or grains. This was to bestow prosperity and fertility on the couple.
After the wedding breakfast cutting the wedding cake is now part of the ritual celebrations. The couple make the first cut together to symbolise their shared
future. Cakes have been associated with weddings throughout history. The Romans shared a cake during the wedding ceremony itself. This was not the rich
fruit-cake we enjoy today. It was a plain confection made from wheat flour, salt and water. The Fijians and Some Native American tribes still incorporate cake in the wedding ceremonies. In Britain early cakes were flat and round and contained fruit and nuts, which symbolise fertility. In the past the custom was to throw many small cakes over the bride in a similar way in which we throw confetti today. A modification of this custom was to crumble cake over the brides head and in some versions to break the cake over the Bride's head. In Scotland Oat Cakes were used for this purpose. This was done to promote fertility. Another old English custom was to place a ring in the wedding cake. The guest who found the ring in their the piece of cake would be ensured happiness for the next year.
The shape of the modern three tiered iced cake is believed to have been inspired by the spire of Saint Bride's Church in the City of London. It is said that unmarried guests who place a piece of wedding cake under their pillow before sleeping will increase there prospects of finding a partner and bridesmaids who do likewise will dream of their future husbands. The top tier of the cake is often kept by couples for the christening of their first child.
After the reception the bride throws her bouquet back over her shoulder
where the unmarried female guest group together. Tradition holds that the
one who catches the bouquet will be the next one of those present to marry.
A parallel custom is for the groom to remove the garter worn by the bride
and throw it back over his shoulder toward the unmarried male guests. Again
the one who catches it will be the next to marry.
The term "honeymoon" is thought to originate from the times when a man
captured his bride. The couple would hide from the bride's parents before
marrying. The couple would remain in hiding for a further cycle of the moon
after the wedding. During this period they drank honey wine. In Scotland the custom was for a woman with milk in her breasts to prepare the marital bed to encourage fertility in the newlyweds. In Ireland a laying hen was tied to the bed on the first honeymoon night in the hope that some of its fertility would be passed on to the couple. Eating a double yolked egg was also thought to bring fertility.
After the wedding and on arrival from the honeymoon the bride must enter the new marital home through the main entrance. It is traditional for the groom to carry the bride over the threshold when they enter for the first time. The reason for this is uncertain. One explanation is that the bride will be visited by bad luck if she falls when entering. An alternative is that the bride will be unlucky if she steps into the new home with the left foot first. The bride can avoid both mishaps by being carried. A third explanation is that it symbolises the old Anglo-Saxon custom of the groom stealing his bride and carrying her off.


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