Wedding traditions have been a part of our culture for centuries, but should you follow them or skip them? While some wedding traditions hold deep meaning and sentimental value, others may feel outdated or irrelevant in a modern world.
Wedding traditions have always fascinated us, especially the ones that we take for granted as being ‘part’ of the wedding day. In truth, there are very little rules when it comes the legalities of marriage. In fact none of the below traditions actually form any part in the legal side. With so many customs and rituals associated with weddings, have you ever wondered where they came from, or why we still choose to follow some of them? It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of wedding planning and forget to delve into the history and meaning behind these traditions. However, understanding the origins of these customs will help you weigh up if they are for you, or not, on your special day. Let’s take a look at the history and evolution of some traditions to help you decide. Your wedding day should be a reflection of your personal style and preferences and there are no rules about what you should do on your big day.
The white dress
Though brides wore white in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, it wasn’t until Queen Victoria wore a white wedding gown in 1840 that the trend for white weddings began in western cultures. With previous royals mostly opting for red gowns, Victoria’s choice to wear white (a colour associated with mourning at the time) was initially frowned upon by English aristocrats. From then, gradually brides began opting for white as a symbol of purity and innocence.
In modern times, white is popular with brides and grooms of any gender as a classic colour that never goes out of style and can be easily accessorized with veils, jewellery, and flowers. On the other hand, it’s a delicate colour that can easily stain or get dirty (especially during eating and drinking!), plus it can wash out some complexions. Some choose to opt for ivories, creams and blush, while others go for totally unique outfits and colours.
Ultimately, the decision on what you wear on your wedding day is completely up to you; it comes down to personal preference and individual style. If it feels right for you, it’s the right outfit!
Bridesmaids and groomsmen
Like many UK wedding traditions, the history of bridesmaids and groomsmen stem from superstition, and darker origins, which have evolved over time.
Superstitious ancient Romans required ten maids and ten men to stand by the bride and groom to protect them from evil spirits. Bridesmaids and groomsmen were dressed similarly to the bride and groom to confuse these spirits. Protecting the bride was the main role of the whole party, with the groomsmen (not the bridesmaids) accompanying the bride (not the groom) to the celebration to protect her from potential dowry thieves.
The tradition of the best man is thought to have some seriously dark roots from 16th century Germany. With a shortage of eligible women in a local community, bachelors would capture brides from neighboring communities. In this “marriage by capture,” a male companion would accompany the groom to help him steal the bride, whilst other male friends might act as a small army to fight off the angry relatives. The best man was required to stay by the groom’s side throughout the wedding ceremony and then outside the marital home, remaining alert and armed against the bride’s family. Side note: did you know the tradition of carrying a bride across the threshold is thought to stem from the time that bridal abduction was a thing?!
Luckily the role of the bridal party became a bit more fun during the Victorian era, with commercial dyes now available for colourful bridesmaid dresses and short veils falling out of favour. Bridesmaids and groomsmen took on a more practical role, assisting the couple in preparing for their wedding day, helping with tasks such as dressing, arranging flowers, and ensuring everything was in order. Victorian bridesmaids were also responsible for accompanying the bride to events and parties leading up to the wedding, ensuring she was properly supported and chaperoned.
In modern times, the bridal party are chosen based on their close relationship with the couple and are often his/her/their closest friends or family members. Bridesmaids and groomsmen are still an important part of the wedding party, standing alongside the couple during the ceremony and supporting them both emotionally throughout the day.
Overall, the history of the bridal party is one of support. Whether it’s warding off evil spirits or angry family members(!), or providing emotional support, they have always played an important role in weddings. Today, they continue to stand by the couples’ side, ensuring their special day is everything they dreamed of.
Some couples choose a large bridal party, others opt for a slimmed-down line up, whilst some have no bridal party at all. With no defense necessary (hopefully), what your bridal party looks like – and whether you even allocate any guests to each role – is up to you!
Flower girls and page boys
Flower girls and page boys an add a touch of innocence and charm to a wedding. This role for children is to walk down the aisle before the bridal party, scattering flower petals along the way. This symbolizes the transition from childhood to adulthood and the start of a new chapter in the couple’s lives. It is believed that the petals scattered will pave the way for a happy and prosperous marriage.
Having a flower girl(s) or page boy(s) can be a way to involve younger family members or close friends in the wedding ceremony. It gives them a special role and makes them feel included in the celebration. For many little girls, being a flower girl is a dream come true, as they get to dress up and be a part of a magical event.
As a purely symbolic role, there’s no requirement to involve children in your wedding. Many couples without immediate junior family-members opt out of this tradition.
The wedding procession
The order in which everyone walks down the aisle can be a bit confusing because the historical UK tradition is different to our American friends’ more recent customs. In the US, the groom, parents and even grandparents all get a spot in the procession, whereas traditionally it’s all about the bridal party here.
For opposite-sex couples, the traditional wedding order in the UK is the groom and groomsmen to enter the ceremony room first, followed by the wedding guests. The wedding procession starts with the flower girl and/or page boy, followed by the bride with the father of the bride. The maid of honour, then the bridesmaids, finish the procession. This order is thought to date back to superstition and confusing the evil spirits (see above), but nowadays is for the more practical reason that the bridemaids and maid of honour are behind the bride to carry her train down the aisle (ala Kate and Pippa Middleton), and then arrange her dress and veil before taking their seats. However, many brides now choose the American order, with the bridesmaids and maid of honour going first.
Couples are completely free to make their own rules when it comes to the wedding procession. Some brides or grooms choose to walk down the aisle with one or both parents, some choose to make the walk together as a couple, while others walk alone or with a close friend, family member or cherished pet. Some couples skip the procession all together and simply wait at the front for their guests to take their seats.
There’s no right or wrong when it comes to how – or with whom – you walk down the aisle. It is your wedding day! We just recommend a rehearsal of the procession with the wedding party in advance of your wedding day to ensure a smooth flow, and help you feel more confident and relaxed on your wedding day.
The bride was ‘given away’ by her father back when marriages were arranged, and the bride was property to be transferred from the father to the groom.
Whilst clearly nobody is anybody else’s property nowadays, walking down the aisle with a father, or mother, or another loved one by your side is a moment that many do cherish. It can be a symbolic way of acknowledging the role that person has played in your life, and the love and bond you share with both them and your new spouse.
This tradition may not resonate with you at all, and you are perfectly free to choose to walk down the aisle alone, alongside a good friend, or with the person you are about to marry.
Side note: did you know the groom traditionally stands to the right so he has his ‘sword arm’ free?
Flowers have been a tradition at weddings since the Romans wore floral marriage garlands as a symbol of fertility, fidelity, and new beginnings. In the Middle Ages, brides began using a blend of strong herbs and spices to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck. Dill, the herb of lust and believed ability to repel negative energy, was particularly popular. As baths were an irregular treat for most until relatively recently, the fragrance of garlands was also used to help mask unpleasant odours.
During the Victorian era, flowers took on even more significance in weddings. The concept of the bridal bouquet as we know it today emerged with Queen Victoria (quite the trend-setter!) wearing a wreath of wax orange blossoms in place of her crown, and carrying a cluster of myrtle flowers for her wedding to Prince Albert in 1840. Every royal wedding bouquet since has included myrtle. Brides were inspired to select blooms based on their meanings. For example, roses represented love and passion, while lilies symbolised purity and innocence.
In the 20th century, wedding flowers became more elaborate, with bouquets of flowers carried down the aisle and floral arrangements adorning the ceremony and reception. Today, flowers continue to be a popular tradition for weddings, with couples choosing flowers based on seasonality, their wedding theme, and the colour scheme. Eco-conscious couples choose to combine fresh blooms and foliage with dried flowers, living potted plants and other reusable decor to create a more sustainable wow-factor for their wedding day.
Many cultures around the world exchange wedding rings as a symbol of love and commitment.
The tradition of exchanging rings is thought to have begun in ancient Egypt, where the circle shape of the ring was believed to represent eternity. Rings were worn on the fourth finger of the left hand because it was believed that a vein in that finger, called the “vena amoris” or “vein of love,” led directly to the heart.
In ancient Rome, a formal part of the marriage ceremony was for the groom to present the bride with a gold ring to represent wealth and ownership. This tradition continued throughout the Middle Ages, with rings often engraved with romantic sentiments or personal messages. As time went on, the exchange of wedding rings became more common across Western cultures. The rings themselves became more elaborate, with diamonds and other gemstones being added to demonstrate the value and importance of the commitment being made.
Today, the tradition of exchanging wedding rings is a universal symbol of commitment. Whether it’s a simple band or a more elaborate design, the act of exchanging rings during a wedding ceremony is a powerful and meaningful gesture. However, a traditional wedding band may not be everyone’s style. If you prefer a different type of ring, or choose not to exchange rings at all, there are several meaningful alternatives for you and your partner.
The plural of the Italian word “confetto” meaning “sweet meat” (a small sweet), confetti has a long and fascinating history that spans centuries and cultures. In ancient Rome and Greece, grains, seeds, wheat, rice, and barley were thrown at newlyweds to bestow fertility and prosperity upon them. Confetti evolved to include flowers, herbs, and spices during the Middle Ages, with lavender, rose petals, and thyme commonly thrown at weddings to ward off evil spirits, bring good luck, and provide a pleasant scent (see above re bathing in the Middle Ages!). Confetti evolved in 19th century Europe into small pieces of colourful paper shaped as doves, hearts and other romantic symbols.
In more recent times there has been a shift back to the roots of this tradition, with natural biodegradable options, such as dried rose and lavender flower petals, used as a more eco-friendly alternative. Some couples (or their venues) choose not to do a confetti throw, opting for a sparkler line up, bubbles or streamers instead. We personally think the tradition of confetti throwing makes great photos, but we are also committed to preserving our natural surroundings, so all confetti used at our venue must be completely natural dried flower petals.
The word “breakfast” originated in late middle English from breaking the fast.
The term wedding breakfast was simply termed because people would typically have the wedding ceremony early in the morning, without eating beforehand. So back then, the food served after the ceremony was truly the first meal of the day, or breakfast.
Nowadays your reception meal will typically be served mid-afternoon and hopefully you and your guests will have had breakfast that morning. However it is still traditionally known as the wedding breakfast… though you’re welcome to call it lunch or dinner if you’d prefer!
As with many wedding traditions, wedding toasts can be traced back to ancient societies. In 6th century BC, people would raise their cups as offerings to their gods.
Toasting the newlyweds is thought to stem from German folklore. A goldsmith fell in love with a noblewoman, but her father disapproved. To marry his daughter, the goldsmith had to create a chalice that could be used by two people without spilling a drop. He designed a cup in the shape of a woman holding a swinging bucket, which allowed the bride and groom to toast their nuptials without any spillage. Impressed by the goldsmith’s creativity, the young woman’s father gave his blessing for the marriage. Today, the maid of honour, best man, bridesmaids, and groomsmen all participate in toasting the newlyweds, creating a sense of unity and celebration. This tradition represents the start of the couple’s journey together in marriage and continues to be cherished and practiced worldwide. It serves as a reminder of the power of love and determination.
Way back, the bride’s father would have the ‘honour’ of drinking first… to demonstrate the shared wine was safe and not poisoned! Whilst the fear of poisoning is hopefully no longer a concern, it is still traditional for the father of the bride to speak, toast and sip first, followed by speeches from the groom and the best man. This male-centric tradition clearly omits several VIPs, and has no consideration of modern family structures, same-sex couples, and those who don’t identify with any gender, making the line up clearly outdated and unsuitable for most modern couples and their families. Many couples opt to have a more inclusive round up for their toasts, with other members of the bridal party and family giving speeches. Some couples choose not to have speeches at all – simply opting to raise a toast instead. It’s your wedding day, your speeches, and your rules!
Cutting the cake
Wedding cakes date back to Roman times, when a scone-like wheat cake was a symbol of fertility and prosperity at a wedding. This would be broken over the bride would bring the couple luck and fertility.
Tiered wedding cakes as we know them originated in medieval England when guests would bring small cakes to the wedding reception. These would be stacked on top of one another, and the couple would attempt to kiss over the tower without toppling it. If successful, the couple were thought to be lucky and fertile. As with the Romans, throwing the cake at the bride was believed to increase her fertility.
Nowadays, thankfully, we have the symbolic act of “cutting the cake” instead of throwing it at the couple. The first joint task as newlyweds, the act represents their working together as one whole and the couple’s willingness to share everything, including their food and drink.
Modern society is very different to the days of cake throwing: most couples have already been working together as one whole and sharing everything long before their wedding day. Not all couples have a sweet wedding cake, with some opting for a tiered cheese tower instead. Others skip having a traditional cake and the cake cutting entirely.
The bouquet throw
The tradition of the bouquet throw dates back to medieval times when female guests would rip fabric from the bride’s wedding dress for good luck. To prevent guests from tearing her gown, brides began tossing their bouquet as a distraction to escape with her dress intact. Catching the bouquet was seen as a sign of good fortune, representing fertility from a married woman.
Today, if couples choose to do the bouquet toss, this typically takes place during the evening party. All the single ladies gather together, eagerly hoping to catch the flowers. According to the tradition, the lucky lady who successfully catches the bouquet is believed to be the next one to tie the knot.
While this can be a fun and lighthearted moment, it may not align with your values or the dynamics of your guest list, or you may just want to keep your bouquet intact for preservation. If you choose to skip this tradition, there are plenty of other ways to engage your guests and create memorable moments, such as a sparkler line up.
The origin of a ‘first dance’ dates back to formal balls in 17th century Europe. The guest of honour, typically the person of the highest social standing, would lead the first dance to open the ball. If a member of the royal family was present, they would have the privilege of leading the first dance. Ballroom dancing was not yet popular, and the dances of the period were country dances (like a more formal version of a barn dance, line dance or ceilidh) where the first couple would lead the other couples down the set.
For weddings, obviously, in modern times the newlyweds are the guests of honour. But as recently as the 1920s, it was a sign of good manners for the newlyweds to allow their guests to dance first.
The tradition of the first dance at weddings also (like many wedding traditions) has a darker history, when the groom would steal his bride and proudly showcase her to his friends by dancing around a fire before the festivities began. This tradition transformed into a ritual where brides were ‘purchased’ from their fathers, and the first dance was a kind of fertility ceremony.
Nowadays, the couple takes centre stage for the first dance, accompanied by a song of their choice that holds special meaning to them. This marks the beginning of the evening’s festivities, with guests then encouraged to join the couple of the dance floor for the party. Some couples find it intimidating to have all eyes on them during their first dance, so they invite other couples to join in after the first verse and chorus. This can include members of the wedding party, or their parents. Sometimes, couples skip the traditional first dance and opt for everyone hitting the dance floor together. In some cases, the couple has prepared a choreographed dance to perform (and we do love to see a ‘lift’!).
When you think about weddings, a whole array of traditions come to mind immediately come to mind. From the presence of a bridal party to the enchanting first dance, the cutting of the cake, and the timeless tradition of the confetti throw, some or most of these elements have become inseparable from the act of tying the knot. However, behind these seemingly joyful practices lies an intriguing – and sometimes rather somber – history. Thankfully, wedding traditions have by definition evolved over time, and are no longer a set of rules you must follow at your wedding. Ultimately, the decision to follow or skip all or any wedding traditions is a personal one. It’s important to remember that your wedding day should be a reflection of you and your partner’s values, beliefs, and preferences. Don’t be afraid to break away from tradition and create a wedding that is uniquely yours!