The Totally Cooked Histories Behind Modern Wedding Traditions
Who doesn't love a wedding? Probably every woman married before 1900.
Today, marriage is a winery, loose speeches and a carefully curated release of shots on Instagram for five years post-marriage. But the very art of marriage is a cross-cultural practice thousands of years old, and much like most of human history, the meanings behind the traditions we know today are truly and deeply cooked. They are deeply rooted in institutionalised sexism and patriarchal dominance, where women were treated as perishable goods, much like a loaf of bread (that produces children). You pay more for a good loaf, but when it’s stale, it’s done. But as well as being misogynists, our ancestors were also crazy superstitious, violent pervs. Let's check it out.
But first, a PSA.
LAL is definitely about staying light and there’s enough heavy drama in the world right now to justify this. but I think it’s also important to recognise that sometimes topics aren’t always so simple and surface level as we cover them, and it’s important not play the ignorant or obnoxious card. So, before we get into this, I want to acknowledge that the ability to make light of these traditions comes from a place of privilege and freedom to reject them. The concept of a marriage of love and choice is still a relatively recent concept and we should stay cognisant of the fact that even in the developed world are still forced into dangerous, oppressive marriages.
Since it’s every girl's dream to plan their wedding (apparently), let’s play pretend, but maybe don’t visualise yourself, because spoiler alert: it doesn’t play out to well for you.
You are worth one sheep and two cows.
Asking permission? Mmm, this is more accurately called 'Brokering the deal' and dates back to biblical times. The groom, or even the groom’s parents, would negotiate the price of the daughter. Basically, they’d negotiate how many cows or sheep the woman was worth. The woman wasn’t involved, she was washing clothes with a rock. Only around the 11th Century were woman consulted at all.
I actually feel this is one tradition that should actually be kept, but in the literal sense of granting permission, not the bartering. And obviously permission on both sides.
Hear me out.
If reality TV has taught us anything, it’s that everyone else knows when a couple shouldn’t be together except for them. Take Jessica and Mark on Love is Blind – we all knew Mark was the blind one. MAFS – Baba knew Mishel and Steve were not a couple, Connie’s mum was like, Johnnie’s not into you and this experiment is trash. Bachelor – how many times have we seen the parents know best? Do you ever recall a time where they ended up with the one mum didn’t like? I don’t think so. I don’t care if it’s the parents, or a friend, as long as they're brutally honest. IMO, this should probably be not just a courtesy but actual law.
Or maybe you'll have a 'Marriage by Capture'
But actually, sometimes the family wasn’t consulted and there was just a ‘marriage by capture’. Yes, the bride was just kidnapped and this is why the groom needed a best man. The best man wasn’t the guy who would make the funniest speech, he was your strongest fighter. He would help the groom kidnap the bride from her village and fight off anyone one who tried to rescue her. Wtf?
Literally, the bride's maid
Okay, so the groom gets his best man, so you obviously get your bridesmaids. You should probably choose people you don’t like for this. Like, being a bridesmaid now can challenging. What if you have a bridezilla? And then there’s always that one other bridesmaid who makes things difficult and wants to get a stripper for the hens, even though the bride expressly said she didn’t want one, and you can’t complain to the bride because she’s doesn’t need that stress. But honestly, you should stop complaining, because back in the day it was wayyy worse. Back then, instead of dressing the same as each other, they would actually all dress the same as the bride. They were decoys. If the bride had to travel from another town, they were meant to confuse jealous exes, robbers and evil spirits. The Romans would also form a protective shield around the bride when walking to the groom’s village. Doesn’t sound like an honour you would bestow upon your besties, right? Because it wasn’t – in biblical times these women were literally the ‘bride’s maids’
Dolla, dolla, dowr
Okay, so you’re getting married – but who’s going to pay for it? The bride’s family of course! That comes from the tradition of the dowry. That is how many cows the bride is worth to the groom’s family. Also, it’s not like she’s going to contribute anything to the marriage besides heirs, specifically male heirs, so the dowry was said to help support the couple ongoing.
Let’s go to the wedding, yay.
Your dad is walking you down the aisle, OMG so sweet. Then he hands you over to your groom as an execution of the contract. You are now no longer your father’s property- but your groom's. But we could just say that happened. Where’s the proof? It's in the rings –'cos it's not enough for dad to just hand you over, the rings are the physical evidence, the signing of the contract, if you will. Rings were used in ancient Hebrew, Roman and Greek civilisations before the invention of coin. Also, everyone’s heard the fourth finger has the vein to your heart bit. Obviously not true, and you’re probably putting together by now, that in these ancient weddings, heart had really zero input in the matter.
You're looking phenom.
Oh, wait stop, we didn’t get a chance to admire your outfit as you walk down the aisle. You look banging btw. If you were in ancient Greece, you would have a yellow veil. If you were in ancient Rome, it would be red. Because superstition, and in both societies the veil represents fire, so it will definitely be able to fend of those evil spirits, but not the evil forces that are making you go through this horrendous wedding. If your dad was a sneaky salesman, you could also be wearing a real thick veil to trick the groom into marrying you before he sees you. Silly groom! Always try before you buy, right? Finally, the most cooked representation. The lifting of the veil, represents the breaking of the hymen which will be done later that night. EW.
You would also be wearing a red dress. A lot of people say the white dress is a sign of virginity, purity etc. and you can’t wear white if you’ve already been married, but that is a super recent phenomenon, like Boomer era. Actually, people didn’t start wearing white until after Queen Victoria married Price Albert in 1840. Because pre-Nappy San and washing machines, keeping something white would have been bloody hard. So, having a white dress was a sign of wealth. And everyone was like, wow Queen Victoria, you’re so cool and so white became a thing.
Evil spirit bouquets
Your bouquet is definitely not a stunning collection of peonies or Australian natives. It’s also going to ward of those evil spirits, (again not your husband though), so you’ll actually just be carrying a bunch of herbs and spices. Like, you’re basically walking down the aisle with a bunch of Masterfoods shakers.
Transfer of Ownership
The transfer of ownership is complete, you look fine. Let’s celebrate with a kiss, or an orgy. I assumed the first kiss was literally meant to represent the couple’s first kiss- nope. In 1600s Europe, the priest would give the groom a holy ‘kiss of peace’, then the groom would kiss the bride, then all the clergymen would kiss all the bridesmaids. This is why you need drinks for the guests before the ceremony. I could not watch that sober.
Let’s get to the reception. You’re going to enjoy this less than being sold by your dad.
Cake smash wooh!
The cake. It’s going to get smashed on your head. In first century BC, the cake was thrown at the bride or broken over her head as a symbol of fertility or for good luck. Then the guests would scavenge around and pick up the crumbs for good luck. I mean that’s definitely something I would possibly do if there was enough wine at the wedding.
You know what else is good luck, your dress. In 14th century Europe, having a piece of the bride’s clothing was thought to be good luck, so guest swould literally rip off her dress. So bride’s started throwing things at the guests to prevent this – hence the bridal toss. I guess it was just a sweetener to promise they’d be able to go through this amazing event for themselves next if they caught it. Who wouldn’t want a marriage by capture, right?
Let's get downnnnn
There’s also another history from the middle ages, equally as cooked. The couple (probably actually just the groom if she’s been kidnapped), couldn’t wait until nightfall to consummate, so they would often get down on the dance floor, so the bouquet was thrown at the guests as a distraction. Honesty, as if anything is going to distract you from two people banging right in front of you. If they were discreet enough to go to the bed chambers, the groom would come out with the garter to show the guests to symbolise he’d made things ‘official’, but they weren’t dummies, obviously you could just say you did it, so in like 18th century Europe, they would select a few ‘lucky’ guests to come in as witnesses. Idk but all I can think about writing this is the wedding episode of Outlander, and I’m not mad about it.
The Wedding Night
Uhh, what an exhausting day, let’s go to bed. Your feet must be killing you, so your groom, being the gentleman that he is, is going to carry you across the threshold. Oh no sorry, nobody cares about you. The nicest explanation for this is that it was un-ladylike to show you wanted to leave your daddy’s home, so the groom carried you. Next level up is those old evil spirits. The groom is protecting you from them by keeping your feet off the floor and then there’s the old ancient Roman tradition where the groom literally had to drag his wife into the house after the wedding.
After all that, you deserve a break. Have a honeymoon, otherwise known as going into hiding. Because you’ve been kidnapped, your groom is going to whisk you away for approximately a month, because statistics show that’s how long it will take for your family to stop looking for you.
So there you have it. Our ancestors were not nice people.