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Monday, November 10, 2008

Here Comes the Bride By Deborah Bennetto

From my friend Deb's research. Enjoy!

Beneath the ocean, dangling from a parachute, aloft in a balloon, clinging to a rockface - what do these all have in common? They are all wild and wacky venues some adventurous couples choose for their wedding. But while the style of getting married is only limited by a couple’s imagination, the majority still favour the traditional ceremony steeped in customs that date back thousands of years.

The word “wedding” comes from the Anglo-Saxon word “wedd” meaning a pledge. In the past, a wedding was more a financial arrangement than a romantic union. Relatives and friends from both sides would get together to thrash out the details. It was considered foolhardy to leave things to an experienced young couple when there were castles and large estates at stake. In some cases the details would take years to finalise. The nuptials between the Dauphin of France and Marie Antoinette took fourteen years to arrange.

Not being at liberty to choose one’s own spouse may seem outrageous to us, but it was a more civilised way of getting hitched than other customs employed by ancient civilisations. In Babylon, fathers would take their daughters to bride markets, to be sold into marriage. In parts of Europe, women were literally stolen from their homes by barbarians and forced to marry them.

Once a man had nabbed his bride, he would quickly marry her before someone else grabbed her. For this reason he made sure he was standing to the right of his bride with his sword hand free to fight off any unwelcome guests. Today the groom still stands on the right of the bride in Western ceremonies.

In fact, there are a few customs which date back to the days of marriage by capture. Once the ceremony had taken place between the man and his captured bride, he would whisk her off to a secret hiding place known only to one of his raiding escorts, the “best man”. This period of hiding is supposed to be the precursor to the honeymoon.

Whilst in Western cultures, arranged marriages are no longer common, the practice still continues in many places around the globe. The process involves relatives and friends of both parties coming to some agreement about the settlement of wealth or labour for their prospective in-laws. A dowry is money or property given by the bride’s family to the groom. Even in Western Cultures, some of today’s customs relate to the providing of a dowry. The exchange of wedding gifts; the practice of single girls collecting household goods such as linen and silver for their “bottom drawer” or a “hope chest” and the custom for the bride’s family to pay for the wedding are all traditions related to the practice of giving a dowry.

But it is not always a case of the bride’s family having to pay up. In some cultures the groom has to give things of high value to the bride’s father. This is known as the “bride price”. It is intended to show respect for the bride and her family and to compensate them for the loss of their daughter’s services. If the marriage fails, her father has to return the bride price, unless there are children of the union. The children would be deemed as belonging to the groom’s family and considered adequate compensation.

So how did men pop the question in days of yore? Did they gallantly drop to one knee? In fact, men often didn’t propose in person. Instead their representatives; either friends or members of their family would do the honours. If the party met a blind man, a pregnant woman or a monk on the way, they would abandon their mission for these were considered bad luck omens if they continued. If, on the other hand, they met nanny goats, pigeons or wolves they were happy. These were thought lucky (although many might disagree about how lucky it is to meet a wolf – especially a hungry one!).

An old Celtic custom was that of handfasting. This was a type of temporary marriage. The right hands of both partners were binded together during the ceremony. A period of one year and a day followed, at the end of which the couple could renew their vows if they wished, or call the whole thing off. For the residents of Dunmow in Britain, a side of bacon was awarded to those couples who renewed their vows. This became known as the Dunmow Flitch.

In Mediaeval Britain, when the parents of a betrothed couple met for the first time it was known as flouncing. This celebration established a legal agreement between both parties. If later one or the other of the couple broke things off then the other party was entitled to half the other’s property.

During Elizabethan times in England, it was permitted to withdraw from a marriage contract under certain circumstances, namely if any of the following applied to the other party:

• Found guilty of heresy, apostasy or infidelity.
• Seriously disfigured
• Proved to be previously (and still) married
• Guilty of enmity, wickedness or drunkenness
• If a long separation had occurred between both parties.

So which is the best day to marry? In the West, Saturday is the most popular day, but according to this famous old rhyme it is also the unluckiest:

Monday for wealth
Tuesday for health
Wednesday the best day of all
Thursday for losses
Friday for crosses
Saturday for no luck at all

And some helpful advice to find the perfect month to marry:

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 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 bread.
Whoever wed in August be,
Many a change is sure to see.
Marry in September’s shire,
Your living will be rich and fine.
If in October you do marry,
Love will come bur riches tarry.
If you wed in bleak November,
Only joys will come, remember
When December snows fall fast,
Marry and true love will last.

June was considered an ideal month in which to marry because the month was named after Juno, the Roman Goddess of love and marriage.

The banns are the public announcement of an intention to get married. They were introduced in 800 AD by Charlemagne, a Germanic King who was made Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. He wanted to stop marriages between close family members because they were causing genetic problems and madness in society. Announcing the banns gives the community time to advise the authorities if they know that the betrothed couple are brother and sister. Today the banns still form part of the wedding preparations in many countries.

Rings were introduced by the Egyptians around 2800 BC. For them a ring signified eternity – a circle with no beginning or end. Exchanging rings became part of the religious wedding ceremony in Europe around the 11th Century. Some believe their significance goes back to the days of Ancient cultures who used cords, woven from rushes and grasses, to bind themselves to their mates as a symbol of unity. Others believed rings evolved from the chains used by barbarians to capture their brides.

The third finger of the left hand is the common choice for the wedding ring. This is thought to date back to the Romans who believed (incorrectly) that there was a special vein in this finger called the vena amoris which ran directly to the heart.

Different cultures choose different fingers on which to wear their wedding rings. Jewish people wear their rings on the index finger of the right hand. In India they favour the thumb and in the Greek Orthodox Church girls wear the rings on the left hand before marriage and the right hand after marriage. Whichever the finger chosen the important thing is not to drop the ring during the marriage ceremony. It is considered an omen of disaster.

Diamonds are popular stones in an engagement ring, for they symbolise everlasting love. The first diamond engagement ring was reportedly given by Maximilian of Austria to Mary of Burgundy in 1477. The ancient Greeks believed diamonds were splinters of stars that had fallen to earth.

Part Two next time!

Has anyone got a really weird and wacky wedding to outdo the walrus or the gangsters? A copy of The Bridegroom's Secret to the weirdest one!



Blogger Diane Gaston said...

What great information, Deb! Most of it I never knew before.

Funny. I'm visiting my cousin in North Carolina, near the ocean. We just got back from the beach (where it was beautiful but windy and chilly). There was a wedding rehearsal going on when we arrived. I hope they have even warmer weather.

November 10, 2008 at 12:57 PM  
Blogger Brandy said...

Well, I'm happy my hubs and I were married in Janurary according to the rhyme given. *G* I wear my wedding ring (and engagement ring) on my left hand, but wear a claddaugh (with heart facing in) on my right hand. I guess I'm doubly taken! *G* Thanks for all these tidbits of customs!

November 11, 2008 at 1:20 PM  
Blogger Perth Deb said...

I had a lot of fun researching for this article. All the different customs and their origins are so fascinating, I think.


November 11, 2008 at 1:59 PM  
Blogger Virginia said...

Congrats Jane.

About the strangest wedding that I ever went to was a Hawaian theme and everyone wore short of jeans to it. It was also an outside wedding. To me you should always dress up for a wedding until I went to this one and I found out different.

November 11, 2008 at 4:18 PM  

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